Will the high cost of mobile data hamper a major breakthrough in the Australian TV sector?

Nic-Christensen-234x151-234x151-234x151With Freeview announcing a new live streaming app chairman Clive Dickens talks to Nic Christensen about getting industry co-operation, if it is a step towards an Australian Hulu and whether, in the short term, the high cost of mobile data may be the major limit on its success.  

Too often when it comes to cooperation among the TV networks getting agreement is like getting cats to walk in a straight line.

The cats (sorry TV networks) usually don’t like it and just when you have them all together, and heading in one direction, one bolts.


Dickens: “The most important element is to have a meaningful amount of content.

So it is to the credit of Freeview’s Liz Ross and new chairman Clive Dickens that they have been able to marshall the five free-to-air networks to put aside their differences and work together on one mobile app for their live streaming services.

And for Seven West Media’s chief digital officer Dickens the key to the whole thing will be having all the free-to-air networks’ content together.

“The most important element is making sure all the TV Networks have a meaningful amount of streaming to be aggregated,” Dickens, told Mumbrella this morning.

“With Seven going to live streaming in November, Nine going last month and the ABC is obviously ramping up but the key thing is content – it would be a poor user experience if it didn’t have all the networks there.

“We are obviously dependent on the roadmap of each network and timing,” Dickens explains before adding: “On the plus side everyone is committed to that and one of the things that brought everyone together was a very, very strong proof of concept product that does exist. ”

The five TV networks will work together on one app.

The five TV networks will work together on one app.

Selling TV on your mobile

Media buyers have long been frustrated with a lack of premium video inventory on the catch up TV services and if there is one significant part of today’s announcement it will be that it will help the TV Networks shift from selling five different properties – Plus7, 9Now, TenPlay, ABC iView and SBS OnDemand – to one property: TV on your mobile.

“This solves a really important problem for consumers. We are going to be promoting it as a service to extend audience out of home and during commute times,” says Dickens.

“The inspiration for this was that there are other TV aggregating products around the world but none of those are owned by the networks themselves.”

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It is rumoured that the launch will happen in 2016, but Dickens remained circumspect on the precise details. But he points to the new Video Player Measurement (VPM) ratings which measure how many devices have watched catch-up TV and live streams, as an important part of the puzzle.

“We don’t have a date, but ultimately a strong proof of concept exists and ultimately that’s what got everyone to agree,” he says.

“The impact on audience and revenues – because it is such a new space – is unknown but we strongly believe people’s passion for their mobile and the quality of the content and the fact you can measure it through the VPM ratings means there is a huge amount of optimism around this.”

Should the Freeview mobile app take off it could also help boost uptake on Freeview’s HbbTV offering Freeview Plus, which 18 months in is now connected in around half a million households.

Freeview move may further anger regional TV networks 

nine win logosAnd while there may be optimism among the metropolitan TV networks it’s unlikely that this viewpoint will be shared by the regional TV networks many of whom, such as Prime and WIN, have withdrawn from the body in recent years, in part because of disputes about IPTV.

Regional broadcaster WIN will be back in court tomorrow seeking to block Nine’s live streaming service 9Now within its broadcast areas, while fellow regional operator Southern Cross Austereo is watching the case closely.

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At the time of publishing none of the regional TV networks had responded to requests for comment but Southern Cross Austereo CEO has previously told Mumbrella that it would not rule out similar legal action.

“The more we see metropolitan operators streaming into the market after receiving payment for the services we provide, I think, it counter productive to the affiliation arrangement and the economics of regional media,” said Blackley.

The new Freeview chairman today would not be drawn but noted that he sees the mobile app as just one of a number of potential industry IPTV products Freeview could launch.

“This is the first product of what we hope to be many in the IP (internet protocol) space,” he says.

HuluA new Australian Hulu? 

Does that mean that Freeview might seek to launch a desktop version of its product aggregating all the various network’s content, similar to US service Hulu?

“It is too early to say specifically what devices or browsers you would collaborate on,” says Dickens, who seems reluctant to give too much on this topic. “But it is fair to say the spirit of Freeview – with all the metro companies back in as shareholders – means there is a very strong feeling around solving other problems and that includes other devices.

“This is only the beginning.”

Telco data charges – a structural restraint on mobile live streaming? 

Many in the industry have noted that one of the biggest structural constraints on mobile live streaming and catch up TV in Australia at the moment appears to be the rates major telcos Telstra, Optus and Vodafone are charging for data.

A 45 minute TV show can easily use a couple of hundred megabytes and with the likes of Telstra charging $50 for five gigabytes it is clear that structural factors are likely to be a limitation, at least in the short term.

Dickens acknowledges this is limitation but says Freeview will work with the telcos to resolve it.

“Australians are paying a very high price for what are three very good 4G networks,” Dickens concedes. “But the plus side is that LET-B technology is on the way that will allow content to be consumed by more than one person in what is called a multicast. We will eventually move to a sub-band that will reduce the cost of distribution.

“We are working with the telco around how quickly LET-B could become a real thing for consumers.”

Telstra Air's product provides wifi around phone boxes.

Telstra Air’s product provides wifi around phone boxes.

Dickens, who is also Seven West Media’s chief digital officer, also argues there is a growing awareness of public Wifi networks, like Telstra Air. 

“There is an increasing understanding of how to take your home wifi minutes with you and therefore a growing ability to use wifi out of home,” he says.

He also argues these mobile data rates are coming down rapidly.

“The trend on mobile data is that the price is coming down,” he says citing his own recent experience moving telcos. “I actually moved my family on the weekend and the rate I could get per gigabyte was actually significantly cheaper than what I could get even six or nine months ago.

“The competitive nature of the three telcos on 4G means I would urge Australian consumers to go and look at their plan and see if they can get a better deal.”

Nic Christensen is the media and technology editor of Mumbrella. 


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