How HbbTV can save community television

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 4.42.25 pmBrightcove Australia and New Zealand vice president Mark Blair looks at how new IPTV platform HbbTV could potentially save community television.

Community television is facing the axe — again.

The stations have been earmarked for eradication from our screens after Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull suggested removing the stations’ broadcast spectrum licenses, to be put to use elsewhere.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. Free-to-air television has always been a challenge of practical limitations. The rarity of broadcast spectrum — the radio waves over which TV is transmitted — as well as the cost of doing business, means broadcasters have always faced a choice of what they air, how they air it and when.

It’s not the first time community television has faced extinction; similar threats were made with the digital TV switchover in 2009. But there’s no reason community television has to leave our big screens forever — in fact, technology can ensure it remains there.

The launch this month of Freeview Plus, the HbbTV platform, has for the first time merged broadcast TV’s reach with the internet’s theoretically endless limits.

Broadcasters are already planning to use the new technology to extend their reach at sporting competitions and other live events with multiple streams, ensuring viewers will never miss a live European Handball match that’s scheduled at the same time as a swimming final at the 2016 Olympics. They can just flick between multiple channels to get to the event they want.

Unencumbered by the limitations of spectrum, broadcasters can focus on providing all the content their viewers want, including community television.

With Freeview Plus, community TV stations could partner with a major broadcaster — say, the ABC or SBS — to have their content featured on a Freeview Plus TV or set top box. There would be little cost impost on broadcasters; simply a piece of configuration telling HbbTV-compatible devices where to find those new channels.

Turnbull has made the point that community television is little-watched, but that’s exactly the biggest opportunity for Freeview Plus — catering to niche audiences without taking away from the mainstream.

Those broadcasters that truly grasp the opportunities of HbbTV are already doing exactly that, treating Freeview Plus as a core part of their portfolio, and using it to provide content viewers otherwise might have missed in the byegone age of broadcast.

Freeview Plus gives broadcasters the edge they need to ensure that niche audiences don’t flee to web browsers for niche content, and forget about the TV screen.

But broadcasters can and should also use Freeview Plus to provide opportunities for those truly niche audiences that risk being ignored as we move away from linear television.

Community television can be saved; we just need to think outside the box.

Mark Blair is Vice President of Australia and New Zealand at Brightcove.


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