Freeview – the ‘new’ digital TV

Digital television commenced broadcasting ten years ago and while most GadgetGuy readers will already be onboard with HD televisions and PVRs, around two-thirds of Australia is yet to make the transition. There’s some urgency to convert these laggards, too, because over the next four years analog transmissions will be phased out, with all analog TVs to go blank by 31 December 2013.

This is the impetus behind the current television campaigns by the Federal government’s Digital Switchover task force and Freeview. But while the Digital Switchover Taskforce is focussed on educating around the switchover and taking care of the infrastructure, “Freeview”, according to CEO Robin Parkes, “is about giving people a reason to want to switch, rather than just waiting for it to come to their area.”

Those reasons include more channels, better quality sound and pictures and a seven-day electronic program guide, but more about those later. First, what is Freeview?

What is Freeview?

Freeview originated in UK to promote digital television during that country’s transition, and it’s now performing a similar function here and in New Zealand. Funded by the Nine, Seven, Ten, ABC and SBS, Prime, WIN and Southern Cross television networks, Freeview is, according to Parkes, “the brand that encompasses all the free to air TV networks, and it gives viewers a tangible name for what they’re switching over to as we go from analog to digital.

“Instead of people saying they watch TV, now they’ll be saying they watch Freeview,” she says.

Freeview is also evidence that the traditionally insular and paranoid commercial networks are recognising the need for some collective marketing to help retain the viewers that are so crucial to revenues. Pay TV, movie downloads, video on demand, the internet, games consoles and even DVD box sets of TV series are taking – and will continue to take – eyeballs away from traditional broadcast media, and to keep people’s attention broadcasters have to change. The commercially sensible approach involves offering more choice and more compelling content, so what are the network’s plans?

The analog TV switch-off schedule

Analog TVThe government’s digital television switchover timetable sets out a region-by-region timetable for the transition to digital television, allowing Australians ample notice to become ready for analogue switch-off. The first area to convert is the Mildura region of Victoria, which is scheduled to switchover to digital in the first half of 2010. December 2013 given as the date for most metropolitan centres, including Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, to convert fully to digital TV.

You can check to see where you fit into the government’s switchover timetable at the Digital Switchover website (link will open in a new window).