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Southern Cross Austereo 'no comment' on FreeviewPlus

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Madeleine Heffernan

Australia's third regional TV company, Southern Cross Austereo, is keeping mum on whether it will follow its peers and walk away from an industry-wide internet television service.

Southern Cross Austereo has declined to say whether it intends to stick with FreeviewPlus HbbTV, which is widely viewed as free-to-air broadcasters' response to competition from online content and pay TV operator Foxtel.

FreeviewPlus HbbTV allows viewers to catch up on programs broadcast up to a week previously on channels Seven, Nine, Ten, the ABC and SBS. Hbb stands for ''hybrid broadcast broadband''. It is expected to be launched by August. But regional TV company Prime Media withdrew its support for FreeviewPlus last week, arguing it would reach just 1 per cent of its market in early 2015. The platform will be available on new smart TVs but require an upgrade or new set-top box for older models.

Another regional TV company, WIN, also does not fund FreeviewPlus and said this week its position was unchanged.

Southern Cross Austereo recently downgraded its profit guidance in part due to poor TV ratings.

But Freeview, the industry body behind the platform, said Southern Cross Austereo was ''committed'' to the platform.

Morgans analyst Ivor Ries said the problem with free-to-air broadcasters was that viewers were ''weeks or months ahead'' of broadcasts, rather than a week behind.

But other analysts point to the popularity of Australian content, particularly reality TV programs, programs which are less susceptible to piracy and therefore highly prized.

Regional TV companies are expected to become takeover targets for their metro counterparts if, as expected, Australia's media ownership laws are loosened by the Abbott government.





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