Technology

Freeview promises catch up app as streaming eats into live television

As our appetite for streaming video grows Australians are watching less and less live television each week, according to the latest Australian Multi-Screen Report.

The death of traditional broadcast television isn't as close as some people would like to think, but the networks are feeling the heat. After years of infighting the Freeview consortium of Australian free-to-air broadcasters has finally promised to deliver a cross-network streaming app to combine all the catch up and live streams from the five major broadcasters.

There are no details at this point other than it's a "world first with all the FTA networks working together", which is laughable if you've followed Freeview's antics over the years.

Mortal enemies Nine and Seven would rather cut their own throats than circle the wagons and fight a common foe like Netflix. SBS walked away from Freeview last year and has only just returned to the fold.

Freeview has been promising a cross-network joint service since it first launched in 2009, but we had to wait until 2014 for the arrival of FreeviewPlus – which is only compatible with new Smart TVs and a few set-top boxes supporting the HbbTV internet video standard. FreeviewPlus missed its target of reaching 10 per cent of Australian homes in the first year, it recently hit that milestone but Freeview refuses to reveal how many people are actually watching.

Rather than throwing their full support behind FreeviewPlus, these days Seven and Nine are more interested in spruiking their new subscription video services Presto and Stan – joint ventures with Foxtel and Fairfax Media (publisher of this website) respectively. They're making little headway against foreign juggernaut Netflix, which would have a tougher fight on its hands if Australia's broadcasters had heeded the warnings and launched a cross-network service long before the foreign raider arrived on our doorstep.

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Freeview's announcement that it will have something to announce later this year comes as the latest Australian Multi-Screen Report paints a telling picture of the changing television landscape.

The number of people who watch free-to-air and subscription broadcast television each week continues to slowly but steadily drop. At the end of 2015 it was down to 87.4 per cent of Australians, slipping from 88.5 per cent 12 months earlier. Those who are still tuning in watched 80 minutes less each week than they did the year before.

Personal Video Recorder ownership has plateaued after a few years of steady growth, as has the amount of television we record to watch later. Instead it's internet video cutting into our traditional TV time. The NBN is making streaming video accessible to more homes and our options continue to expand, with the ABC's popular iView app finally coming to the Apple TV streaming box.

Computers, smartphones and tablets now account for 15.5 per cent of our time spent watching video, jumping from 12 per cent this time last year. Meanwhile the amount of time we spent in front of the idiot box watching something other than broadcast television has grown.

When you crunch the numbers, these two trends account for that 80 minutes of lost broadcast viewing – and you can bet the lion's share is going to Netflix. The US streaming giant hasn't hurt Foxtel as badly as people thought it might, according to Roy Morgan Research. Instead free-to-air television is feeling the pain.

The writing has been on the wall for a long time but Australia's broadcasters have been too busy fighting each other to face the bigger threat to their long-term survival. How have your viewing habits changed in the last few years?

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