Australian free-to-air TV networks eye online video venture

With a report from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) saying that more than 5.2 million Australians accessed video content online in the last six months, executives at the nation's free-to-air TV networks are seriously considering a joint online streaming service to sate that demand.

Aussies prefer the catch-up TV aspects of online viewing and, the report said, about half of those who plan to watch online content (about 2.8 million Australians) are willing to pay.

Those are the kinds of statistics guaranteed to grab the attention of the free-to-air folks--and they did.

"We do as a platform all agree that an aggregated service is the one appropriate solution in the long run for all Australian consumers because it does deliver that opportunity for people to get all the very best content they currently view on TV… in one place," said Liz Ross, general manager of free-to-air organization Freeview Australia, according to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Speaking at a Google hangout hosted by the ACMA, Ross said her membership has concluded that "consumers will expect television anywhere, any time and on any device."

The report supported that, noting that "26 percent of Australian adult Internet users accessed content via three or more devices," according to the article.

Interestingly, with all this talk of Internet television, the report found that IPTV--the actual Internet Protocol TV that uses the broadband as its network base--"is less popular with only 5 percent of Internet-connected households taking up IPTV."

Australians have access to IPTV through subscription and pay-per-view services like Foxtel, Fetch TV, Quickflix, Google TV and Apple TV.

The low take-up for these offerings, the report concluded, could be the fault of low awareness, since only 38 percent of Internet users in June knew about IPTV services, compared to 51 percent who knew about catch-up TV.

All this pent-up demand, of course, needs to be addressed, but Australia is not immune to the age-old problem of getting the rights to the content that is held tightly by programmers who are loathe to let it go for free online consumption.

"Once we start to see a loosening up of those output deals and the content becoming more available we'll see a bit of a shift from traditional broadcasters holding all those rights and letting them out online when they want to, to perhaps some of those distributors taking them direct to consumers," Louise McElvogue, a partner of Macleod Media and member of the government's Convergence Review Committee, said during the Google hangout session.

Without those rights, Australians viewers, like their counterparts throughout the world, are becoming stealthy to the point of stealing what they want to watch.

"[N]ot many people are using online through legal methods for a lot of their viewing," McElvogue concluded.

For more:
- the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald has this story
- the Australian Communications and Media Authority issued this news release

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