Having happily survived Christmas and my 14 days of quarantine on returning to Australia, our ten-year-old so-called smart TV died this month (writes Peter Coleman).
And having secured its replacement for a quarter of the price – another story – I can see what Free TV Australia is worrying about.
The group, which represents Australia’s free-to-air channels, wants legislation guaranteeing them prominence on smart TVs, where they say channels are increasingly hard to find.
Our new cheapie Hisense has a button for ‘Free’ but with no apparent FTVA affiliations, offering instead the national broadcaster’s ABC Kids on its iView catch-up app, plus Vevo, films and TV from Tubi, cartoons from Toon Goggles, and – if you want to “push the limits” – RedBull TV.
Google’s YouTube is everywhere, it seems. In the ‘free’ list, and with dedicated buttons, one marked YouTube and another with their logo and ‘Music’.
Other buttons offer direct access to apps for Netflix, Prime Video, Stan, ABC iView and Kayo – some sets also have Disney+ apparently – and it is to this that Free TV Australia objects in a submission to parliament’s inquiry into social media and online safety, for which submissions have just closed.
The group represents free-to-air broadcasters Seven, Nine and Ten, and says commercial stations are becoming “increasingly hard to find” on smart TVs.
“TV manufacturers and operating system developers increasingly exert control over which options are displayed to consumers, directing viewers to those services that can pay the highest price for preferred placement on the home screen,” it says in its submission.
It clearly understands that decisions on what apps are presented, and the position of terrestrial services and local broadcasters’ BVOD, “are increasingly being made in boardrooms in Japan, South Korea and the US”.
And of course, on who’s paying what to whom.
FTVA says the risk becomes greater as manufacturers seek “a clip of the ticket” to monetise “prominent spots on user interfaces” and to reach lucrative deals with streaming services.
Buying the 40” Hisense at Harvey Norman, as I mentioned, was an experience in itself. Located almost equidistant between regional two stores, I headed north first to have an arrogant assistant at HN Gympie tell me they didn’t have any 40” sets, even though they had boxed ones in the store. He said he meant 4K-capable, though we hadn’t mentioned that, and I didn’t need or want it. A trip into Noosa was an altogether more pleasant experience and Gerry Harvey got the deal in no time.
I mention this as not everyone has a need for streamed content, nor necessarily the bandwidth to support. Our internet comes via fixed wifi, a dish on our roof connecting us to one of those 40-metre poles half the locals object vehemently to, on the other side of the village.
Free TV Australia says legislation was needed to ensure TV manufacturers made it easy for Australians to find free-to-air channels, and proposes a “prominence framework”. It also makes the point that global streaming platforms cannot cut to breaking news to cover health advice updates or bushfire updates.
Nonetheless, I fear free-to-air TV will become an endangered species, if it hasn’t already. The still-wonderful ABC is paid for through our taxes, and I’m happy to watch through – or make tea during – the ads on commercial TV. Much more so than the ones on YouTube which, unless you have one of those third-party laser-pointer remotes, deny you the opportunity to “skip ads”.
Last night I was too idle to avoid – which you can also do by using a linked iPad – the unbelievable five minutes of United Australia Party founder Clive Palmer telling me that mainstream media had declined his advertising dollar… but don’t get me started again.
• Peter Coleman is managing editor of GXpress.net