Here’s an interesting thing. Last Thursday the ABC put out a media release formally announcing something that has been in the wind for a while – the formation of a not for profit company, Freeview Australia, to promote the many digital multi-channelled offerings of both public and commercial free to air broadcasters.

The ABC’s head of television, Kim Dalton, is chairing the group and the ABC has done all the publicity so far. But who really controls Freeview, and how quickly has it been thrown together, and why?

The shareholders of Freeview are meant to be, according to the release, ABC, SBS, the Seven Network, the Nine Network, Network Ten, Prime, WIN and Southern Cross.

But a company search on Freeview Australia yesterday with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission revealed that according to the public record, all the shares in the company are owned by the Nine Network.

What’s more the registered address of the company is Channel Nine’s Sydney headquarters, and ABC’s head of television, Kim Dalton, who is meant to be the Chair of the company is not among the directors.

Dalton told Crikey yesterday that “the paperwork had all gone through” and the records available through ASIC were simply not yet up to date. This is entirely possible. There is often a lag between forms being lodged and ASIC processing them. But not a big lag, which means the paperwork must have been done very recently indeed.

The records show that it was Channel Nine that did the corporate work behind setting up the company, which was registered only last April. Channel Nine chief David Gyngell was the first director. Those representing the other broadcasters came on board in early May, and given that Dalton is not listed, presumably he got his paperwork done even later.

According to this blogpost the principles of Freeview met for the first time early in April.

So what is Freeview? It’s a giant exercise in promotions combined with mutual self interest and back-scratching. The free to airs, about to launch new multichannels, need to flog their offerings as an alternative to pay television. They also need to encourage consumers to buy digital equipment that can receive free to air, rather than becoming locked in to cable and pay providers. See some speculation on the consequences of all this for TiVo and Channel Seven here.

Meanwhile the Government is desperate to promote the take-up of digital television technology so that it can meet the deadline for analogue television switch-off without condemning the voters to blank screens.

Thus the nicely subtle final line of the Freeview media release: “Freeview will work closely with all relevant areas of Government to ensure consistent messaging.”

As they say in tabloid current events, hmmmm. What will consistent messaging mean here, with all the free to airs, public and private, yoked together?