Govt legislation allows the commercial television broadcasters to launch an alternate service on their HD channels. As such, each commercial broadcaster will offer three unique channels by the end of 2010.
Channels Nine and Ten have said that they will launch their new until after mid-year. Nine channel citing ‘server system logistics’ and Ten simply establishing it in the new financial year. Channel Seven, who played it safe with the launch of 7Two in 2009 by waiting to see what everyone else launched prior to their own launch, will likely hang back once again (though, they did surprise everyone by launching the first HD breakaway channel in 08).
The question remains as to the focus of each of these channels.
We know already that Channel Ten will be launching a General Entertainment channel. Their decision to launch a sports channel has hit them hard financially, with their market share decreasing due to the added pressure of Go! and 7Two in the marketplace.
In the long-run, Ten’s decision to go first with a single-focus channel will pay off. As long as Ten are able to get access marque sporting events, they will maintain control of the channel with the greatest potential. With competition from TV on demand distribution modes, broadcast medias strength is that it can provide live, real-time coverage. The two forms of content that play best to this strength are news and sports. With Nine & Seven already having a share in Sky News and ABC News 24 soon to launch, news is already sewn up. And Ten has sports taken care of with One.
A General Entertainment channel will ensure that Ten are able to compete on the same level as its commercial competitors. David Mott has said that the new channel will have an equal weighing with their primary channel, indicating that it will be complimentary to Ten in the same way that 7Two is to Seven. It’s been a long while since we’ve seen a strong focus on scripted programs at Channel 10 and this may lead to the rejuvination that 10 sorely needs (Masterchef just giving it a good, temporary jolt).
Does Seven expand their brand with a 7Three, or do they take it in a different direction altogether? It’s difficult to get a read entirely on what they’ll do with the channel, but there are multiple possibilities.
Lifestyle! One of Sevens strong points is in its variety of Lifestyle-orientated programing. With a mix of reality, cooking, and gardening shows, Seven already has a healthy array of lifestyle programs to schedule. Many speculated prior to the launch of 7Two that Seven would focus lifestyle programing. Is lifestyle programing a strong enough concept to build an FTA channel around?
Male skew! The lads over at Media Spy uncovered logo’s trademarked by Seven last year for something called ‘Mate!’. It turned out to possibly be nothing other than some corporate misdirection by Seven. But, it did get the ‘blogo types’ talking about the idea of Seven launching a male-skewed channel. Akin to the channel in the UK ‘Dave’, a male-skewed channel could work for Seven considering how much of their brand is firmly associated with female-skewed scripted drama (re: Desperate Housewives, Greys Anatomy, etc). A male-skewed channel may be enough to create a strong brand identity, while staying in-line with a general entertainment pattern.
Movies! It’s a format that would likely play better for Nine, but it is certainly conceivable that Seven could make a go at it. Is their library of content strong enough to support it?
Of the three multichannels to launch, Channel Nine has arguably been the most successful with Go! It has received strong ratings on the digital platform and has established a high level of brand awareness. That said, Go! very quickly broke from the initial concept that belies the channel: youth programing. With a youth focus, the channel now carries a significant amount of archived sitcoms from yesteryear. Seinfeld, Frasier, Green Acres, The Flintstones, and Blackadder all feature prominently on the Go! schedule. The shows have been rating well, so its understandable that they would play strongly to this newfound strength. So, what could we expect from a third Nine channel?
Older skew! Could Nine effectively seperate Go! with a second brand aimed at older viewers? Take Go! back to its initial focus on youth-orientated programs and then focus the new channel at the older viewers who might appreciate seeing archived programs. A mix of cheap US content, as well as archived Australian shows (surely the Crawfords library is itching to make its way to air once more), and new import series could work a treat for Nine.
Movies! With an HD channel at its disposal and a strong archive of movie content, it would be easy to envisage Nine taking on a movie channel. At a relative low cost, Nine could make great use of its library of films.
This is the true mystery on the schedule. As badly hurt as Ten have been by the introduction of the competing digital general entertainment channels, it hasn’t taken a hit anywhere near as badly as SBS has. With a low budget to launch a new channel, they’re limited somewhat by options. SBS2 was launched with minimal investment and one would assume that a third channel would be run just as economically.
News! This is the most obvious choice for SBS. A 24 hour foreign news service, taking programs from channels across the globe is almost a given. SBS had been operating something very similar previously. While such a service serves the SBS charter perfectly, it is limited in its potential to draw in revenue.
General entertainment! Highly unlikely. SBS2 seems to be enough of a challenge, content-wise.
Movies! In October last year, SBS bought out the other shareholders of World Movies. Prviously the subscription TV channel was owned by Australian Capital Equity, APN News, and Media & Multilingual Subscriber Television Ltd (a wholly owned SBS subsidiary).
“When the chance came to increase our shareholding and take over the PAN TV operations, the SBS board and management considered it an opportunity to distribute more multicultural and multilingual content across more platforms while having a positive impact on SBS’s overall bottom line.”
Could it be possible that SBS will provide access to World Movies on the FTA platform? It can’t be ruled out, entirely. What is more likely is that SBS may re-package together a mix of the library of movies they have access to, as well as utilising some of the library of excellent SBS-produced TV series that have recently been broadcast (The Circuit, East West 101, etc). Not only would that create an easily definable SBS brand, but also serves as a great opportunity to target the high-end advertisers that used to focus heavily on SBS in the 90’s.
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At this point, all we can really do is offer idle speculation on what the commercial broadcasters will offer with their third digital multichannels. As viewing options increase, operating costs for the networks will also increase, bringing diminished returns. Conceptually, broadcast television can continue to be profitable and while that remains true, broadcast TV retains its prominance as a key destination for our viewing needs.
And if that need turns out to be more Two & a Half Men, god help us all.