SYDNEY — It has been well over a year since Oz loosened its restrictive media laws to allow commercial free-to-air webs to launch digital terrestrial channels, but so far only one broadcaster has taken up the challenge.
Network Ten’s digital 24-hour sports channel One bowed March 26 to solid numbers that have put a smile on the face of Ten sports topper David White.
The sports net has gained a 1.45% share of the market in just its first four weeks, growth that White says is unprecedented.
The launch of One means Oz now has a fourth commercial free-to-air station for the first time since Ten came on the scene in the 1960s.
In a nation of sports lovers, One may seem like a pretty safe bet but White says the network did not just leap in.
“We considered all sorts of genres but sports kept jumping to the top because of its attributes. There is a lot of international and domestic content, it has broad appeal, and the audience that it attracts compliments Ten’s audience,” he says.
The new network covers everything from the Australian Football League to the National Football League; from the National Basketball Assn. to local hoops; cricket, motor sports, extreme sports and even poker.
White acknowledges that sports come with drawbacks: Competition for rights can be fierce — particularly against paybox Fox Sports — and programming difficulties occur when games run overtime.
Still, Ten’s cards are on the table, whereas rivals Seven and Nine are still playing them close to their vest.
Nine and Seven, bitter rivals for the top ratings spot, have promised channels by the second half of this year. But neither will say what the content will be, although there have been hints.
It’s fairly certain sport isn’t an option for Seven. Back in February, the web’s topper, David Leckie, took a swipe at Ten, saying One was too expensive. Ten went on a multimillion-dollar sports buying spree to feed One, effectively blocking the other webs from launching a sports-only offering.
However, Seven has long been a fan of digital channels, and plans to have three running in the not-too-distant future.
Meanwhile, at Nine, rumors suggesting the net will launch a time-shifted version of itself have been nixed by topper David Gyngell.
Nine has long been a detractor of multichannels, believing there’s not enough advertising to support them. And now it is being criticized for lagging behind in the digital revolution.
Nine is most likely to offer a general entertainment web to keep its core audience and advertisers happy.
The digital restrictions did not apply to pubcaster the ABC, which bowed tyke TV offerings Fly and the ABC Kids Channel in 2001, only to shutter them two years later due to funding cuts.
Its digital sibling ABC2, which launched in March 2005, is on safer ground, and the pubcaster has been given government funding for another run at a digital children’s channel. Tyke web ABC3 is due to launch this year. The pubcaster also has plans for a business channel, ABC4.
Despite the fact that paybox Foxtel, with 1.3 million subscribers, is now 100% digital, less than half of Oz households have signed up for digital terrestrial TV, among the lowest take-up in the world.
These new channels could help persuade a lethargic viewing public to switch over before the analog signal is turned off in 2013.
Once, that is, auds know what it is that they are switching over to.