Australian networks embrace Web

ABC leads charge in streaming skeins online

After months of procrastination, Aussie networks have finally embraced the Internet as a key part of their advertising and delivery strategies.

Last year, the web-viewing space was pretty much owned by pubcaster ABC and its groundbreaking iView service, the first of the Aussie webs to stream full episodes online. The service was a huge hit and proved that auds are keen to move from the TV to the Internet to watch their favorite shows.

Seven has now moved strongly into the online space, Nine is still yet to launch a comprehensive “catch-up” website, while Ten has made some skeins available but not from a branded portal.

In March, ABC iView recorded 1.67 million visits to its site — the highest number of monthly visits ever recorded, and an increase on the 1.38 million visits in February.

Emboldened by the figures, ABC announced last month that its would be the first of the online services to bow a popular skein ahead of its free-to-air screening. In an Australian first, users of iView were able to see the debut of new Dr. Who Matt Smith online from midnight on April 16, ahead of the ABC showing on April 18.

Kate Ryan, manager of iView, says a close relationship with the U.K.’s BBC helped overcome the rights issues that the Internet preem generated and says that the pubcaster was not afraid that the network showing would not draw auds.

In terms of cannibalization, there is lots of proof that if you offer online content, people don’t necessarily make the choice to just remain online. We’re confident that’s the case with this as well,” Ryan says.

She says the new medium had provided a host of challenges, including things like online music rights, which have kept the ABC’s popular music quizzer “Spicks and Specks” off the web.

But hits show abound, such as “The IT Crowd,” Brit frightener “Sanctuary” and U.S. hit “The Colbert Report.”

Seven Network’s catch-up service 7Plus also shrugs off concerns of losing broadcast eyeballs.

We are not worried about it cannibalizing our audience … rather we find it is extending it. We find that the online audience is trending younger,” says marketing topper at Seven’s online venture Yahoo!7, Amanda Millar. “There is a lot of talk about the Internet being the death of television, but we are not finding any evidence of that at all.”

Seven counts some 2 million streams of skeins are being viewed in a month, and it only counts a stream if more than half the show has been viewed. Top shows are local sudser “Home & Away,” “My Kitchen Rules,” U.S. sitcom “Cougar Town” and American drama “Lost.”

In fact, serial dramas are where the service comes into its own, helping auds stay in touch with storylines rather than drift away from a series they have lost touch with.

Our most popular times are either on the day before a series airs or the evening after it airs,” Millar says. “And that is people catching up just before a serial screens or just after.”

Innovation of a more practical kind has been seen at 7Plus, the first of the online services to include mid-show advertisement in its streaming skeins.

Unlike the pubcaster model, 7Plus is ad-funded, and Millar, says she believes auds understand the need for ads online.

We have not had any negative feedback from it,” Millar says. “In fact, viewers seem to be happy that there are less ads online than on television.”

Millar says that advertisers too have flocked to the medium through ad packages that include an Internet ad component.

But the services have not been without growing pains. Seven’s deal to have 20 of its top shows available on a time-shifted basis on Sony’s soon-to-launch Bravia Internet Video service — which would have given users of Bravia access to Seven’s hits the night they showed — was scuppered after it emerged that time-shift auds would not count in the ratings.

There is also set to be greater competition as Internet service provider iiNet has signed on with FetchTV, which is being touted as Oz’s first subscription IPTV service.

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