A potential new future for broadcast TV

Over the COVID-19 lockdown, free-to-air television enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, as New Zealanders flocked to the service in record numbers. Anecdotally, some free-to-air TV shows are enjoying their highest TV viewership statistics in well over a decade. Seven Sharp, for example, is rating at near Paul Holmes era numbers.

While much of this was due to the fact people had more time on their hands and a deep interest in what was playing out around them, it was also due to the ease with which Kiwis could connect with TV. But what if TV could be made even better – by industry collaboration and brand partnerships, all designed to further aid consumer experience?

Broadcast TV has remained relatively unchanged in terms of how New Zealanders engage with the service, since the first broadcast 60 years ago. Since Freeview launched in New Zealand in 2007, we have introduced changes and innovations to consistently enhance the consumer experience. For example, On Demand was recently added to the Freeview platform. But new broadcast standards that have embraced Internet-delivered content and features could deliver a much more compelling television experience.

For example, the current Freeview TV Guide offers an easy-to-navigate programme of existing free-to-air channels, but with further enhancements, could include channels offering paid content alongside them. Viewers would be able to scroll through the guide on their TV and see a new-release movie or an upcoming live game available as pay-per-view or by subscription. This feature would offer viewers access to a wider range of content directly on their TV, with no need for a particular app or specialist hardware like a set top box – all without having free-to-air content bundled behind a paywall.

Broadcast content could also be made even more attractive via genre-specific content hubs. A content hub could be created around news, for example, using sources from the free-to-air broadcasters such as TVNZ, MediaWorks, Māori TV and Al Jazeera. This curated news experience would be a single destination for viewers to discover varying viewpoints for key stories.

‘Watch from the start’ is another possible enhancement. If a viewer has come into a movie part-way through, they would have the option to watch it from the beginning. With accurate markers, the show could start from the very first frame. Again, if this were available with Freeview it would simply show up on the TV with no need for an app or any peripheral hardware.

Since 1960, when the first TV broadcast took place here in New Zealand, advertisers have recognised the power of TV to build brands and motivate viewers to purchase. Adding an interactive element to TV, via Freeview, would create significant added value for the entire TV industry and consumers alike.

‘Click to’ capability would allow users to interact by using their remote to add an item to their grocery list, book a test drive, request a quote or simply seek more information, after having seen an advert. This would not interrupt the viewing experience. All the action could be directed to an email or the mobile device linked to the viewer’s Freeview account.

Adverts could also become personalised, making them more relevant while displaying fewer of them. Imagine an ad break with a handful of ads that are meaningful to your household. With IP-delivered ads in each break, broadcast advertising could be tailored to a specific home anywhere throughout the country.

Some of these features could be enabled today via the Freeview standards that are currently in place. Others could become available with the new televisions that are set for release later this year. Investment from key industry players and brands is needed to usher in the best possible free-to-air TV experience in Aotearoa. If this eventuates, the reward will be a richer TV experience for both Kiwi viewers and advertisers.

If collaboration, partnership and technological innovation characterise the next few years of free-to-air here in New Zealand, a national lockdown won’t be required for Kiwis to stay engaged with TV.

Jason Foden is the CEO of Freeview New Zealand.

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