Everyone loves Freeview
FREE-to-air television is a surprisingly resilient beast.
Despite a parade of potential threats including DVD box sets, BluRay and internet torrents, free-to-air television is officially more popular than ever.
Survey data is showing that an average of 14.7 million viewers now tune in to commercial free-to-air TV every day – an all-time high.
And the amount of time we spend watching TV every day has also increased to three hours and nine minutes in the big cities, up seven minutes a day. In regional areas such as Tasmania, average FTA viewing has shot up by a whopping 20 minutes a day.
So when we have all these other options these days, why is it that so many people still watch so much TV every day instead of just breaking out the Scrubs Season 4 box set or torrenting the entire series of Game of Thrones online?
Fans of big blockbuster series like Dexter or True Blood have shown repeatedly that they are unwilling to wait for a local release date on FTA or pay TV, preferring to download or buy box sets. And when these shows do reach FTA TV, they do not tend to rate very well, as fans have already watched them and most FTA viewers just aren’t interested.
But sometimes when FTA does experiment with big-ticket and first-run TV it can do rather well.
The digital multichannels have been a testing range for this concept: ABC2 has The Tudors, GO! has Vampire Diaries, Eleven snapped up Wilfred, and so on.
And it might be working for them ( or maybe it’s the endless retro programming), as the multis have won a bigger audience share over the first six months of 2011 ( 20.04 per cent share) than all pay TV channels combined ( 17.69 per cent).
But the main FTA channels are still the behemoths of Australian TV and the top-rating shows tend to much more vanilla.
Soft dramas like Winners and Losers and Packed to the Rafters tend to dominate the ratings charts along with early-evening reality shows like Masterchef and The Block.
So it seems most viewers still like their TV unchallenging and easy to digest, habit-forming and suitable as background noise if you can’t bring your full attention to bear.
However, when Seven took a punt with its new series Downton Abbey, it became the runaway, if unexpected, hit of the season.
So maybe if the FTA channels try more risks , things might improve even more.