CHANNEL 9’ s annual ratings magnet Underbelly is now starting to throw its weight around online.
The latest season, Underbelly: Razor, is set in Sydney in the 1920s, focusing on the gang wars fuelled by competing brothels and sly grog shops.
The first episode was viewed by more than 81,000 Tasmanians on WIN and 3.4 million people nationwide.
On Nine’s online catch-up site, FIXPlay, it was viewed another 150,000 times.
Capitalising on the pull of online viewing, Nine is also supplementing each week’s episode with a range of extras: short behind-the-scenes featurettes, sneak peeks at new episodes, cast and crew interviews and historical documentaries about the true story behind the series.
The short documentaries have been viewed about 20,000 times each.
Now that it’s so easy to watch online content on internetcapable TVs, it will be interesting to watch for any increases in catch-up viewing.
These television network websites, with their streaming content and exclusive extras, might become the new battleground for free-to-air programming as the era of download piracy leaves the traditional broadcast media scrambling for a new funding structure to support itself.
Even the forever-free YouTube has started running advertising to help support its operations, much to the disgust of many regular viewers, but people are getting used to it – after all, the money has to come from somewhere.
It’s a clever piece of logic, really: if you know lots of your potential viewers would prefer to turn to the web to watch a show in their own time instead of watching it on TV, why not drive those viewers to your own website by making it easier to get the content there than on BitTorrent? That way you can still sell advertising and retain the viewers.
The Ten Network ( TDT) has been working hard on this front, too, not just making the bulk of its programming available online and in high quality but also offering exclusive online extras like the short ‘‘ what do the nurses do when Nina isn’t around?’’ comedy sketches to go with its popular series Offspring.
Even SBS has launched its new online service, SBS On Demand, to replace its difficultto-navigate predecessor.
We live in an age in which viewers have come to expect everything for free, online, right now, and trying to fight that trend is becoming more and more futile.
If the free-to-air networks can somehow harness that download/ online culture and find a way to make it pay for itself, that would be half the battle won.
Improved catch-up sites with extra content are a good way to build some brand loyalty.
Shortening the often ludicrously long waits between the show’s overseas premiere and its eventual screening in Australia wouldn’t hurt either.