Mediaworks cop-out another blow for Freeview

Freeview customers have been dealt another blow after Mediaworks announced its much-anticipated new channel, Plus 1, would merely be a one hour delayed broadcast of TV3.

Mediaworks is obliged to provide one new channel in March 2009 and another in 2010.

While customers were initially hoping for an original content channel, or at the very least a B-grade TV3, there was also some thought there may be other documentary, sports or children’s channels.

At one stage TV3 programme director Kelly Martin said the company “isn't ruling out an adult channel as one of its Freeview offerings.”

The chief executive of Mediaworks’ TV division, Rick Friesen, confirmed to NBR that the delayed Plus 1 channel would not be broadcast in HD (High Definition), despite TV3’s original content being available in HD (such as top-rating show Heroes).

These reasons mean customers looking to buy in to Freeview for reasons other than bad reception may well feel gutted as another potential point of differentiation for the platform disappears.

The reasons appear to be cost related.

While contracts with content providers will have to be extended to allow the dual broadcasts daily, advertisers will now get double the bang for their buck, and Mediaworks fulfils its requirements on the cheap.

“In the UK, tuning to the Plus 1 channel averages 38% of the tuning to the main channel on the same platform and we would expect no difference in New Zealand,” Mr Friesen says.

“As the advertising content will remain the same on Plus 1 as on the TV3, advertisers will have an extra opportunity for exposure of their products and services.”

It also means that Mediaworks doesn’t have to gamble on hardware upgrades, new content purchases, or even content production of its own.

Mr Friesen denied the announcement was to save costs in a recessionary business environment.

“We’ve been looking this way for a while,” he says.

Mediaworks’ 2010 channel, once hyped pre-election as a Pacifica focused offering, will also be under review.

Pacific Television, which had support from Labour and looked in line to be broadcast with government or NZ on Air funding may not appear under National.

Mr Friesen says the company did look at applying a similar Plus 1 model to C4 as its 2010 offering, however C4’s programming wouldn’t be as effective.

He did say that further channel expansions are not out of the question, but that none had reached the planning stage.

“We do have some [spectrum] space available, but it would have to be economically viable.”

This echoes sentiments aired by Sky TV chief executive John Fellet, who believes putting the company’s free-to-air channel, Prime, on Freeview is cost prohibitive.

Sky critics argue it has more to do with sidestepping industry regulation and locking out competition than anything else.

Mediaworks may have just added credence to his cost arguments inadvertently.

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Heroes is not in HD - TV3 wouldn't pay the extra for the HD version.

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