While Australian free-to-air TV networks appear to be heading towards a central hub for online TV delivery, New Zealand broadcasters still have a range of options open to them. Freeview, the industry marketing group representing all Australian free-to-air TV players, confirmed this week that it would launch a Freeview-branded IPTV (internet protocol) hub in the second half of next year allowing shows from all the networks to be watched after broadcast.
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However, Freeview NZ general manager Sam Irvine says Freeview here will continue to deliver a platform on which broadcasters can choose their own methods of content delivery. He expects interactive channels for use by broadcasters to be available sometime next year.Irvine says Freeview expects to provide a new specification for Digital Terrestrial Television that will allow broadcasters to deliver interactive channels. Reception of these channels does not need to be browser-based, he says, as a lot of TVs now have ethernet ports to connect to the internet.Freeview can use MHEG 5 to as a vehicle for interactive channels on which broadcasters can use technology similar to the BBC-developed iPlayer to deliver on-demand services.A proof of concept demonstration is planned before Christmas. The choice of how services are provided across the Freeview platform is up to the broadcasters, he says.Freeview Australia chief executive Robyn Parkes said details of her group's planned industry-wide service were still being worked on but it had the backing of all the commercial and public TV networks. ''It will be like the ABC's iView offer with catch-up TV initially and it will be across all channels,'' she said. ''We haven't finalised all the details yet, but you may go to the Freeview [online] portal or [TV screen] icon and it might shoot you out to Yahoo!7 or ninemsn or ABC to view the catch-up episode. "So you won't have to manually think where to go to view a TV show. It will all be under a central EPG [electronic program guide] from one spot. We haven't got the date yet, but it will be the second half of next year. And by the time we launch, it may even be further along than [catch-up TV].''Ms Parkes' confirmation is the first official signal by the industry that it will support a one-stop shop for free-to-air broadcasters.Electronics giant Samsung also confirmed yesterday that it would launch its own internet-delivered TV service to Samsung TV sets in Australia by the March quarter of 2010, featuring video content negotiated globally by Samsung and with local partners such as Channel Nine and ninemsn.Sony has already flagged its intention to launch Bravia Internet TV early next year in Australia and is in discussions with TV networks to feature their programming along with Sony's international content deals. Sony's PlayStation 3 is already testing internet-delivered content with the likes of the ABC's iView service.A handful of other aspirants are also racing to launch IPTV services next year in which TV shows will be delivered to home screens and PCs to allow viewers to choose what they watch and when.Any doubt among broadcasters about the need to embrace internet-delivered TV is rapidly fading. The Hulu online TV portal, controlled by the US TV networks, is seeing massive take-up this year. In October, Hulu streamed 856 million TV shows online from the likes of ABC, NBC and Fox, up from 583 million in September. The number of people who viewed shows from Hulu topped 42 million last month in the US. Hulu is now back in the Australian market trying to launch with local broadcasters next year (Australia is said to be ranked sixth in Hulu's priority for international expansion).