Freeview may have taken a knock in having to deliver TVNZ 6 and 7 onto Sky, but the launch of Sony's Play TV in New Zealand could more than redress the balance.
Sky is refusing to deliver Prime on to the Freeview platform until it sees a business case, however, Freeview is continuing to stitch up deals with TiVo and others to boost its platform presence. Adding the Playstation 3 games console to its suite of set-top boxes would boost that even further.
However, various industry sources say making the PS3 compatible with Freeview high definition and with the Freeview electronic programming guide are slowing plans for a rollout of the Play TV service.
Sam Irvine, acting general manager of Freeview, says Freeview is working with Sony to ensure Play TV users get the best possible experience, but he was yesterday unable to shed light on when the Play TV service would launch here.
Sony Computer Entertainment's New Zealand marketing manager Warwick Light was reported in The Press in 2007 saying Sony was planning a digital tuner for the PS3 to deliver recording capabilities in 2008. However, that deadline came and went.
David Hine, Sony's sales and marketing director, says the company is working as hard as possible to bring Play TV here as quickly as possible, but he was not able to provide a timeline for the service. He says development in each country is different.
Irvine says Play TV overseas offers standard definition services on the PS3 platform, with the help of a USB plug-in that allow access to the aerial. The launch in New Zealand has been complicated by making the PS3 suitable as a platform for Freeview HD (high definition).
Sony is also reputedly working on its digital video recording capability, using the MyFreeview electronic programming guide, to allow the PS3 to work like a video recorder. However, Irvine says that capability may require a boost to the hard drive memory available in many PS3 units.
According to Lars Wahlmann for the Freeview Shop, there is no problem playing back video on the PS3 but the unit does not support the AAC HEV2 audio format used by Freeview and Sony has to develop software to allow that.
"They keep saying it's coming soon, but they've been saying that a long time," he says. "There's a lot of speculation."
Audio is the first but not the only hitch to a Play TV rollout here. Wahlmann says Freeview is also not broadcasting EIT electronic programming guide (EPG) information for an extended info-table. He says this is a worldwide standard for EPGs and Sony's Play TV is designed to use it. He says Freeview can change that and should as it would make it easy for everyone including Sony.
If they don't Sony will need to use a Java-like engine in the PS3 and application interfaces to achieve the same result.
Irvine says the arrival of Play TV in New Zealand will absolutely increase the number of boxes on which Freeview can be received. Freeview does not, however, have any forecasts as to how much the arrival of Play TV could boost its market share.
"Until we see what the proposition is it is hard to do forecasts," he says.
Wahlmann says the same, that Play TV should be a good product, but he'd like to see it first. It won't suit all needs, he says, but will add to the options available.
Irvine adds that he does not understand Sky's case against putting Prime on Freeview on the figures he has seen. According to NBR, Sky won't put Prime on Freeview until it feels it can cover $2 million in costs to put the channel on freeview
This week, Freeview announced that more than 14% of Kiwi homes now have its service.
"The latest sales figures for the three months ending March, 2009, indicate that the total households now reached by Freeview is 226,141, or 14.1% of permanent households," it said in a statement.
That figure includes satellite service, launched in May 2007 (155,482 or 9.7%), and the high definition services, which launched in April 2008 (70,659 or 4.4%).
MediaWorks, the owners of TV3 and C4, launched its first Freeview exclusive channel — TV3+1 — on March 30. It is available on Freeview channel 8 on both Freeview satellite and HD.