FreeviewPlus: Google wrong on TV remotes; buyers say tech is good but new Freeview ad campaign not

Paul McIntyre
By Paul McIntyre | 3 September 2014

In the same week as the pay TV industry stages its annual megafest, free-to-air broadcasters last night fired a shot across Foxtel’s bow, officially unveiling their grand ambitions to, er, look strikingly like a pay TV platform.

In possibly an Australian first for broadcasters since former Ten CEO Grant Blackley got the TV industry to back Freeview in 2008 as a consumer brand, commercial and public broadcaster heavies held hands last night. The coalition of the willing united to launch their new hybrid broadcast broadband TV (HbbTV) service, which delivers to the masses all the broadcasters’ catch-up TV services on a single platform.

Freeview’s general manager, Liz Ross, took a swipe at Google in her address last night after the tech giant took a swipe a few weeks back in AdNews over the TV industry’s reliance on the remote control as the future of big screen navigation.

“A few weeks back I read an article in one of the trade magazines where our good friends Google were quoted as saying that the TV remote control is old technology,” Ross told broadcasters, journalists and media buyers.

“The TV remote might be an old concept but today the technology is far from old. In fact with the introduction of FreeviewPlus, it’s just as revolutionary today as those early devices were in the 1960s.”

Indeed, Ross had just finished a rather humorous flashback to the 1960s and a showcase of the “Zenith Flash-Matic” remote control, which used light beams.

“It was revolutionary and it was an amazingly advanced concept in its day when the accepted way of changing the channels was to get up out of the chair,” Ross said. But as Ross disclosed, the Zenith Flash-Matic had its own unique technical glitches. “Not least that if you turned any other lights on or off in the room, the channels also changed at the same time."

Media buyers last night also reckoned FreeviewPlus had a few glitches to fix of its own, not so much with the technology but with the ad campaign unveiled last night. Created by award winning creative director Ron Mather, who made his name at The Campaign Palace when it was the one of hottest Australian ad agencies in the world, the new FreeviewPlus ad campaign drew some critics.

“It’s great technology, it will take a while to embed in homes but the marketing needs reviewing,” said GroupM chairman John Steedman. “It could be better. It’s not standout marketing that sells the concept well enough. There’s the possibility each of the network owners might develop their own messages.”

The chairman of StarcomMediavest, John Sintras, concurred. “There is a serious consumer education job that needs to be done. I don’t think it’s very clear from the commercials running what it actually is.”

But Liz Ross countered with the rationale that the ad campaign needed to “sell the experience” while more detail about new FreeviewPlus benefits would come through a large in-store education and promotional effort from major retailers such as Harvey Norman and JB HiFi – and they see FreeviewPlus as a new  opportunity to sell more TV sets with HbbTV functionality.

“We can only sell the experience, the idea of catch up TV on your TV,” Ross said. “We have to drive people into retail where they can do far more around education and showing the service. Or we bring them to our website to give them all the detailed information they want. It was certainly a challenging TV commercial to pull together because there were a lot of opinions on how much you put in there. Too much and you end up not selling the experience.”

Ross said since the FreeviewPlus pre-launch in August, unique visitors to Freeview’s website had doubled to 250,000.

One broadcaster told AdNews “marketing by committee” was often fraught with compromise – the FreeviewPlus TV ad, which launched across all the networks last night, had to be signed off by all networks.   

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