Free to air channels are television channels that are broadcast without any encryption, so that anyone with the appropriate antenna, cable connection or other receiving equipment can view the content.
In Australia, some broadcasters are mandated to telecast a certain portion of the channels they offer free of cost, and these same networks may also be reserved for emergency public broadcasts. Collectively, these are referred to as free to air channels.
There are more than 35 Free to Air channels in Australia (also known as Freeview), a much higher number than just a few short years ago. In the past, free to air networks in Australia were limited to Channels Seven, Nine, Ten, ABC and SBS, but as our demand for greater, more accessible content grew, so too did the number of channels available to us. Now, each network has a range of digital multi-channels to include 7Mate, 10Bold and 9Gem. In remote areas, or those that are not reachable via terrestrial transmissions, the free to air services are provided by the VAST platform.
The content found on non pay TV channels, including the AFL Free to air local and regional offerings, seasonal Australia Cricket broadcasts, as well as the various contests of the NRL Premiership or a popular television series, may be determined by the willingness of the particular provider to pay a fee for the broadcast rights, a process that often results in bidding against Pay TV carriers.
In cases where this fee is deemed too costly when weighed against potential advertising revenue, as has become the situation for many popular ‘privately owned’ sporting events, the Free to Air provider may relinquish the ‘contract’ to carry that programming for the next season and it will likely find itself available on a subscription service.
Free to Air channels may also be referred to as Freeview TV, a term still used in Australia but much more popular in England and other locations.