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 telecast a range of channels free of cost, and these same networks may also be used 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 satellite 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, often depends on the willingness of free to air providers 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 such as Foxtel. However, there are laws in place to ensure that certain sports remain available on free to air TV.
Free to Air channels are sometimes collectively referred to as Freeview TV, a term still sometimes used in Australia but much more popular in England and other locations.
Free to Air vs Streaming Services
In recent years, especially since the arrival of global streaming service Netflix in Australia in 2015, free to air TV channels have found themselves competing against not just pay TV in the form of Foxtel, but also multiple streaming services that are available for a monthly subscription. In some cases, the free to air networks have hedged their bets by starting services themselves – for example, Nine owns popular Australian service Stan.
In a attempt to claim some of the lucrative streaming market, all five networks run free streaming services of their own, offering a growing range of programming – some of it exclusive to streaming – supported by regular unskippable ad breaks. Once referred to as “catch-up” services, these are now becoming far more content-rich and diverse.
Presenting free to air TV and their streaming efforts with a serious challenge are the dominant paid streaming services, the most popular of which are used daily by millions of people. Click the links for a detailed review of each one:
For viewers who prefer real-time viewing and browsing what’s on offer. free-to-air channels still attract huge viewer numbers – and with plans to introduce even more channels in the future, the already large range of free-to-air choices looks likely to be popular with those viewers for a long time to come!
Last audited 12 January 2021