One of the smartest things about the hugely popular Fetch TV boxes (and the service which powers them) is also one of the most innovative uses of the existing tech. Users who pull up the Fetch TV program guide from now on will notice four new TV channels that weren’t there before. Except they’re not really channels at all – at least, not in the conventional way.
Fetch TV’s Virtual Channels
These new offerings are “virtual” channels – they’re not broadcast anywhere, and their schedules of shows exist only on the Fetch TV platform. Unlike regular programs being delivered via your TV antenna, these channels are made up of streaming video offered by the four networks respective catch up apps
Let’s take a look at how this all works – either you can take control of what you watch, or you can sit back and enjoy the experience of Fetch TV programming being “curated” for you.
What the Virtual Channels Offer
As you make your way through the available channels in the Fetch program guide, you’ll notice the new Virtual channels sitting snugly amongst all the familiar ones. Their channel icons, though, give away the sources they’re drawing from – SBS On Demand, 7plus, 9Now and 10play.
But wait, you say – aren’t these catch-up services already accessible on Fetch TV via their individual apps? Well, you’d be right – nothing is changing as far as those apps are concerned, so if you’d prefer to tune into just one channel’s shows you can. If you’re up for a binge session of Survivor, that’s made easier by heading directly to the show’s page in the 9now app.
But if you look at the schedule in the program guide for the 9Now channel, you’ll see it’s very much like a regular TV network’s schedule – single episodes of shows starting on the hour or half-hour. What you’re seeing there is actually a kind of “playlist”, one which has been selected and scheduled by the individual networks themselves.
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When a TV Channel Isn’t Really a Channel
Unlike conventional broadcast TV, though, you won’t be missing out on anything if you notice a show you want to watch half an hour after it’s started. Just switch to that “channel”, and the current show will pop onto the screen from the beginning of that episode. It’ll then play out as normal, ad breaks and all (the ad breaks, of course, are also delivered from the catch-up service).
When you get to the end of an episode, things start behaving a little differently from your regular TV channel. Doing nothing will automatically load the next show in the schedule – so if you just want to have one channel on in the background, it’ll seem very much the same as a regular broadcast channel.
But if you’re looking to see more of the show you just watched, you can do exactly that from the on-screen menu at the end of the episode. Just say the word, and your impromptu binge session can begin.
Accelerate the Schedule
Something else you can’t do with regular TV is fast-forward into the future. That’s easy with these virtual channels – since the future is already waiting on the servers – so you can happily start fast-forwarding a show you’re currently watching, or even jump forward in the guide to the show what’s on next, on after that, or anywhere else in the guide. As with everything else related to the new channels, every time you land on a new show, you’ll start at the beginning rather than coming in halfway through. And let’s face it, that’s the way TV should always have worked if only technology allowed it!
Is This Something Viewers Want?
If you’re used to the way TV’s been done for decades, the whole concept of a “virtual channel” might sound like a fancy way of randomly choosing shows from catch-up services that were already available (and continue to be, of course). But make no mistake, people love the idea – that much has already been proven by Fetch with the Oxygen channel. A crime focused drama channel run by NBC Universal, it’s also a purely “virtual” channel which actually draws its programming from an on-demand streaming source.
And yet, since its launch on Fetch, not only has the channel regularly featured as one of the services’ top ten adult channels, it’s also resulted in the vast majority of Oxygen content streaming coming from the channel itself rather than the catch-up app – 89% of viewing, to be exact.
It’s results like that which convinced Fetch TV the time was right to expand virtual channels to our own free-to-air networks. It may well signal to the networks that the right balance between programming and viewer choice can lead to many more eyeballs on their shows, should viewers opt for these channels rather than the apps in similar numbers to Oxygen.
What About the ABC?
One channel obviously missing from the line-up is, as many will already have noticed, the ABC iView. It’s surprising since they literally pioneered catch-up TV in Australia with iView many years before every other network caught on. A likely reason for the absence is that without ads to help pay for the server costs, it’s not possible to find the funding for it. But Fetch says they hope the ABC will come on board soon; if they do, it’ll make Fetch TV even more of a brilliant destination for a diverse range of TV with an unprecedented level of viewer control.