Magazine article Marketing

Raymond Snoddy on Media: Market Forces Risk Freeview Allure

Magazine article Marketing

Raymond Snoddy on Media: Market Forces Risk Freeview Allure

Article excerpt

The sheer volume of consultations and decisions that stream out of Ofcom make it a full-time job just trying to keep up with the communications regulator's pronouncements. But two that oozed out last week are worthy of note.

Ofcom plans to crack down on the 0870 numbers racket, while going the other way on Freeview - liberalising the rules so that the platform could become Payview in future. One decision is long overdue while the other looks decidedly premature.

For years, organisations from companies to government departments have been making money out of providing essential information to citizens.

Not many viewers can have been aware that anyone who calls in to complain about a BBC programme is effectively charged a premium rate to do so.

The BBC denies making profit from its 0870 numbers - its phone systems are merely being 'subsidised'.

Many licence payers are not best pleased at the practice, or the lack of information on what calls will cost when viewers are urged to get in touch. The BBC has always argued that it is too complicated to give full details of the cost of such calls as there are so many tariffs. In fact, it is not all that hard to say that calls will cost, say, between 3p and 8p a minute, depending on the time of day.

At least when Ofcom's new call regime is implemented next year, greater transparency is promised on charges, and revenue sharing between the bodies involved will stop. It's a small step forward.

It is less clear whether Ofcom's decision to leave the market to find the future balance between pay-TV and free-to-air services on Freeview is such a great idea. The main public-service channels will continue to be protected on the platform. As for the rest, broadcasters will be free to decide whether to run advertising-funded or pay channels.

The great success of Freeview, which is in more than 6m homes, has come because it has lived up to its name. With the exception of basic pay service Top-Up TV, most Freeview channels have been funded either by the licence fee or advertising.

As a result, a clear, unambiguous marketing message has gone out: users pay about pounds 40 for the set-top box and there are no subscription charges.

That clarity has been a vital factor in the platform's rapid growth. …

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