In the same week that Hubbl revealed itself to the world as the future of the Foxtel Group’s streaming and content aggregation service, the company’s CEO joined other media leaders at a Senate enquiry into the prominence of free-to-air services on modern TVs and questions have been raised about the actual services users will see on Hubbl’s live TV feeds.

The Federal Government is drafting legislation that seeks to ensure that TV and set to box manufacturers give prominence to the five free to air services and their apps in a Smart TV world where those very services are being drowned out by popular large global apps and the commercial deals they do to get prime placement on the TVs sold here in Australia.

Appearing before the enquiry, Foxtel Group and Hubbl CEO Patrick Delany said “Hubbl brings together paid and free streaming apps, paid and free channels and the internet and takes away the frustration of managing your subscriptions. The most relevant results come up first.

Easy access to the free to air services through our devices, like the iQ and Hubbl, is already happening.

We support the Government’s policy objective of ensuring that Australian audiences can easily find and access the free to air services on regulated devices.”

As we noted in the launch of Hubbl the device is unique in that it delivers the free-to-air channels to Australians who do not have access to an antenna.

Appearing at the same enquiry, CEO of Fetch TV Scott Lorson cast some concerns over this new-found reliance on “IP Streams” for free-to-air TV while also noting the company had been testing the concept for some time, Lorson said “We’ve had this in trial for a long time, we offer it to our VIPs, this is something we’ve been doing for a while – and with the Hubbl announcement we’re contemplating just turning it on”

He went on to raise three concerns about this new style of free-to-air “broadcasting” which are Sport Blackouts, Regional Content and Time Shifting, saying “if you go to 7Plus the app and you find out that the AFL and the cricket is not available – that’s a disappointment”.

“if you buy a $2,000 TV (referring to the price of the Hubbl Glass TV), and you’re sold on the fact that this is a solution to not having an aerial and you get home and you have these major blackspots (lack of live sport) we have a new issue”

“if you live in Wollongong or Newcastle and you’re used to receiving a regional feed, you have an issue”

“if you are watching the IP feed of SBS and it’s a national feed with one time zone and you’re used to watching it at 7pm and its on at 5pm – they are not replacements, we have to be very careful about how they are marketed and how they are covered.”

This concern was raised by EFTM to Foxtel ahead of the Hubbl launch, though we wanted to test it ourselves when we have a device in hand. We were told that the IP feeds are state based – which is how the BVOD (catch up) apps operate also, and that if you have an antenna you can get the regional signal on a different channel number to these IP feed national signals.

It’s an important distinction which might catch out some buyers, and it’s more a buyer-beware issue going forward. If you have an expectation that you’ll get Channel 10 like you’ve always gotten channel 10, that may not be the case – because in many parts of Australia the networks show vastly different content at key times of the day – like news.

We’re not saying it’s a bad thing at all, just that people in regional areas need to know this, and likewise those in time-zones other than the NSW/VIC areas might get a time-shifted alteration to their normal programming.

All of this discussion feeds into the Anti-Siphoning legislation which is also up for discussion as part of these new legislative changes. Right now, big events like the Bathurst 1000 are required to be available on “Free to air” but in a world where people are increasingly watching these “Free channels” via the BVOD apps, that becomes a grey area not currently covered by legislation.

Free to Air networks, and Fetch seem to agree that BVOD rights to sport should be part of the rights offering of the Anti-Siphoning listed events.

Foxtel however have a different approach, CEO Patrick Delany made the submission that these events should be first and foremost listed as “Free to View”, as opposed to being allocated specifically to the Free-to-Air Networks (7, 9, 10, ABC, SBS).

Free to View, as Mr Delany describes it “means “free access” is no longer equated with “free-to -air” broadcast licence.”

“It would also mean events of national importance like the Bathurst 1000, the NRL and AFL grand finals are made available live, free and on a national basis, no matter the platform.”

This concept, if played out in legislation would mean that an event like the Bathurst 1000 could be made available via the KAYO Sports App – part of the Foxtel Group, but a paid subscription would not be required to watch it.  

Interesting times ahead, on your TV.