Channel Seven's recent ninemsn-esque partnership with Yahoo has raised an interesting issue: will television networks have to maintain a substantial online presence in order to stay relevant and competitive?
Let's take a look at the Web sites of the five free-to-air television stations:
- The front page functions as a portal, with familiar categories such as news, arts, science, health and education. The science section is particularly comprehensive, and designed for a younger audience. Integration of ABC radio, including the ability to listen online.
- Tech features: RSS/XML feeds, podcasts, mobile/PDA content, Flash games, online shop.
- Portal structure, similar to the ABC.
- Tech features: Podcasts, SMS competitions, online shop (via Dymocks), streaming radio, headline syndication service, video news bulletins.
- Yahoo search engine and directory integrated with TV guide and content from Channel Seven shows, and Pacific Publications magazines.
- Tech features: Customisation (homepage content, radio stations), online shopping, membership, widgets, Web-based e-mail, mobile content, newsletters, photo hosting, games, groups and a whole heap more.
- Integration of Microsoft features such as Hotmail and Messenger. Search engine and categories similar to Yahoo7. Content from ACP magazines, Channel Nine shows.
- Tech features: Videos, Hotmail, games, mobile content, online shopping directory, classifieds, membership using Microsoft Passport Network.
- Upon entering Ten's online HQ, you are asked to choose your city, ensuring local relevance. From there...uh, well...you can find out about the TV shows and news presenters, and see headlines and local weather. It's basically a glorified TV guide.
- Tech features: Um...links? There is a section called "chat", but it doesn't seem to feature a chat room or any kind of forum.
Hey Channel Ten...what gives? Big Brother and Australian Idol featured comprehensive Web sites which offered forums, polls, and in the case of BB, paid subscriber-only content. Both sites were massively popular, especially among Ten's much-prized 16-39-year-old audience. The sponsorship was cannily integrated into some of the content, and downloadable wallpapers, mobile phone logos and ringtones allowed the Ten to maintain a presence not only on people's TV screens, but on their computers and in their pockets.
Given the success of those programs' Web sites, why hasn't Ten made an effort to improve on its comparatively weak online offering? More to the point, does it need to? The rise of subscription TV and peer-to-peer downloading of show episodes certainly pose a threat to commercial television, but is the solution to embrace new media and forge alliances with established online entities? Nine and Seven seem to think so. It will be interesting to see whether Ten follows suit.