Media experts have criticised Freeview as “lipstick on a TV pig”, despite the free-to-air channels hailing it as the next big thing in entertainment according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Freeview, the umbrella term for the free-to-air 15 free digital channels made up of the existing five networks, their high definition (HD) versions and their new standard definition (SD) offshoots, is a marketing ploy designed to encourage viewers to switch from analog television to digital and slow the flow of viewers to pay television, some television experts say.

Media analyst Steve Allen of Fusion Strategy is pessimistic about and believes the rest of Australia should be too.

“It is little more than a marketing tool designed to staunch the onward march of pay TV and encourage people to switch to digital,” suggests Allen.

Digital television has existed in Australia since 2001 but only about 40 percent of Australian households have switched to it. Of the SD channels, only ABC2 is well established, with new programming as well as time-shifted programs from ABC1.

The proposed World channel from SBS is dependent on government funding and the federal government announced it would cut off the analog TV signal in 2013, requiring all Australian viewers to have a digital tuner or set-top box to receive a signal.

“They are making Freeview sound like this wonderful new service when in fact it’s not offering anything particularly different. Ten is fairly well advanced with its plans but I find it staggering that Seven and Nine are yet to announce what they are doing. I think it’s a case of each one waiting to see what the other guy is doing,” says media commentator David Knox, of tvtonight.com.au.

Freeview chairman Kim Dalton believes that the criticism is unwarranted and the initiative means more channels, more content and greater choice.

“The digital service also offers better picture quality and better sound quality. (But) the reality for the commercial channels will be that new local content will be limited because of the cost of producing new programs,” explains Dalton.

Foxtel has questioned the 15-channel claim, saying only three of them – Ten’s 24-hour sports channel ‘One’ and the yet to be announced channels from Nine and Seven – were new.