Thank goodness the latest season of Game of Thrones finished this week.
At least now viewers will have time in their crammed television viewing schedules to flick over to 7flix for reruns of Diff’rent Strokes. Or eight repeats of The Big Bang Theory back to back. Or “encore” episodes of Home & Away.
With free-to-air TV beset by falling audiences and advertising and besieged by ad-free, binge-friendly streaming services like Stan, Netflix and Foxtel Now, it seems almost quaint for regional broadcaster Prime7 to be turning on a new channel in 2017.
But at 6am on Sunday September 3, the Network Seven affiliate will flick the switch to 7flix on channel number 66 in its east coast markets in Victoria, NSW, the ACT and the Gold Coast.
7flix is the general entertainment channel launched by Seven in capital cities in February 2016.
Prime7 said at the time it would not carry the channel in its markets because adding 7flix to its vast terrestrial footprint was “technically challenging, takes time and requires substantial capital investment”.
“From a broadcast engineering perspective, regional broadcasters are far more complex businesses than metro operations, covering larger geographic areas with multiple signals that service a large number of local areas across regional Australia,” Prime7 said.
The decision proved particularly annoying to regional fans of long-running US hospital drama Grey’s Anatomy, which Seven had moved off its main channel - along with first-run episodes of several other US shows with small but devoted Aussie followings - specifically to lure audiences to 7flix.
Underscoring the absurdity of Australia’s anachronistic broadcasting regulations, broadband-blessed viewers in Prime7’s markets could still watch 7flix live-streamed via Seven's Plus7 online service, which offered some consolation to Grey’s fans desperate for their weekly dose of McDreamy doctors.
Now, 18 months after it began in metropolitan markets, Prime7 has finally relented and will tune in 7flix with its candy-coloured logo and “feel-good mix”.
The move – which Prime7 described as a “business decision” – is not surprising given that 7flix has proved a popular addition to Seven’s other offshoots, 7Two and 7mate, and helped keep the Kerry Stokes network in front of fierce rival Nine and its offshoots 9Go!, 9Gem and 9Life in the national TV ratings.
With Nine’s Australian Ninja Warrior-led ratings recovery in 2017 helping to boost the audiences of regional affiliate Southern Cross Austereo, going without the full suite of Seven’s digital channels seems to be no longer an option for Prime7.
So, what shows will 7flix screen on channel 66 from Sunday? How do you make sure you can see it? And will it really have reruns of Diff’rent Strokes?
WHAT’S ON 7FLIX
Reruns: Yes, Diff’rent Strokes, the one-catchphrase ‘80s comedy starring the late Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges as Harlem brothers Arnold and Willis Jackson adopted by a rich Park Avenue businessman, gets a spot in the 7flix line-up. As do the likes of Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Who’s The Boss and Married with Children.
Seinfeld, The Nanny and Scrubs also feature, along with repeats of a current comedy hit that simply does not get enough airplay on TV these days, The Big Bang Theory.
Seven has rerun rights to the goofy show’s first seven series (Nine retains the first-run episodes) and is milking it shamelessly: the Sheldon-filled 7flix schedule includes three Big Bang episodes before Sunday night’s replay of the 2011 comedy movie Bridesmaids and two Big Bang episodes straight after. On some nights 7flix has run as many as eight episodes of The Big Bang Theory back-to-back. The show also airs on 7mate.
Repeats of US dramas The Blacklist, Criminal Minds and Castle screen across the week, along with what is billed as a weekday afternoon “encore” of soapie Home & Away and replays of Seven’s other Aussie drama, 800 Words.
First-run series: As well as Grey’s Anatomy, Prime7 says 7flix has new episodes of such US series as How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, The Amazing Race and superhero action caper Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, as well as Saturday afternoon episodes of the animated Star Wars Rebels.
While Season 14 of Grey’s Anatomy is due to begin on US TV on September 28, Prime7 says it has “no indication” if the new episodes will be fast-tracked on 7flix. But repeat episodes from Season 10 appear in the program schedule from September 8.
Movies: Back-to-back family movies screen early on Friday and Saturday evenings, including replays of recent Disney, Pixar, Sony and Warner Bros favourites. Movie buffs may find vintage gems buried in the overnight offerings from the vault, such as 1933’s Son of Kong, 1941 detective drama The Gay Falcon and the 1945 war saga China Sky starring Randolph Scott and Anthony Quinn.
HOW TO GET 7FLIX
The channel will appear in regional viewing areas of Victoria, northern and southern NSW, the ACT and Gold Coast on channel 66 at 6am on September 3 - beginning with a rerun of the Simon Reeve-hosted schoolkids quiz show It’s Academic.
Prime7 says the channel should automatically appear in the channel list of most televisions but some older sets may require re-tuning or upgrading to access 7flix.
The new channel uses MPEG-4 technology, which compresses video and requires less bandwidth to broadcast.
All major brands of TVs, set-top boxes and personal video recorders purchased since 2009, including devices bearing the Freeview logo, are generally MPEG-4 compatible. If your channels currently include horse-racing on Racing.com’s channel 68 your TV should be able to show 7flix, which uses version 10 MPEG-4 technology.
Sets bought before 2009 may not support MPEG-4. If channel 66 does not automatically appear Prime7’s advice is to re-tune your TV. Most sets allow you to automatically re-scan channels using the TV menu. In many cases, channel 66 will appear after completing this process. Some TVs may require reset to factory defaults or a software upgrade.
If channel 66 appears in the channel list, but the picture is black and if there is no sound or only sound, your TV or set-top box may not support MPEG-4 (version 10) and you will need to purchase a set-top box or upgrade your TV.
Prime7 warns that some early-model set-top boxes provided by the federal government as part of the Household Assistance Scheme during Australia’s switch to digital TV may not be MPEG-4 or MPEG 4 (version 10) compatible.