SYDNEY: Australian television networks Nine and Ten are poised to offer viewers free downloads of full-length episodes of local and international programmes from next year - broadband speeds permitting.

Nine has been trialling such downloads through its online ninemsn service at a cost of A$1.95 ($1.76; €1.24; £0.86) an episode.

However, they say the future lies in offering these shows for free to viewers, supported by advertising.

Jane O'Connell, director of product and strategy at ninemsn, said the first episode of its drama, Sea Patrol, offered free as a launch promotion, resulted in four times more downloads than the paid service.

She added: "We expect to see something significant in the next six months. The biggest challenge is wading through the [intellectual property] rights.

"The only thing holding us back is broadband speeds. Audiences would love it."

Ten's head of digital media, Damian Smith, concurred: "We want to be in free content with ads. In 12 months from now you will see a lot more free full episodes."

He expects online audience numbers to be between 10% and 20% of the broadcast TV figure for popular programs: "The reality is the mass audience is still with the broadcast channel.

"Then you've got the passionate 20 [per cent] who clearly want more and that's where online and mobile steps in."

Data sourced from Sydney Morning Herald; additional content by WARC staff