Digital terrestrial television in Australia

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Digital terrestrial television in Australia commenced on 1 January 2001, in the country's five most populous cities, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth using DVB-T standards. A transition plan to replace Analogue PAL transmissions began in 2010 and was scheduled for completion in 2013. Complete changeover was achieved by 10 December 2013.

The new means of broadcast has brought with it a number of enhancements, primarily higher-quality picture and sound, but also datacast and multi-view services such as video program guides, high definition, and now-and-next program information. There are a number of additional channels, datacasting, as well as high definition services, available to digital terrestrial television viewers in Australia. Digital-only content is subject to availability and differs greatly in various television markets.

Although approximately 96% of the population had access to at least one digital service,[1] take up was initially sluggish, with only 28% of Australia's 7.8 million households having adopted free-to-air digital television by March 2007.[2] However, by August 2010, 75% of Australian households had made the switch.[3]

From 2009, the free-to-air digital television platform has been promoted under the Freeview name.

History[edit]

Planning[edit]

Planning for digital terrestrial television in Australia can be traced back to 1993, when a group of specialists was drawn from the then-Australian Broadcasting Authority, Department of Transport and Communications, in addition to broadcasters and manufacturers. The ABA Specialist Group was intended to bring together studies taking place in a number of Australian forums and investigate potential options and policies relating to digital television.[4]

In 1995 the group released a report, Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting in Australia, containing the preliminary conclusions of the group. It found that premature regulation of the new platform might stifle the market-driven development of the service, that it should be based upon existing standards, and should not restrict the ability of broadcasters to tailor local content.[4] It was too early at the time to make decisions relating to what standard should be used, when transmissions should commence, and whether analogue television should be phased out.

The final report, of the same name, was released in 1997.[5] It recommended that Australia should adopt a single system following detailed trials of potential systems, that it should be implemented with high definition capabilities from the outset, that each licensed commercial or public service should have access to a full 7 MHz channel for its services, and that the eventual termination of analogue PAL services should be driven by market factors and subject to regular review.[6] The year 2000 was highlighted as a potential target date for the commencement of permanent digital terrestrial broadcasting.[6]

Response[edit]

Australian LCN Allocation[7]
Primary User Allocated Numbers from 2008

(Standard Digital broadcasting,

Satellite/Cable Digital broadcasting)

Network Ten
and other Network Ten regional affiliates
1, 10-19, 100-149
ABC Television / ABC DiG 2, 20-29, 200-299
SBS Television / SBS Radio 3, 30-39, 300-349
Datacasting
Community TV
3D Television
4, 40-49, 450-499
Southern Cross Ten
and other Network Ten regional affiliates
5, 50-59, 550-599
Prime Television,
Southern Cross Television
and other Seven Network regional affiliates
6, 60-69, 650-699
Seven Network
and selected Southern Cross Television affiliates
7, 70-79, 750-799
WIN Television, NBN Television
and other Nine Network affiliates
8, 80-89, 850-899
Nine Network,
Imparja Television
9, 90-99, 950-999
Unallocated Channels 350-399

The Australian Broadcasting Authority's response, titled Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting, recommended that the Australian Government support the early introduction of digital broadcasting as a free-to-air service with the loan of a 7 MHz channel for each broadcaster, in order to enable high-definition television from the outset.[6] The Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations supported this, as well as freedom for its members to launch multi-channel services. At the same time, the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association, questioned the commercial viability of HDTV, was opposed to the idea of multi-channeling, and argued for a competitive system that would allow the entry of new players.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation stated that it wished to run up to four multichannels at different times of the day or alternatively offer an HDTV service. It claimed that up to $100 million would be needed to prepare for these services, half of which would need to be government-funded.[6] Other interested parties, such as internet service provider OzEmail argued for the provision of spectrum for interactive services, while Telstra, shareholder in the subscription television provider Foxtel, supported ASTRA's argument for a competitive bidding process for digital spectrum.[6]

Legislation[edit]

On 24 March 1998, Minister for Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston, announced the government's decisions for the introduction of digital television. The plan allowed commercial and public broadcasters 7 MHz of spectrum free of charge for 8 years to simulcast services in both digital and analogue, after which it was to be returned to the Commonwealth.[6] Digital terrestrial television was to commence on 1 January 2001 in metropolitan areas, with expansion to regional areas to have been completed by the start of 2004.[6]

Following this, commercial broadcasters would be required to provide minimum levels of high definition content, would be required to pay fees if they chose to provide datacast services and would be prohibited from using their spectrum for multichanneling of subscription services. In addition, the prohibition on new free-to-air broadcasters would be extended until December 2008.[6]

Amendments were subsequently made to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Radiocommunications Act 1992, which set out ownership and programming conditions for broadcasting licenses (administered by the ABA) and regulated the usage of spectrum, respectively.[6]

On 18 June 1998, the Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting Selection Panel announced the choice of the European DVB-T system for digital terrestrial television.[8] The panel was a group of representatives from the country's public, commercial and regional broadcasters, the Department of Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts, as well as the Australian Broadcasting Authority.

Launch[edit]

When digital television launched on 1 January 2001, the majority of households did not know of or were unable to buy a set top box in order to receive the signal.[9] Digital Broadcasting Australia was established in late 2000 to help make the transition to digital television as seamless for consumers as possible. It included representatives from free-to-air broadcasters, manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers and was intended to provide information about commencement dates, coverage, and the functionality and availability of equipment.[10]

Content[edit]

Additional channels[edit]

ABC Television's second, digital-only, channel, ABC2, launched 7 March 2005.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation launched the ABC Kids Channel and Fly TV in August 2001. The two multichannels, available only through digital means, showed a range of programming targeted at children and teenage viewers.[11] Similarly, the Special Broadcasting Service launched the SBS World News Channel in 2002, a digital-only service offering a number of foreign-language news programmes seen in its morning WorldWatch timeslot.

Funding issues meant that in May 2003 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation closed ABC Kids and Fly TV.[12] In the same year, Tasmanian Digital Television became the first digital-only commercial station to be launched in the country, under Section 38A of the Broadcasting Services Act. The new station was a joint venture between existing commercial networks Southern Cross Broadcasting and WIN Television.[13] Tasmanian Digital Television, affiliated to Network Ten, was initially available only in Hobart, before expanding to Launceston and, by early 2009,[14] the remainder of the state. The introduction of this fifth channel resulted in significantly higher digital television takeup in Tasmania than other parts of the country.[15]

ABC2, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's second attempt at a digital-only channel launched on 7 March 2005.[16] The service showed a range of repeated news, current affairs, children's and educational programs originally shown on ABC1 as well as a number of original programs launched later on, such as Australia Wide, Short and Curly and Late Night Legends.

In the other market areas where there are only 1 or 2 broadcasters, digital-only stations were created that transmit programming from the unrepresented broadcaster(s) in that area. These digital-only stations are owned by joint-venture, or by the sole broadcaster, depending on the area.

During September 2007, the three commercial networks announced the introduction of high-definition only channels later that year, becoming the first new commercial television channels to launch in metropolitan areas of Australia since 1988. The Seven Network's Seven HD was the first to launch on 15 October and became available through Prime Television on 29 October. This was followed by the launch of Ten HD on 16 December. The majority of the programming on the high-definition channels was simulcast from the parent channel.

From 2009, commercial broadcasters were allowed to transmit an alternate standard definition channel. On 26 March 2009, Channel Ten launched One, its SD multichannel as a 24 hour sports channel. One is also broadcast on Ten's HD channel, replacing Ten HD.[17] Nine later launched GO!, as a general entertainment channel skewed towards younger viewers in August 2009.[18] Seven introduced 7Two on 1 November 2009.[19]

In July 2010 ABC launched its proposed news channel, ABC News 24. In addition, the Seven and Nine networks launched their third channels in September 2010: 7mate from Seven and channel GEM from Nine.[20] Network Ten launched their third channel, Eleven, in early 2011.

Amateur Digital television[edit]

VK3RTV is an experimental Amateur Television repeater located on Mt Dandenong to the east of Melbourne. In late September 2009 the former single analogue channel was converted to a 2 channel digital system. The output of the transmitter is on 446.5 MHz which can be received on some set top boxes and digital televisions. Both channels are transmitted in standard definition.

Amateur Radio Operators are restricted in terms of the content they may transmit in that the transmission of entertainment is not allowed. However, Amateur Radio Operators are nonetheless able to transmit a wide range of educational material related to amateur radio & electronics.

Datacasting[edit]

The Digital Forty Four video program guide formerly available to digital viewers in Sydney.

A number of broadcasters, primarily commercial networks, have provided a number of digital-only datacast or multivew services on separate channels - in particular during major sporting events. The Seven Network, for instance, provided two additional channels as part of its coverage of the 2003 Rugby World Cup - one providing alternate commentary, the other with statistics and game information.[21] Seven also ran a similar service during its coverage ot the 2004 Summer Olympics showing news headlines, a medal tally, and event results.[22] Similarly in 2005 for the Melbourne Cup, Australian Open, Australian Open Golf, and the One Day International series from the United Kingdom, the Seven Network provided a multi-view datacast service.[23] As well as this, the Nine Network and NBN Television both provided a multi-view service with additional text information during Pompeii: The Last Day.

Digital Forty Four, a trial datacasting service, began in Sydney in 2003. The service included at launch an electronic program guide, ABC News, Sport and Weather datacast service, the Australian Christian Channel, shopping channel Expo and a number of federal parliament audio streams. The service, licensed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, ceased broadcasting at midnight on the night of 30 April 2010.

Three metropolitan networks once provided video program guide datacast channels in addition to their standard and high definition channels. During ABC2, ABC3 and ABC HD's downtime, the ABC shows program information and weather, with music from ABC DiG radio.

High-definition[edit]

At a minimum, all digital television broadcasters in Australia provide a 576i standard-definition service, in addition to high definition. The 576p50 format is also considered a HDTV format, as it has higher vertical resolution through the use of progressive scanning. When Australia started DVB-T in 2001 several networks broadcast high-definition in a 576p format as this could give better quality on 50 Hz scanning CRT TVs and was not as demanding on MPEG-2-bit-rate. Since many modern television sets have an interlace to progressive scan conversion there is little difference in picture quality. MPEG-2 encoders have also improved so the more conventional 720p and 1080i formats are now used.

WIN Television in South Australia and Griffith, as well as Southern Cross in Port Pirie are the only stations that broadcast in digital but do not provide a high-definition service. This is due to multiple services using the same digital frequency: WIN Television, WIN Ten and WIN Nine in SA, WIN Television and Prime in Griffith or GTS/BKN, SC10, SC9 and ELEVEN in Port Pirie.

All other commercial stations have 1080i high definition services, in most cases a high definition multichannel providing some differing content from the main SD channel. ABC Television has a 720p high definition service, which used to run as ABC-HD (simulcasting ABC1), but now operates as ABC News 24. SBS Television currently broadcast a 1080i high definition simulcast of their main SBS channel.

Quotas on high definition content — a minimum of 1040 hours per year — were imposed by the Australian government in July 2003 on broadcasters in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. The same requirement was extended in April 2005 to stations in Darwin, regional New South Wales and regional Queensland, and in January 2006 in Mildura.[24] As of 13 July 2007 commercial television networks in Australia were permitted to provide a separate standard definition and high definition channel.[25] As of January 2009, they were permitted 2 standard definition channels in addition to the high definition channel — the networks planned to launch these via Freeview (Australia).

Government labelling scheme[edit]

In April 2009, the government released a new labelling scheme for digital television devices, to help people buy the correct equipment in the transition from analog to digital television. This is unrelated to the Freeview labelling endorsed by the major commercial and public broadcasters and may add to existing confusion between Freeview and Digital TV.

Televisions will have the following labels:[26]

  1. Digital TV Capable - for analogue TVs which require a set top box
  2. Digital TV Ready (Standard Definition) - for TVs able to receive SD broadcasts
  3. Digital TV Ready (High Definition) - for TVs able to receive HD broadcasts

Freeview devices meet the High Definition Digital TV Ready standard, in addition to the other Freeview standards.

Analogue switchoff[edit]

Household Assistance Scheme[edit]

To aid the digital television switchover, those receiving government assistance payments will be eligible to have a set-top-box provided free of charge to convert to digital television.[27] In addition to set top boxes, the assistance will include any necessary cabling or antenna upgrades needed to achieve a reliable digital signal.[28]

Timeline[edit]

In October 2008, the Digital Switchover Taskforce announced the formalised dates for analogue-switchoff,[29] which began on 30 June 2010 in Mildura and finished on 10 December 2013 when Melbourne and remote areas of Central and Eastern Australia switched.[30]

Date of shutdown Areas affected
30 June 2010 Mildura
15 December 2010 Rural South Australia
Broken Hill
5 May 2011 Rural Victoria
6 December 2011 Regional Queensland
5 June 2012 Southern New South Wales
The ACT
27 November 2012 Northern New South Wales
2 April 2013 Adelaide[31]
9 April 2013 Tasmania[31]
16 April 2013 Perth[31]
28 May 2013 Brisbane and surrounds[31]
4 June 2013 Bonnet Bay and Woronora, New South Wales[32]
25 June 2013 Regional and Remote Western Australia
30 July 2013 Darwin[31]
3 December 2013 Sydney[31]
10 December 2013 Melbourne[31]
10 December 2013 Remote Central and Eastern Australia[31]

Freeview[edit]

In November 2008, the Freeview brand was launched with the service commencing in 2009. Freeview brings all free-to-air broadcasters (both metropolitan and regional) together in a consistent marketing push.

Controversy[edit]

Perth community station Access 31's closure was partially blamed on viewers and revenue lost to increasing digital television viewership. The analogue-only station had been campaigning with other Channel 31 stations for support from the Federal Government that allowed them access to the digital broadcast spectrum.[33] On 4 November 2009 Communications Minister Stephen Conroy approved a Digital TV only license for West TV in Perth, which allows them to broadcast as a digital-only community television station as a replacement for the now defunct Access 31. Digital services were available in most areas, however parts of Western Australia and Central Australia had yet to begin transmissions in 2007.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Australia Now: Broadcasting and online content". Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Archived from the original on 30 August 2007. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  2. ^ "Australian household adoption of free to view digital television continues to rise". Digital Broadcasting Australia. May 2007. Retrieved 21 August 2007. [dead link]
  3. ^ Bodey, Michael (August 2010). "Three in four Australians have digital TV as analog fades off". The Australian. Retrieved 6 August 2010. 
  4. ^ a b "Digital - THE BIGGEST advance in TV since colour in the 1970's?". Australian Broadcasting Authority. Retrieved 19 August 2007. [dead link]
  5. ^ "ABA to release report on digital terrestrial television broadcasting". Australian Broadcasting Authority. Retrieved 19 August 2007. [dead link]
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Bills Digest No. 178 1997-98: Television Broadcasting Services (Digital Conversion) Bill 1998". Australian Parliamentary Library. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  7. ^ a b "Shopping for a free to view digital TV receiver?" (PDF). Digital Broadcasting Australia. February 2004. Retrieved 20 August 2007. [dead link]
  8. ^ "Digital Television System Recommendation" (Press release). Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations. 18 June 1998. Retrieved 18 August 2007. 
  9. ^ "The 7.30 Report: Does anyone care about digital television?". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2001. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  10. ^ "Digital TV to commence on 1 January 2001". Australian Broadcasting Authority. Retrieved 19 August 2007. [dead link]
  11. ^ "ABC Kids Channel" (Press release). Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. 17 August 2001. Archived from the original on 31 August 2007. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  12. ^ "Government digital disaster as ABC cuts ABC Kids and Fly TV" (Press release). Lindsay Tanner MP, Shadow Minister for Communications. 26 May 2003. Archived from the original on 31 August 2007. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  13. ^ "New digital commercial television service for Tasmania" (Press release). Australian Broadcasting Authority. Retrieved 19 August 2007. [dead link]
  14. ^ Smith, Linda (22 August 2007). "TV war hostility". The Mercury. Retrieved 22 August 2007. [dead link]
  15. ^ Stedman, Michael (10 June 2004). "Northern homes brace for digital TV revolution". The Examiner. p. 13. Archived from the original on 3 July 2007. Retrieved 22 August 2007. 
  16. ^ "ABC2 launched at Parliament House". ABC New Media & Digital Services. dba.org.au. 11 March 2005. Retrieved 31 March 2007. [dead link]
  17. ^ "Ten first with new digital sport service". The Australian. 29 October 2008. Retrieved 30 October 2008. 
  18. ^ "Nine announces new TV channel". ninemsn. 15 July 2009. Retrieved 24 July 2009. 
  19. ^ "David Gyngell confirms plans for digital". The Australian. 23 March 2009. Retrieved 23 March 2009. [dead link]
  20. ^ "Nine to launch digital TV channel GEM". http://news.com.au. 13 September 2010. Retrieved 13 September 2010. 
  21. ^ "FTA digital TV becoming clear". bandt.com.au. 13 November 2003. Retrieved 21 August 2007. [dead link]
  22. ^ "Seven creates digital television and multiple-platform coverage for the Olympic Games" (PDF). Seven Network. 6 July 2004. Retrieved 21 August 2007. [dead link]
  23. ^ "Seven commits to digital television coverage for cricket" (PDF). Seven Network. 6 June 2005. Retrieved 23 August 2007. [dead link]
  24. ^ "Digital TV: free to view - High Definition". Digital Broadcasting Australia. Retrieved 19 August 2007. [dead link]
  25. ^ "New Media Framework for Australia" (Press release). Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. 13 July 2006. Archived from the original on 30 August 2007. Retrieved 22 August 2007. 
  26. ^ "Digital TV Switchover Australia - Digital ready labels". Digitalready.gov.au. Retrieved 25 May 2011. [dead link]
  27. ^ "Pensioners to get free TV set-top boxes - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". ABC Online. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  28. ^ "Household Assistance Scheme: The Facts". Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  29. ^ "Digital TV Timetable by Region" (Press release). Retrieved 3 March 2009. [dead link]
  30. ^ "Bush first in line for analog TV switch-off". The Australian. 20 October 2008. Retrieved 30 October 2008. 
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h "Remaining digital television switchover dates announced". Media Spy. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  32. ^ "Suburbs switch off as analogue signal comes to an end". St George and Sutherland Shire Leader. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  33. ^ Access 31 looking to a digital future for survival[dead link]

External links[edit]