Lifeline for Aussie community TV


The Australian government has temporarily allocated spare spectrum to community broadcasters so they can start to simulcast in analogue and digital - spectrum which the previous government planned to auction off.

Community TV stations Channel 31 in Melbourne, TVS in Sydney, QCTV in Brisbane, Channel 31 Adelaide, and a new Perth-based community broadcaster, will benefit not just from the spectrum, but from A$2.6 million in funding that the government has allocated to enable the sector to meet simulcasting costs.

The spare spectrum, known as Channel A, is currently not in use. Channel A was used as part of a datacasting trial in Sydney conducted by Broadcast Australia in early 2007. At that stage, the previous government was still expecting to allocate the spectrum for commercial use in the second half of the year.

But the federal election in late 2007 saw a change of government, and plans to allocate all spare spectrum – known as Channels A and B – for mobile TV, datacasting or narrowcasting, were quietly scrapped. Narrowcasting services are broadcasting services that have a more targeted audience than a commercial broadcasting service, such as by being pitched to a special interest group or by providing programs that appeal to a niche audience.

Even at that time, concerns over Australia’s community broadcasting sector’s switch to digital were raised, but the government provided no indication as to what it planned to do for the channels. When the previous government introduced digital television in 2001, all commercial and national stations were given the spectrum and support to commence digital simulcasts, but Community Television was left marooned on analogue.

That in turn, according to the current government, has meant Community TV has struggled to maintain its audience, threatening its ability to raise sponsorship revenue.

Chief Executive of Sydney’s TVS and Secretary of the Australian Community Television Alliance, Laurie Patton, welcomed the Government’s announcement. “This is what the Community Television sector has long been seeking from the Government,” Patton said.

“The allocation of digital spectrum provides a certain future for Community TV and the provision of funding support will assist us during the simulcast period ending in 2013.

“Going digital will allow Community TV to reach more people and to finally become part of the broadcasting mainstream. Community television channels already provide innovative and interesting Australian content and this will increase dramatically once digital transmission commences and more people are encouraged to get involved.”