Digital pathway for community TV in Australia
November 10th, 2009 - 15:13 UTC
by Andy Sennitt.

The Australian Government has determined a pathway for Community Television to make the transition to digital broadcasting. “Community Television is an important component of the Australian media landscape and I am very pleased that it now has a pathway to digital transmission,” said the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy. “I am delighted that by working closely with the Community TV sector, we have identified suitable spectrum and necessary funding to enable Community TV stations to begin digital simulcasts.”

The Government will temporarily allocate vacant spectrum, previously known as Channel A, to the community broadcasting sector, allowing Community TV stations C31 in Melbourne, TVS in Sydney, QCTV in Brisbane and Channel 31 Adelaide to simulcast their services until the switch to digital-only television in capital cities in 2013. A new community licensee in Perth will commence digital-only broadcasts in early 2010. The Government has also allocated funding support, totalling $2.6 million, to enable the community sector to meet the costs of commencing digital simulcasts.

“This initiative will bring Community TV into line with commercial and national broadcasters, and ensure their loyal and passionate audiences can continue to enjoy their beloved local Community TV stations as they switch to digital television,” Senator Conroy said.

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.

In the intervening years, as increasing numbers of viewers have made the switch to digital television, Community Television has struggled to maintain its audience. A marked decline in the number of Community TV viewers has had a material impact on the sector’s ability to raise sponsorship revenue, and
has threatened its ongoing viability.

“Unlike the previous government, the Rudd Government greatly values the role of community television. It provides hundreds of hours of truly local content every month, and reaches more than a million viewers each week,” Senator Conroy said.

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,” Mr 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,” Mr Patton said.

“The Rudd Government promised Community TV that we would not leave them behind, and I’m delighted to be able to fulfil that promise today,” Senator Conroy said. “I look forward to seeing Community Television grow and thrive now that it has the certainty to be part of Australia’s digital television future.”