Advanced Television

Regulatory boost for Australian FTA HD

August 20, 2015

By Colin Mann

Australia’s Communications minster Malcolm Turnbull has introduced the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Primary Television Broadcasting Service) Bill 2015, an amendment to 1992’s Broadcasting Services Act that will remove the regulation requiring Australian television stations to broadcast in standard definition on their main channels.

The Bill provides the national and commercial free-to-air broadcasters with the flexibility to deliver programming on their primary television services in either standard definition or high-definition formats. Broadcasters’ primary television services include ABC1, SBS ONE, 7, Prime7, Nine, WIN, Ten and Southern Cross.

In a speech to parliament, Turnbull noted that at present, free-to-air broadcasters are required to provide their primary television service in standard definition. “This is a relic of the analogue era, introduced at the start of the digital television switchover process to ensure that viewers would have access to at least one digital channel per broadcaster. At the time not all televisions and set-top boxes were capable of receiving high-definition content.”

Importantly for Australians who watch television on satellite, according to Turnbull, the bill makes minor technical amendments to ensure the transmission of primary services by free-to-air satellite broadcasters such as VAST receive the same flexibility to transmit in either standard or high definition.

Turnbull noted that following consultation on deregulation of TV services the proposal to allow broadcasters to provide their primary service in either standard or high definition received very strong support from the public and free-to-air broadcasters.

“High-definition television equipment is now virtually ubiquitous in Australian homes. A Newspoll survey conducted in February 2014, after the completion of the digital switch-over process, found that 96 per cent of all households had a main television set or set-top box that was capable of receiving high-definition content. It is expected that this figure has grown, with high-definition capability standard in televisions and set-top boxes currently on the market,” he advised.

“With the completion of digital switch-over and the availability of a range of new television services, many Australians now expect premium free-to-air programming to be provided in high definition—especially events such as live sports.”

According to Turnbull, the bill responds to these developments and amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, giving TV networks the flexibility to broadcast the primary service in either in either standard or high definition. It does not change any other existing arrangements regarding the primary service such as captioning, Australian content or anti-siphoning requirements. The bill is being introduced now to provide broadcasters with the flexibility to broadcast upcoming events, such as this year’s AFL and NRL grand finals, in high definition, should they chose to do so.

“There is no form of television programming where high-definition transmission is more important than live sports. It does make a very big difference,” he suggested. “While we have no doubt that in due course the networks will take advantage of this change to be able to show live sports, particularly football in HD, the government is not directing them to do that. Our view is that the restriction on the primary channel that it had to be broadcast or transmitted in standard definition is now clearly out of date,” he stated.

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