Community TV wins digital breakthrough

tvs1It has been a long, hard-fought campaign -but the Community Television sector sees a light at the end of the digital tunnel.

The Rudd Government has finally delivered it the news it has been seeking: a switch to digital broadcasting.

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.

It has also found $2.6m to enable the community sector to meet the costs of commencing digital simulcasts.

Since the Howard Government introduced digital television in 2001, Community TV networks have been left on analogue broadcasting and worried they would be left behind. Community TV channels have traditionally had low-powered analogue transmitters that provided problematic reception across large parts of their viewing areas.

“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,” said Senator Stephen Conroy.

“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,” Conroy said.

“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”

Laurie Patton (pictured), from the Australian Community Television Alliance, which was formed to lobby for the sector’s own survival said, “This is what the Community Television sector has long been seeking from the Government.

“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 Community Television sector has campaigned for the switch for years, including under the Howard Government. It was given a significant leg-up when Freeview declared it would include Community TV on its Freeview-branded EPG Guide.

Some of Community TV’s alumni and successes include Rove McManus, Hamish & Andy, Corrine Grant, Peter Helliar, Jo Stanley, Ryan Shelton, Chartbusting 80s, Blokesworld, Vasili’s Garden, Salaam Cafe, The Bazura Project and even the unforgettable FishCam.


  1. Thanks to A-PAC, I’ve discovered that the real action is not in the senate or house of reps. It’s the Committees where all the good stuff happens. Banish the monologue speeches to audio-only or not at all. A-PAC + ABC4 would be far preferable to two wasted streams of part-time houses of parliament.

  2. Maybe they should just turn the two Parliamentary channels into Audio Only, and for those who really want something to look at, provide a website with a picture of Tin Tin that can be printed out.

  3. Matt – I don’t see why the current datacast trial can continue as it is on Ch34 Datacast CHB. The CHA datacast Channel that is going to be used temporilary is on Ch29 in Sydney, which is currently un-used. I stand to be corrected.

    Kurt – Maybe four separate channels for Ch31, NITV, House of Reps, Senate, and at lower bit-rates, 3 house sub-comittee channels onthe one mux. There is no further room for ABC4 or APAC on this mux. Keep APAC, whch is a really poor attempt as an ABC4 on pay tv where it belongs. APAC is a single channel only, and as such can not carry both the House of Reps and Senate at the same time. Would be better to relay the same full separate services as provided by the Sound & Vision Office ex Parliament House as seen by the pollies.

  4. Good news – So is this going to move into the datacasting channel? Will the existing Datacasts be retained?

    I was pleasantly suprised when NITV appeared when I tuned in my digital receiver. Some of the documentaries have been eye opening, and I think its an important channel to keep in the major urban centres to keep awareness of how different life in once you get more than few hours from the east coast.

    How many SD channels can we pump through a single Datacast band?

    Maybe they can axe “Expo TV”? Does anybody actually watch that?

    (I currently have “Cristian TV ” or “Teacher TV” on skip, but as I can’t argue that they don’t have legitimate community audiences)


  5. Some answers for those whoasked.
    1. Most CTV stations are already receiving a good deal of programming in 16:9 and it is certainly TVS’s intention to encourage all producers to go widescreen well before we start simulcasting. Most digital cameras being used these days have that capability.
    2. We will start simulcasting as soon as we can acquire and install the new transmitter. Early to mid next year would be as specific as we could be at this stage
    3. Yes CTV is surveyed by OzTAM (the official audience ratings company). TVS averages a cumulative monthly audience in excess of 1 million, which is not bad after just over three years on air and with 50% of the population already converted to digital. Individual programs range up to around 50,000. The majority of prime time programs are around the 20/30,000 mark.
    4. Yes, TVS is essentailly ‘digital ready’ at the operations centre. Some tweaking is all that is needed. The issue is getting a digital transmitter.

  6. Only 33% of the Mux for the C31? If ABC has 3 SD and 1 HD on their Mux, surely this ‘Channel A’ can hold C31, NITV, Sky News, A-PAC (which was promised for free-to-air) and ABC4? 5 channels minimum in the capitals before national rollout.

  7. Great news .. we need to remember the great training ground community TV is for developing skills in broadcasting .. and the potential disaster the continued death trap analogue TV was becoming for Community TV.

  8. Community TV does not qualify for a full 23 mbit mux. Surely the Feds will use this $2.3 million for the transmitters ony, and allocate say 33% of each Mux to Community TV, 33% to NITV, and the remaining 33% to the transmission of Federal Parliament – screening both houses and all subcommitties simultaneously which APAC does not do. Then over time, regional areas could be included, with the captial city Community Service potentially going statewide as a default service in the absence of a local service outside of the metro area. If a local comunity service were to start up, then it would take the place of the metro community service in that local regional area. Too sensible an idea, maybe?

  9. Awesomely good news, and amazing to see the useless piece of political poo that is Conroy actually doing something good for the community he allegedly represents.

    Finally I might be able to receive Channel 31 in my Melbourne CBD flat. Assuming I can talk the body corporate into getting another channel amp installed in the building for the new frequency, that is :)

    Anyone know what frequency/channel this “channel A” is?

    @Josh H: I doubt community stations will be doing HD. 16:9 SD, sure, but HD? The production costs would be prohibitive. And will they even get the bandwidth for an HD channel?

  10. @Paull – digital broadcasting for community TV means that producers will now be able to shoot in high definition, and wont be limited to 4:3, which is the current requirement under the analogue transmission agreement.

  11. Im sure Mr Patton, on this site said that Tvs was digital ready so possibly it may not be to long at all, do you Mr Patton have any knowledge of the situation if c31 here in Adelaide is digital ready

  12. @Paull , Yeah I sometimes watch NITV on 40. But as it is part of the temporary Channel ‘B’ datacast licence used by Broadcast Australia, I was asking if NITV would get a permanent digital allocation in Sydney and elsewhere.

  13. @newtaste: NITV has gone digital in sydney, and has been for some while, it’s channel 40 on D44.

    Can someone explain to me what Channel A and B exactly are? Is it just a name for extra unused spectrum? Or are they actually potential new channels in the future.

    Also, what happened to interactive digital tv, when digital came in 2001, I remember being told at the time that the red, blue, green and yellow buttons on digital remotes would be used for interactive features in the future.

  14. The ACMA specs in 1996 for Channel ‘A’ was Channel 29 in Sydney, 32 in Melbourne, 38 in Brisbane, 30 in Adelaide, and 32 in Perth. There was no Channel ‘A’ allocated for Lismore.

    Wonder if the Aboriginal community stations and NITV will also now go digital?

  15. Widescreen broadcasts, will not be the main issue.

    I’d say, the reason Channel A’s being used, is to simply give CTV the digital spectrum, and when analogue’s switched off, a “flashcut” will happen, and the 31’s will be back on UHF 31, which would become “Channel C”, being a terrestrial datacast service, owned by the individual community licensees.

    Simply, post 2013:
    Channel A: National datacast (possible digital teletext) service, possibly subscription based.
    Channel B: Mobile TV, possible mobile DAB+.
    Channel C: locally based datacast, community television.

    The Channel C option could also spawn a rival for the FTA commercials, if it became successful.

  16. About time. Don’t know why it took the governement so long and it should have been granted at the time the commercial channels got their leg up with additional channels in the digitial range. I wonder how many viewers they missed out on. Imagine if a commercial channel got treated this shabbily – The government would be sued byt them.

  17. I wonder if it will broadcast in WS or just 4:3, seeing as most community station shows are shot in 4:3. I also wonder if we’ll see tvsHD in the future…

  18. @Rob: The only times I used to watch community teevee would be on the treadmill at the gym, and half the time it seemed to have an excess of old, poor quality B&W films on it. Me, I’m very selective about what television I watch, and nothing I saw really appealed to me.

    David, I know it’s too soon to ask about channel numbers, but is it too soon to start complaining about the poor bit-rates? *wink*

  19. @AndrewF: Community stations are generally not reported in the ratings, as the cost of taking part in them is quite prohibitive. But there are independent surveys conducted to give some broad statistics on community TV viewers but it can’t be reflected really as a percentage.

    And yes the ratings for the participating channels do add up to 100%

  20. So what channel number will this appear on? SBS gets the 30s even though on analogue it’s channel 28, maybe they’ll give the community stations 31.

    Speaking of freeview… what happened to the freeview epg? Is it availible on freeview endorsed products? Surely it has to be, otherwise there’s no reason to spend twice as much on a freeview product that costs half the price without freeview endorsement (plus it has the added bonus of ad skipping enabled)

    • Geez slow down guys. They just got the funding news. Start dates and channel numbers is too detailed at this stage. Generlly speaking guys, you should know if I have this kind of info I would have included it in the article. Cheers.

  21. A few more million would have been nice, but at least that (and the spectrum space) is something.

    Great to hear about the licence for Perth. I, like many other, did not watch the previous iteration of the community channel, and I suspect that in the future, I’ll also have no great desire to what it. That said, it’s a win for Perth, and I’m quite happy about it.

  22. I imagine these channels will not be included in the ratings but will it be possible to work out who is watching community television? Is it possible now. I’m wondering if the full ratings figures when given as percentages add up to 100%. I look forward to it appearing on my set top box. There was occasionally the odd gem on channel 31.

  23. Typical petty politicking by Conroy in his statement. It was actually the Howard government that pushed forward with giving the community TV stations permanent licences. Up until that point they only had temporary licences that could be revolked at the stroke of a pen. The Howard government had also given commitments in relation to a digital licence in the run up to the 2007 election. Isn’t it an irony that the community TV sector actually got more support under a Coalition government than Labor?

    Conroy is an idiot, just look at his internet ‘filter’ policy as another example.

  24. Took long enough. I dont even know what is on C31 here in Adelaide, as the analogue reception for it is shocking, I cant even get a picture, and I live 12km away from the CBD. I doubt I will ever watch it, but wonder when it will be added.

  25. vinny aka tvaddict0909

    So Perth will see definitely see a new digital community station in 2010 david ?

    Access 31 used to be here in Perth, it was great except it wasn’t digital.

  26. About bloody time this funding was give the go-ahead. These stations, in their gritty, cheap and amateur-looking way, provide a good source of local content without the gloss and bullsh*t of many more expensive productions on commercial stations.

    I hope Foxtel throws ’em a bone and broadcasts them at no cost.

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