It 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.