The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston, today announced new measures to maximise the choice and opportunities available for Australians from the introduction of digital free to air television broadcasting and datacasting.
‘The guiding principle for the Government throughout the digital TV debate has been the interests of consumers. The decisions announced today will ensure that Australians will be able to choose the viewing option which best suits their individual circumstances when digital TV commences on 1 January 2001,’ Senator Alston said.
‘The Government will require the free to air broadcasters to continue their existing analogue broadcasts for at least 8 years. They will also be required to offer both high definition digital (HDTV) and standard definition digital (SDTV) broadcasts.
‘Spectrum will be made available for new datacasting services, and these services will be allowed to offer a wide variety of information, education, advertising, shopping and news services.
‘This will give Australians a choice: an HDTV set that offers cinema quality pictures as well as access to the new datacasting services; a cheaper SDTV set that offers access to the new services and better reception and picture quality than existing analogue sets; a set-top box that gives access through their existing analogue TV set to the new services but with existing picture quality, or; continuing to watch their existing programs through their existing analogue set but without access to the new services.
‘In making these decisions, the Government was well aware of the need to strike a balance between the interests of consumers and the very real financial pressures on both broadcasters and aspirant datacasters.
‘Last year’s legislation, supported by both Government and Opposition parties, prohibits the introduction of new free to air broadcasters before 31 December 2006. Accordingly, the new datacasting regime has been crafted so as to ensure that datacasters cannot offer a de facto broadcasting service.
‘The Government is confident that its decisions will ensure that Australians enjoy the best broadcasting in the world while introducing new information and entertainment options through the establishment of a thriving and viable datacasting industry.’
The decisions announced today are:
- The Government remains committed to the provision of HDTV to Australian audiences and there will be no change to the general requirement that broadcasters deliver high definition television.
- Within two years of the commencement of digital broadcasting in each area, commercial television broadcasters and the ABC will be required to provide at least 20 hours per week of programming produced in HDTV.
- SBS will be required to provide at least 20 hours per week of HDTV material (although it will be allowed to include material produced in SDTV and converted to HDTV).
- The Government will require the free to air television broadcasters to provide a standard definition television (SDTV) signal at all times.
- The Government will introduce a new definition of datacasting services to provide more certainty about the scope of these new and innovative services while ensuring that datacasting will be distinctly different from current television services.
- Datacasters will be able to provide a range of services, including information programs where the sole or dominant purpose is to provide information on products, services and activities; interactive home shopping, banking and bill paying; web pages; e-mail services; education services and interactive games.
- While datacasters may not provide traditional television programs in the areas of news, sports news, financial market and business information and weather, they will be able to provide a ten minute headline bulletin comprising items in these categories in moving video form (with an updated version being permitted every thirty minutes, provided the previous version is withdrawn), and will be able to provide a moving video program of any length on an individual news, financial, market and business information or weather item, as long as the program is only available to a viewer selecting from a menu on the screen, is not hosted by a presenter and is not linked to another item.
- Datacasters will be prevented from showing most genres of television programs, including drama, current affairs programs, sporting programs and events, music programs, infotainment and lifestyle programs, comedy programs, documentaries, reality television programs, children’s programs, light entertainment and variety programs, compilation programs, quiz programs and game shows. They will, however, be able to show short extracts from such programs – for example, extracts from movies as part of a ‘what’s on in the city’ type round-up.
- The Government will allow the free to air broadcasters to provide digital enhancements to their main simulcast programs, provided they are directly linked to, and contemporaneous, with the main program.
- This could take the form of additional camera angles on a sports match, statistics about a player or additional information about a segment in a lifestyle or magazine program. Enhancements cannot amount to a separate multichannel program.
- The Government will allow the broadcasters to multichannel when dealing with "overlaps" – for example, to allow the end of a sporting match to be shown even if it runs over time and clashes with a news bulletin which commences at its scheduled time.
ALLOCATION OF SPECTRUM FOR DATACASTING
- Finalisation of the digital channel plans will confirm the channel/s which will be made available for datacasting. The ABA expects to have this process completed in the first half of 2000. Once the available channels are identified, the Australian Communications Authority will arrange for the sale of spectrum to aspirant datacasters.
- The Government is continuing to examine a number of associated digital implementation issues, including captioning requirements, assistance to regional broadcasters, the role of community television, and the multichannelling requirements of the ABC and SBS. Decisions on these issues are expected in the New Year.
Media Contact: Terry O’Connor, Senator Alston’s office 0419 636 879 or 02 6277 7480
21 December 1999
A Word Document version of this media release is available at
An Additional set of Questions and Answers about Australian Digital Television is available at
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