Sydney, Australia -- The country's free-to-air
broadcasters will have to provide both standard-definition and high-definition television
signals, as well as analog TV, for at least eight years when the country adopts digital
broadcasting in January 2001.
Within two years of the 2001 digital start-up, broadcasters
must transmit at least 20 hours of original HDTV programming per week.
The government will lend them additional spectrum to enable
them to broadcast in the three formats. The unneeded spectrum must be returned to the
government after the eight-year period.
Television broadcasters will not be able to use their
digital spectrum for multicasting or for pay TV.
The digital decision has elicited a mixed decision from
Australia's major broadcasting stakeholders.
The Federation of Australian Commercial Television
Stations, which represents commercial networks Nine Network and Network Ten, expressed
disappointment at the decision to mandate the broadcast of SDTV, but it was pleased with
the limits imposed on datacasters.
FACTS said the requirement to transmit in three formats
would split Australia's small television-receiver market between HDTV and SDTV
equipment, resulting in higher prices for both.
To reinforce its earlier decision to prohibit any new
television networks until 2006, the government has also taken pains to draw heavy
distinctions between broadcasters and datacasters.
It was decided that datacasting would be a service
delivered in the broadcasting spectrum, but it could provide television programs in genres
commonly regarded as free-to-air television.
Datacasters will be prohibited from broadcasting drama;
current affairs; sporting programs and events; music programs; infotainment and lifestyle
programs; comedy programs; documentaries; reality programs; children's programs;
light entertainment and variety shows; compilation programs; and quiz and game shows.
In the areas of news, sports news, financial-market and
business information and weather, datacasters will be allowed to broadcast a 10-minute
headline bulletin, which they may update every half-hour.
News Ltd. -- which has made no secret of its aspirations to
establish a fourth commercial broadcast network in Australia -- harshly criticized the new
News Ltd. CEO Lachlan Murdoch said in a prepared statement
that the government's digital broadcasting policy would stifle competition in
datacasting, as the "definitions are so restrictive that only free-to-air television
companies will be in a position to launch comprehensive services."
Seven Network and newspaper giant John Fairfax Holdings
Ltd. -- both standard-definition supporters -- welcomed the decision on datacasting, as
did public broadcaster ABC.
Fairfax chief executive Fred Hilmer hailed the decision as
a win for consumers and urged the government to promptly reopen the analog-television
spectrum for auction for new telecommunications and media services.
Communications minister Richard Alston said a review of
HDTV would be held in 2003 to reassess its requirements.
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