Community television stations are set to be chucked off the airwaves and onto the internet tubes at the end of next year under a new plan by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to free up broadcast spectrum.
Speaking at the RadComms Summit yesterday, the Minister said that community television stations would be moved onto the internet in order to facilitate a move by commercial and national broadcasters to an MPEG-4 broadcast standard. MPEG-4 standards, said Turnbull, use broadcast spectrum more efficiently but a transition would require more spectrum in the short term to facilitate.
He added that community TV broadcasters on the so-called sixth channel would have ample time to move over to their new digital-only home, with licenses set to be extended until 31 December 2015.
Here's how the Minister broke the news:
We are also keen to encourage commercial and national broadcasters to commence their transition to MPEG-4 only broadcasting, with the aim that every service would move to an MPEG-4 standard. The Government expects that a transition such as this would be industry managed.
MPEG-4 uses spectrum much more efficiently and would allow broadcasters to use their existing spectrum to deliver more channels and content including in relatively bandwidth hungry formats such as high definition if they choose to do so.
In the short term, to allow for this transition to MPEG-4, the Government intends to free up the spectrum known as the sixth channel to assist in the testing and migration to this more efficient technology.
The sixth channel remains substantially vacant but is currently being used by community television in some state capitals. The Government believes that the best outcome for community television is that in future it uses the Internet as its distribution platform. To allow for this the Government will extend current licensing arrangements until the 31st of December 2015.
I have no doubt that this transition is in the best interests of community television. It will deliver wider audiences, at less cost on a wider range of devices and the ability to do more than linear broadcasting. Some community television representatives, acknowledging that the Internet is their ultimate home, have nonetheless argued that they should not be "rushed into the new media world". The Internet is not new. It is the universal uber-platform to which most people in Australia are connected 24/7.
The spectrum review will now consider whether the sixth channel spectrum will be replanned for alternative non-broadcasting uses, perhaps as the basis for a second digital dividend.
Finally, following a move to an MPEG-4 standard, in order to continue our drive to achieve maximum spectrum efficiency the Government will encourage spectrum sharing between television broadcasters. We expect the national broadcasters to lead the way in this regard, with the commercials to follow.
Operations manager of Channel 31, Matt Field, told SBS that the move to online-only broadcast operations would likely spell the end of community TV.
Read Turnbull's full speech about broadcast spectrum here.
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