Finally, someone's asking the big questions. Ed Husic, Federal Member for Chifley and Australia Tax fighter, has spoken in Parliament on the fact that Australia's main free-to-air TV stations still don't broadcast in HD.
Digital TV static image via Shutterstock
He even opens with a sneaky Game Of Thrones reference, noting that winter is coming... and that means the 2015 NRL season is about to kick off. Husic is a big fan of the Parramatta Eels, as well as the Sydney Kings and the mighty Western Sydney Wanderers, and likes watching them live and in person, but not everyone in Australia has that privilege. "Live sport is one of the great experiences you can have, but not everyone can get to a game, and they do prefer to watch on TV."
"Why are we being so poorly done by? There is a requirement that the primary channel be in standard definition in this country, and under the anti-siphoning laws you have to show a lot of these big events straight away on that primary channel — and that has an impact on what people can watch."
That combination leads, inevitably, to a situation where every major event in Australia — particularly sports like the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, NRL and AFL grand finals, the FIFA World Cup — has to be shown primarily in SD. Some channels stand out, though — because SBS has a HD simulcast channel, you can watch some event broadcasts in HD if you so desire. But SBS is an anomaly, since competitor Ten sometimes doesn't show the F1 in HD on ONE, and having a simulcast channel just for HD is a waste of spectrum — if we're committed enough to the future to have switched off analog, we should be committed enough to switch from SD to HD.
The argument behind the primary free-to-air TV channels being in standard definition uses the reasoning that some people might not be capable of purchasing a high definition TV, and would therefore be discriminative. The data, though, doesn't back that up. Husic says that in nearly every state and territory capital around the country, where 89 per cent of the population lives, over 90 per cent of homes have a high definition TV. The vast majority of the population wouldn't be adversely affected, and would actually benefit. "It's the equivalent of putting E10 fuel in your car when 98 octane is freely available."
It makes sense that the major free-to-air TV channels have to be inclusive of as many viewers as possible, and that means catering to the lowest common denominator. But that doesn't necessarily mean excessively catering to outdated technologies — that's one of the reasons we switched off analog TV over a year ago.
Peak industry group Free TV Australia has actually lobbied Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the topic, and has been asked to make a submission on the topic by the end of March. Its members, the country's major free-to-air TV broadcasters, want HD on their primary channels. Channels already have HD spectrum, but waste it on multi-channels because legislation just hasn't caught up.
We've bemoaned the fact before that major sporting events are not shown in HD due to the frustrating combination of anti-siphoning laws and outdated legislation. Both components require some rethinking; the primary channel SD requirement is ripe for an update to reflect the number of HD TVs around, and anti-siphoning could do with a bit of a re-jig too. Take out the ability for channels to purchase broadcast rights and not show an event live (or at all), for one thing.
Husic's message to Turnbull is clear: "I certainly think the public would appreciate that we're able to change the law, cut the red tape, and make sure our sports are in high definition glory. It's the least you can expect in this day and age. The bulk of the public, and those that don't have subscriber TV, should be entitled to see something that in this day and age in other parts of the world are freely available."
You can watch Husic's speech to the House Of Representatives below:
Looks like Turnbull is keen, too:
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) February 26, 2015