Commercial networks “not serious” about the digital revolution

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When the clock struck midnight on New Years Day, it didn’t mean the start of a brand new year, but the start of Australia’s own digital television revolution where the commercial channels were permitted to broadcast a single, standard definition multichannel; to complement the main feed and their own high definition feed.

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However, even though it has been permitted, it doesn’t mean that the commercial channels have to take up on the government’s offer – well until they launch their second channel, which both Seven and Nine have refused to provide details about it.

Ten is the only commercial channel that has announced what it would use its standard definition channel for – to broadcast (and complement) sport that it has the broadcasting rights to. The channel will launch in April; but it also has plans to launch a HD channel, causing people to say that the main HD simulcast of the main network would disappear from the screens.

However, Foxtel has told The Australian that the commercial networks are “not serious” about digital television, because of the lack in its lineup.

”Seven, Nine and Ten have had more than two years to plan and launch one new digital channel each on January 1, 2009 — which they are now allowed to provide under government rules," Adam Suckling, Foxtel’s director of policy and corporate affairs, said.

"But they have chosen not to do so … If the free-to-air networks were serious about driving digital take-up, they would have launched their new channels from the day they’re allowed to."

Foxtel has already been broadcasting in digital since 2005; but it does not mean all of its channels are broadcasting in widescreen. Since then, it has constantly added more channels to its own lineup, including the launch of 5 new HD channels for its own HD service.

"Foxtel launched nine channels in 2008 — including Sky News Business and five new HD channels — and will launch another 20 digital channels in 2009," Suckling told The Australian. Out of the new 20 channels that will be launched in 2009, Sky News Australia will broadcast a new current affairs channel that will be similar to C-SPAN in the US.

The new channels that the commercial networks have been given are part of a new effort by the free-to-air networks to boost up digital television sales. Called Freeview, it follows a similar plan made in the UK and New Zealand. However, this is mainly a advertising effort, not a service to compete with Foxtel.

Along with the commercial free-to-air networks’ 3 channels, it will join ABC1, ABC2, ABC HD, SBS, SBS World News and SBS HD to bring 15 channels at launch. This is expected to grow when the ABC and SBS (and soon, the commercial networks) launch several new channels in the coming years.