So, what is the future of television?

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Digital Television is set to dominate our televisions when 2013 finally comes, when the Government will finally switch off the last analogue television signal in the metropolitan cities – but after the switchover, what will happen next?

We seem to have never asked ourselves what will happen in the future of television. Will it become non-existent because of the Internet, or will it still play a potential role for news? Will we be able to get more channels, or will be there no difference from today?

Digital Television in Australia is now under the brand “Freeview” – taking the same approach as the UK and New Zealand giving it a name. However, it really doesn’t do anything, except just promote the brand – unlike the UK and New Zealand variants, where it almost acts like Pay TV – but that’s because our Freeview is not owned by the Government, but is a consortium of the five free to air networks (Nine, Ten, Seven, ABC and SBS).

Freeview has said (before) that fifteen channels will be able to be accessed on their platform – which is technically a lie, because any digital receiver, even before Freeview’s establishment, can access the services – which comprises of all the five stations having their main channel, a secondary channel and a HD channel. However, again, it will most likely expand – solely on the ABC’s efforts as no commercial broadcaster is allowed to expand into more SD and HD channels, and SBS has put off their attempts (except for SBS Two) to expand into the digital realm as they got a lower increase on funding.

But we are also forgetting the little community players. Why does it matter? They don’t have a large enough rating to be listed. Well, my friends who say this all the time, you are wrong. Community television is the stepping stone to the main players, and it does allow a true community voice – unlike the commercial broadcasters, and broadcast a lot of programming based on the community and their nationality. Look at C31 Melbourne’s schedule – it broadcast more LOTE programs than SBS – all in the morning, afternoon and sometimes in Primetime.

That achievement has to be notable – as they have less money than SBS, and yet they can also provide a lot of their programming on demand online, which is said to be a potential Achilles heel on broadcasters as more and more are looking online to get their programs than wait for the broadcasters to show the episodes.

C31 has also been the leader of expressing community television onto digital television. According to its press release, C31 provides an “incomparable service to large and diverse sections of the community” citing these as its reasons:

  • C31 provides a communication platform to marginalised and under-represented sections of the community largely ignored by the mainstream media – often new and emerging communities.

  • C31 airs over 95 locally produced shows each week making it by far the largest broadcaster of local content in Australia.

  • C31 serves as a training ground for the entire television sector, and has produced some of the most well known faces on Australian TV including Rove and Hamish and Andy, in addition to hundreds of people working behind the scenes.

  • C31 provides a marketing platform which enables local business to use the power of television to target a local audience

Also, according to them, Melbourne has three channels remaining on the digital spectrum that remain unused – and are also asking for $1.5 million to upgrade their facilities.

But what also gives the UK Freeview the edge over our Freeview is that they allowed more channels into the loop – including channels that could only be found on Pay TV. UK Freeview has also established several channels that share a channel, where one channel broadcasts on the morning and afternoon, while the other broadcasts at night and during the early mornings.

But the big point, as I mentioned, is the participation of Pay TV offering their channels. If Foxtel, or the channel’s owners (looking at you, the BBC) to provide their channels on the Freeview platform, it would allow the increase of digital television boxes. The most likely choice would bring in Sky News, Sky News Business and A-PAC – as both Seven and Nine do own a stake in the channel, and this would most likely bring in more competition when ABC eventually announces its “ABC4” channel.

But can we afford to bring in new channels? Maybe in 2013, when the spectrum is freed up – or the potential of building more spectrum for digital television. But does this plan make it too competitive that it is very hard to find an audience, because of our small population?

Let’s hear your thoughts on Digital Television’s Future. Comment below.

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