The Future of Community TV

11th September 2014  |  Comments  |  Blog

Yesterday I announced a number of proposals for the future management of broadcast television spectrum, that used by  community television.

At present, community television transmitter licences are due to expire at the end of 2014. The Government will extend their licences by 12 months to 31 December 2015.

Following this, the Government believes that the best long term outcome for community television is that it uses the Internet as its distribution platform.

In the telecommunications and media business there is more competition, more innovation, more disruptive dynamic change than ever before. For these reasons, the Government has announced a Spectrum Review and is carefully examining how we allocate spectrum and how this scarce public resource can be used most efficiently.

With the completion of the digital switchover, advances in compression standards and Australians increasingly accessing content that doesn’t require spectrum - such as cable and over-the-top services via the internet - the Government considers that it is timely to recast the current broadcasting spectrum policy framework to ensure it is fit-for-purpose for the next wave of innovation in the media sector.

A central part of this proposal is the transition to MPEG-4 compression technology, allowing broadcasters to use their existing spectrum much more efficiently to deliver more channels and more content in high definition.

Community television is currently located on what is known as the ‘sixth channel’ spectrum in the five state mainland capital cities. In the short term, to allow for this transition to MPEG-4 the Government will free up the ‘sixth channel’ to assist in the testing and migration to this more efficient technology.

While I acknowledge there are concerns within the CTV sector about this announcement, average prime time audiences of CTV are low with only 6000 viewers across all five capitals and some services have as few as 1000. Given the small number of services and audiences, their capacity to serve a wide range of different community interest groups is limited.

I have no doubt that moving to an online platform will allow CTV to reach new audiences who have otherwise not had access to CTV to date. This is especially good news for regional Australia. It will deliver CTV to wider audiences, at less cost on a wider range of devices.

CTV representatives have argued they should not be rushed on this new platform. The Internet is not new. It is the universal uber-platform to which most Australians are able to be connected 24/7.

Moving CTV online will allow CTV to further expand its role in providing a place for independent and specialised content, as well as providing valuable and relevant training in program production and OTT distribution.

The Government looks forward to working with the CTV sector and the Community Broadcasting Foundation (the agency that distributes funding to community broadcasters on behalf of the Government) to devise a clear path for CTV’s transition strategy.


When is the Government ceasing community television access to broadcasting spectrum?

At present, community television transmitter licences are due to expire at the end of 2014.  To assist with their transition to an online delivery platform, the Government will extend their licences by 12 months to 31 December 2015.

The Government considers that the best long term outcome for community television is that in future it uses the Internet as its distribution platform.

Why is the Government ceasing community television access to broadcasting spectrum?

Radiofrequency spectrum is a valuable public asset that requires careful and co-ordinated management to accommodate the various financial, policy and technological variables at play that influence its efficient use and allocation. The Government has given careful consideration to the continued access by community television to the sixth channel as part of its wider consideration of spectrum policies.

The Government considers that the best outcome for community television for the long-term is for the CTV sector to utilise the internet as its distribution platform. Transitioning the CTV sector to an online distribution platform will deliver wider audiences at less cost and on a wider range of devices then is possible with more linear broadcasting technology. 

The Government intends to free up the sixth channel for other purposes.  In the short term, this would include assisting commercial and national television broadcasters to test and migrate to new and more efficient broadcasting technologies.  The Government’s current spectrum policy review will consider whether the sixth channel should be re-planned for alternative non-broadcasting uses.

How will the Government cease community television access to broadcasting spectrum?

Community television’s access to spectrum is governed by the Radiocommunications (Duration of Community Television Transmitter Licences) Determination (No.1) 2008.  This determination currently expires on 31 December 2014.  The Minister will vary this to extend the date by 12 months to 31 December 2015. The Australian Communications and Media Authority will then extend the transmitter licences to that date.

Broadcasters cannot broadcast without a valid transmitter licence. Thus, once the expiry of the transmitter licence occurs at the extended date of 31 December 2015, community television broadcasters will be required to cease transmitting their service using the sixth channel spectrum.

Will the Government assist community television in transitioning to online delivery?

The Government will work with the community television (CTV) sector and the Community Broadcasting Foundation to consider the most appropriate transition strategy for services to migrate online by the end of 2015.

Where are community television services broadcast?

CTV services are currently provided in the five mainland capital cities.

  • Sydney
  • Adelaide
  • Brisbane
  • Melbourne
  • Perth

How much have community television broadcasters been paying for access to the sixth channel spectrum?

Community television (CTV) operators do not pay a licence fee to the Government to access broadcasting spectrum.  CTV operators only pay a small administrative fee to the Australian Communications and Media Authority for the allocation of their transmitter licences.

The CTV sector is currently eligible to apply for grants for content, training and other assistance in the general community broadcasting category through the Government’s Community Broadcasting Program administered by the Community Broadcasting Foundation. The Government does not currently provide any direct funding assistance to CTV operators for any purpose.

How many people are employed in community television broadcasting (are people going to lose their jobs)?

The community television stations advise that 53 people are employed either on a part time or full time basis. CTV stations also rely on a number of volunteers. The employment of staff at community television broadcasters is matter for each individual broadcaster.

The Government believes that the 12 month transition period being provided to the CTV sector as well as the wider reach, lower transmission costs and broader revenue opportunities offered by online broadcasting should minimise any adverse impact on employees and in fact offer greater opportunities for CTV.

Won’t the community television sector lose sponsorship as a result of this announcement?

Currently CTV are restricted to 7 minutes of sponsorship announcements per hour to be aired before or after programs or during natural program breaks. By moving online, community television services would no longer need to be licensed under the Broadcasting Services Act.  This will free them from the current restrictions on advertising and sponsorship applying to community broadcasting licencees in that Act. Streamed community-based video services would be able to carry any advertising they choose.

Will community radio be affected?

No.  The Government’s decision relates only to the five metropolitan community television services.

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