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Minister discusses digital television broadcasting and datacasting.



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Senator the Hon Richard Alston

Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts

Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

3AW DRIVE

TUESDAY, 21 DECEMBER 1999

 

SUBJECT: DIGITAL TELEVISION

COMPERE:

Now, if you, like me, were confused about what digital TV meant before, wait till you see what the Government legislation means now. There have been numerous, copious articles on digital TV in the papers, and I have to admit I didn't read through a lot of them, I wasn't that interested until the Government made its decision and there was some idea of what we were getting.

But given that more than 95 per cent of Australian households have a TV and there was the prospect almost all of them would have to be replaced, the Government's decision was obviously going to have an impact on a lot of Australians.

But just some of the rules which have been outlined by Senator Richard Alston with the Government's plans on digital TV include severe restrictions on data casting services preventing them from providing traditional television programs such as news, sports news, finance, business information, weather. Data casters also cannot show programs including drama, current affairs, music programs, children's programs, and if they have videos on there they're not allowed to run for more than 10 minutes.

It does make you wonder about the sort of programs that can be data casted on digital TV. So to find out why the Government has gone in this particular way, let's go now to the Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Minister, Senator Richard Alston. Good afternoon:

ALSTON:

Good afternoon, Brett.

COMPERE:

This does look like a bit of a mix and match approach to the vexed problem of digital TV.

ALSTON:

Well, look, I suppose because it's a new environment there will be obviously some uncertainty about how it will play out, but our mandate was clear. After the legislation went through the Parliament last year supported by both of the major parties which effectively precluded another new free to air player, and in any event some of the existing players would have been disqualified by virtue of the cross media rules anyway, we had to ensure that data casters were not defacto broadcasters, in other words, couldn't broadcast by the back door.

COMPERE:

So that's why the restrictions on what they can broadcast.

ALSTON:

Yes. What data casting really means - I mean, this is a brand new term. It's not defined in legislation, so it was important for us to spell out the boundaries and make sure that everyone understood the rules of the game.

COMPERE:

So they're not allowed- - as I mentioned, news, sport, drama, that sort of thing. What will they be broadcasting with data casting?

ALSTON:

Oh, well, information services in a whole range of areas. Certainly inter-active games, you'll be able to get a lot off the Web as long as it's not television under another name, Parliamentary broadcasts. In other words, a whole raft of information services and things that both inform and educate as opposed to merely entertain, which is the medium of free to air commercial television.

COMPERE:

Well, let's take the Web as an example because at the moment on the Web you can download entire movies as many people who wanted to see The Blair Witch Project before anyone else did. How do you restrict that?

ALSTON:

Well, to the extent that it's on a PC then there's no difficulty about that.

COMPERE:

Right.

ALSTON:

This is really only in respect of analogue- - oh, sorry, the terrestrial free to air networks. Now, if it comes in through a television line, then that is separate, but if it comes in via cable or satellite on the broadcasting services band then that will be caught by the existing definition that restricts new entrants and doesn't allow people to broadcast television programs as we know them.

COMPERE:

I suppose most people's first reaction would be does this mean I have to get a new TV when digital transmission start 1st of January, 2001.

ALSTON:

Well, the short answer to that is no. There'll be an analogue service that- - the existing analogue service continues through until the end of 2006, and that will simply mean that if people want to buy and add on in the form of a set top box then they'll be able to do that and for many people that will give them better quality television, no interference or ghosting.

It will also give them access to enhancements which are basically supplementary add ons to the existing programs, so different camera angles, sporting stats, that sort of thing, but they'll also get data casting facilities through their set top boxes as we ll, but they'll be able to keep their analogue sets right through until then and I think the way technology is going they'll be able to keep them for the normal life of a set, because there'll be a number of multi chip sets that will enable you to buy replacement sets very cheaply.

COMPERE:

There's been a mixed reaction to this. FACTS, the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations, we'll speak to in a moment. They say the decision to require broadcasters to triple cast their signal is disappointing. Lachlan Murdoch has hit out at it saying it's a free kick for the free to air TV stations, and even the Australian Consumers Association which largely is approving of what you've decided, also is critical of the fact that there is limits on the downloading of videos and other information and that sort of thing. Do you think anyone's going to be entirely happy with what you've decided?

ALSTON:

Probably not, but that's the nature of the business. You've got some very powerful interests here. They'd all like- - they've all got wish lists. They'd like to have it, the playing field to themselves, or at least they'd like to be able to paint it the way that would suit their business cases.

We've really drawn on international experience. We've understood that we might be treading on a few toes, but at the end of the day we've come up with what we think is the best regime. Now, I think they can all live with it. I know there are a lot of complaints and we expected those, but by and large, these decisions have been driven by consumer interests.

I mean, the so-called triple cast, according to Kerry Stokes, for example, from Channel Seven, he says that will add about one per cent to the total conversion costs and it will mean that people will be able to get a set top box for about half the price that they would otherwise have had to pay for an HD set top box.

COMPERE:

Yes, well, Channel Seven's gone it alone compared to the other TV networks. We'll find out why in a moment. Just finally, I suppose it's more of a vested interest, but what about digital radio?

ALSTON:

Well, digital radio is still under consideration. There are a lot of industry expert bodies that have been looking at the future of digital radio. I think it's fair to say that the picture isn't as clear here as it is for television, because you've got both the UK and the US up and running on TV, whereas radio is still very much in its infancy and given that people are reluctant to buy new sets and don't quite know what the future holds then I think it makes sense to hasten slowly.

COMPERE:

All right. Thanks for your time today.

ALSTON:

A pleasure, Brett.

COMPERE:

Communications Minister Senator Richard Alston.

ENDS

 

 

jy  2000-02-04  16:16