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TV industry warning: Canberra may delay digital TV startup

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IMMEDIATE RELEASE Monday 1sl June 1998


With just 945 days to go until Australia’s digital television startun date of 1st January, 2001, commercial television broadcasters today warned the deadline won’t be met unless framework legislation is enacted within the next few weeks.

FACTS General Manager, Tony Branigan, told a Senate Committee hearing in Canberra the 3 1 -month countdown was only achievable if TV stations can commit to massive new equipment purchases and complex planning for the new television within a few months

Digital television is due to start in all mainland capitals on 1st January 2001 with other major markets like Hobart, Canberra, Newcastle and Wollongong starting around the same time.

Legislation setting the framework for digital TV needs to pass the Senate before its adjourns for winter on 2 July. The Senate Committee inquiry is due to report on 22 June.

“Only 24 months from today, the TV broadcasting industry must be at an advanced stage of installing many new transmitters,” Tony Branigan said.

“We will need to be transmitting digital test broadcasts from at least August 2000 - only 26 months from now. This will be essential to meet the 1st January 2001 deadline for full scale digital broadcasting, as well as to help retailers sell the new digital TV receivers that will be on sale in the last quarter of 2000.

“To place firm orders and deposits in competition with the 1600 TV stations in North America alone converting to digital, the Australian industry must have the certainty of legislation in place.”

Branigan said conversion to digital which will meet the needs of TV viewers for the next 30­ 40 years was the most significant issue the TV industry had faced since it began in Australia in 1956. It will require duplication of over 850 transmitters, major upgrading of studios and station facilities and capital spending of at least $500 million in the first 4 or 5 years.

Digital television will give a major boost to Australia as a networked nation participating in the global information economy through its substantial data delivery capacity to virtually every household.

By achieving the 2001 startup deadline, Australia will be also close enough to overseas digital startups to be in the forefront of an exciting new technology which spans all of the converging information and communications industries.

Further information Tony Branigan, FACTS 018 022 617 02-9960 2622

F E D E R A T I O N OF A U S T R A L I A N C O M M E R C I A L T E L E V I S I O N ST AT I ONS 44 Avenue Road Mosman NSW 2088 Australia Telephone (02) 9960 2622 Facsimile (02) 9969 3520

FACTS (check against delivery)



1. Thirty-one months from today, digital television broadcasting w ill begin in

all mainland capital cities. At about the same time, it will also begin in a

number of regional markets, including Hobart, Canberra, Newcastle and

W ollongong.

2. That means that 24 months from today, this industry needs to be at an

advanced stage of installing scores of new transmitters. We w ill need to be

transm itting test broadcasts from at least August 2000 - 26 months from

now - if we are to meet the 1 January 2001 deadline for full-scale digital

broadcasting, and to help retailers to sell the digital sets th a t w ill be in

stores in the last quarter of 2000.

3. This is a very tight timetable, but it is achievable if we can begin to com mit

to equipment purchases and the complex preparation process w ithin a

m atter of months. We can begin to do this only when the legislative

framework is in place. We must have that legislation before Parliament rises

in July.

4. This is the most significant issue this industry has faced since its inception

in 1956. It involves a new transmission system which will have to meet our

needs, and the needs of Australian viewers, for the next three or four

decades. It w ill require duplication of over 850 transm itters and major

upgrading o f studios and station facilities across the country. It w ill cost

the commercial television industry at least $500 million in capital

expenditure in the first 4 or 5 years. It w ill take the industry - particularly

regional stations - years to digest this huge spending requirement, at a time

o f rapidly increasing com petition from Pay television. That is w hy a

guaranteed period w ith o u t new commercial television licences is essential.

5. Digital television will provide dramatically better picture quality pictures for

viewers, particularly in the form of high definition television. Eventually, it

will also allow much more efficient spectrum usage, which w ill also benefit

the com m unity at large. Free-to-air broadcasters alone can m otivate the

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whole population to make this change, and thereby achieve these benefits

for Australia.

6. Bear in mind, also, that digital television is not just about quality

im provem ents to television programs. It w ill also bring substantial data

delivery capacity to virtually every Australian household. This is something

no other inform ation technology approach could hope to match over the

next decade or so. Digital television will provide an immeasurably greater

boost to the inform ation economy than any alternative uses of the

broadcasting spectrum. While those alternative uses would not be w ith o u t

value, they would sw allow up the spectrum needed for simulcasting. This

would deny viewers a smooth transition to free-to-air digital television.

7. By 2001, many American and European cities will have had digital television

for a year or less. We are far enough behind them to benefit from their

experience, and from the technical improvements in second generation

equipment. We will be close enough to overseas digital television start-ups

to be in the forefront of development of this exciting new technology - a

technology which spans all of the converging inform ation and

communications industries. We can share these benefits only if we are able

to meet the timetable set out in the legislation. If there is significant

slippage, we w ill find ourselves in our fam iliar role as merely passive

consumers of established technology. Australia must move quickly or lose

this opportunity.

8. This legislation is fram ework legislation. It does not deal w ith much

sign ifica nt detail that is yet to be decided. That will be the province of a

series of reviews, in which many interest groups w ill be represented, w ith

further opportunities to influence Australia's digital television future. This

approach allows further debate and substantive input to decisions, while

allowing broadcasters, set manufacturers and the Australian technology and

inform ation technology industries to move full speed ahead to implement

digital television and unleash its potential for all Australians.


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