Broadcasting Services Amendment (Digital Television and Datacasting) Bill 2000
Database Senate Committees
Date 31-05-2000
Source Senate
Place Canberra
Page 60
Status Final
Questioner CHAIR
Senator BOURNE
Reference Broadcasting Services Amendment (Digital Television and Datacasting) Bill 2000
Responder Mr Rushton
System Id committees/commbill/1035/0016

ENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATION, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS - 31/05/2000 - Broadcasting Services Amendment (Digital Television and Datacasting) Bill 2000

CHAIR —I welcome witnesses from the WIN Corporation. We have WIN Corporation as a separate entity from FACTS although they were sitting with FACTS, which was just a little bit confusing. We welcome Mr John Rushton and Mr David Sturgiss. Do you wish to make an opening statement, Mr Rushton?

Mr Rushton —Yes, I would like to. I know that the time is short, so I will keep it brief. We have two issues that we wanted to speak to you about: one is the closed captioning and the other is the underserved regional licence areas. We covered closed captioning to some degree in the FACTS time. So, because we are running late, I will not go any further on that. But we can certainly discuss it a bit more.

CHAIR —You can expand on that issue if you do not feel that you covered it adequately.

Mr Rushton —I think I did say what our major problem was in complying with what is proposed. We are proposing that regional television at least goes to partial captioning of all scripted material. We would not be able to caption unscripted material until such time as technology was developed to do it automatically. On the underserved regional licence areas, we believe that the scheme proposed in the bill in respect of solus and two-station television markets be retained. Licences in solus markets are required to provide a second analog service very shortly. We have all put in applications for these. We are just waiting for the ABA to allocate the frequencies and then they will be going on air. We have applications in for Mount Gambia and Loxton. I have already started to acquire some equipment to do that because we do not want to get trapped in the digital conversion. We want to do that one quickly to get it out of the way and then we can get all of our engineering people onto the digital conversion of our whole network.

I know there has been a submission saying that this should be scrapped for all of the solus areas and it should go out to open bidding. The scheme proposed here to allow the existing operators to multichannel is the system by which the people serviced in those areas are going to most quickly get a choice of services. We will go to our very smallest market, which is Loxton out in the Riverland area, whose potential audience is 35,000 people. This is a very small community. To get into a three-way competitive environment there is totally impractical. It just would not happen—it could not happen. All of the solus areas are very similar to that. They are all in South Australia and they are very small in population base. Population base governs the revenue base—so everything is related. We have one operating in Griffith, where we have already had a section 38A licence issued. The second service has been up and running for a couple of years. That is operating well and the community is delighted to have a choice of two. This proposed legislation will certainly enhance the viewing of the people in that area when we go to digital.

I think sometimes we have to look at what is sensible and in the best interests of the community being served. We believe there is a similar situation for the two-station markets. There are not many two-station markets, and they are two-station markets again because of their small population base. But wrapped up in all of this is that in 1998 there was a moratorium on new licences. No new licences can be issued until 2007. The reason why the moratorium was introduced was to enable existing operators to fund the digital conversion. At the same time we have to maintain the analog service. This applies to the Seven Network, the Nine Network and the Ten Network just as it does to all of the regional operators. If the moratorium principle is overturned, then it is going to be grossly unfair to these very small television stations. They are really the ones who need the most assistance in moving to a digital regime.

I think the proposed legislation provides a solution that is going to get a third station onto the sets of all the people in the two-station markets most quickly. If it is taken up, it has to be on air by 2004. If it is not, because of the moratorium, there can be no additional licensees come into the market. They cannot even be given a licence until 2007. It will probably be 2009 before they are on air. It is really delaying giving the choice of additional services to these markets by a considerable amount of time.

CHAIR —Thank you, Mr[nbsp ]Rushton.

Senator BOURNE —Mr[nbsp ]Rushton, I am pretty sure we heard from the Australian Caption Centre that Channel 7 does stenocaptioning remotely from Perth. Would it be possible for you to get remote stenocaptioning done as well for things like interviews? Or are they so disparate in your programming that that is unviable financially?

Mr Rushton —I can quickly tell you how we put news to air in, say, Victoria. We have journalists and cameramen right across the state. We produce six different news bulletins a day. All of those go to air from our mother station in Ballarat each night at 6[nbsp ]p.m. So five of them are prerecorded and the sixth one is going to air live. Those stories are coming in on the microwave link to Ballarat probably from about 2[nbsp ]p.m. onwards and they are all edited remotely. Then there is a producer in each area putting each bulletin to air. So there could be some stories still coming in from areas, say, at 4 o'clock when it has to be prerecorded at 4 o'clock, so they get slotted in further down the bulletin. As soon as they have done the prerecord for the 4[nbsp ]o'clock one—and the prerecord is just for the intros, and it probably takes 10 or 15 minutes per bulletin—they then move on and do the next one and so on down the track.

For us to have that done remotely would mean that we would have to send a story up the line somewhere to the remote position for them to view it and then steno it—or whatever the terminology is—and then send it back to us. There just would not be time to do it because we do this prerecorded technique so we can offer a lot of different news bulletins to the community. Whereas the Seven Network are doing one bulletin in five centres and a lot of the international stories would only have to be done once. They come in overnight, so they can be done in the morning. So their actual Australian unscripted stories are probably not even half of what we do just in regional Victoria.

Senator BOURNE —So it is a matter of timing rather than cost.

Mr Rushton —Yes. It is the physical time to do it, assuming that the talent is available in Ballarat.

Senator BOURNE —I have one other short one. You say in your submission that the ABA has still not considered the licence area plan for Tasmania.

Mr Rushton —I think it has been overtaken by the digital legislation.

Senator BOURNE —You would not really need it under this legislation anyway.

Mr Rushton —Exactly. That is right. It has an almost identical population to Western Australia, where it has been done.

Senator BOURNE —You think it would be the same outcome anyway?

Mr Rushton —Yes, I do. I really believe that. As I said earlier, the wealth of a licence is based on the population that you serve because you are selling your viewers. That is what you are selling, and we have got to try and get as many as we can.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, Mr Rushton. As time has moved on, we will break for afternoon tea now.

Proceedings suspended from 4.01 p.m. to 4.21 p.m.