“Just do it!” Networks tell govt to allow primary channels to switch to HD.

2015-02-23_2234EXCLUSIVE: It’s one of the biggest bug bears of TV viewers across Australia: why are our primary channels not in High Definition?

Surprisingly it’s a frustration shared by TV networks as well, but their hands are tied pending government legislation.

In December 2013 FreeTV Australia wrote to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull recommending Legislative change to the Broadcast Services Act to drop the requirement that primary channels must be an SDTV service.

Julie Flynn, CEO of FreeTV Australia said the government has asked networks to respond by the end of March on the question of changes to the Broadcast Act.

“It is something we are absolutely working on and it is something we hope the government will do, but they have not yet done,” she told TV Tonight.

“They have proposed that we get rid of that restriction that we can’t do HD on the main channel.”

“This is something they could do tomorrow. Just do it. It’s bleedingly obvious.”

There are a number of issues various broadcasters and lobby groups want addressed by government surrounding deregulation, retransmission, changes to the Reach Rule, dropping licence fees, anti-siphoning, online piracy, and work visas.

Treasurer Joe Hockey recently told Cabinet that technological change was deregulating the industry far faster than any government could.

“He couldn’t have made our case more clearer for us to say ‘Get on with it.’ And licence fees are a big part of that,” says Flynn, “and (changes to) the Code is a critical part of it.”

While the government has been reluctant to initiate change unless there is industry agreement, it seems allowing primary networks to switch to HD is one that has plenty of unison.

“But we’ve been calling for it for some time, but we would like to see it sooner rather than later.”


  1. Malcolm Turnbull is generally pretty progressive on a lot of topics but he seems hopelessly out of touch with Communications – which is unfortunate considering he’s the Minister of Comms!

    BTW, I can’t tell the difference between SD and HD, my sight must be dreadful (even with glasses!) even when I DL shows I can’t tell when the quality is bad and other viewers are pointing it out. My Dad even put 2 TVs next to each other, one of SD and the other HD to show me the difference and I still couldn’t see it! I can’t see those ‘magic eye’ pictures either, I’m dysfunctional with these things :). But it seems the majority of viewers can see that HD is superior and are clamouring for it so the government really needs to stop dragging the chain.

  2. I think k it’s pretty obvious that this is both the networks and the governments fault. No point in finger pointing. Both are to blame and both need to work together.

  3. It’s a real obvious move that HD will happen.Just a matter of when.I hate how the government is so involved with FTA Networks should just convert now forget about the other crap.It does depend on your quality of TV if do see any differences.To me FF on One is better and so is IACGMOOH because it’s HD.Gotta Love Foxtel with their HD it’s awesome

  4. This is a poor effort from the government. In the UK most if not all of their Freeview channels are simulcast in hd. Why can’t the government move with the times. Technology is rapidly evolving we have a 1960’s type attitude. I think we need to have a more younger Minsiter of communications. Someone who will put idea into action. I say we just go hd on the main channel and get the minority to buy a tv. Their are like fairly cheap. Perhaps the government should have a special campaign for pensioners and perhaps help them out. finanacially. Like they did with the digital switchover. Just put plan into action Turnbull.

  5. What? It is the Governments fault? I thought it was because the TV channels didn’t want to do it … not some stupid and out of touch Govt decision! I want my shows in HD and I want them now!!!!! I don’t care about sport … i want my dramas in HD!

  6. Secret Squïrrel

    I’m all for the networks being able to decide which of their channels is broadcast in HD but there is little point if most of the source content is still SD. That’s the reason why people can’t tell the diff between FTA HD and SD – it’s pretty much all SD.

    You can buy 8K cameras and screens now (expensive) but most of our content is 3 generations behind that.

    What I’d really like to see is a move to MPEG-4 so that the HD channel doesn’t have to steal bandwidth from the other channels. Don’t really know why they didn’t go with MPEG-4 right at the start as it was introduced last century.

  7. Do I hear a quid pro quo approaching? Drop the licence fee and we’ll switch our main channel to HD. We could simulcast the main channel in SD on one of our shopping channels but why should we?
    Everyone in the business knows that “content is king” irrespective of the pixels but we must appear to be listening to our viewers even if they’re only a vocal minority.

  8. The law states that they must broadcast an SD version of their main channel, not that they can’t broadcast a HD version of it. SBS does broadcast a HD version and Ten does for FF and I’m A… when it suits them.

    The networks wanted 1080i with surround sound because they thought it would give them an advantage over pay and internet services. So the government legislated that relying solely on the wow! look at all those pixels factor to drive it. This failed dismally because equipment was too expensive and content wasn’t available. People couldn’t afford it and the networks and public broadcasters demanded taxpayer money to upgrade. The government legislated that an SD version of main channel had to be broadcast so people could buy cheap SD equipment that wouldn’t become obsolete.

    The networks then decided that diversity was the key to profit, not pixels, so they lobbied the…

  9. The whole concept of ‘primary channel’ is redundant now that everyone has digital tv.

    Having said that, the networks need to weigh up the cost of people that don’t have HD capable set top boxes / tvs. I would imagine that would be hundreds of thousands of viewers (mainly those on Foxtel without an HD access ticket).

    • i have never had Foxtel so don’t know, are you saying they charge you extra to have their stb be HD capable?? if so thats ridiculous & holding back the industry

  10. There are quite a number of the elderly, the underprivileged and so on, who are still using equipment which only receives SD, so rushing into this would be foolhardly. As has been pointed out, if the stations were that concerned about it, there are easy ways for them to achieve this right now, such as simulcast.

    • The problem I don’t think will be as bad as many think. Here is an AMCA survey about TV sets in households from 2011:

      Yes, there will be a small number of people that will be affected if this change is allowed, but new set top boxes are dirt cheap. We can’t always let a minority affect the majority.

    • i believe it might only be because they haven’t felt they’ve needed it, if they needed it they could get one for less than $50 new or even less second hand, or usually a relative has a spare one lying around, hardly a budget breaker.

  11. Considering what the government has done to the NBN it’s no surprise they are sitting on their hands when it comes to superior technology. Just give us what we want already.

  12. For goodness sake, I’ve got a HD TV and hear people carrying on about this but I can’t see one difference. If there is a difference it would only be minute so I don’t know why people are complaining about something so petty.

    • Having an HD TV doesn’t mean your picture is any better. The TV networks need to broadcast the content in HD too.

      Just compare 7 to 7mate, or 9 to GEM. That said, Foxtel HD is glorious in comparison to FTA HD. And if you can’t see the difference you need your eyes check.

    • Bullswool if you can’t see the difference between HD and SD then there’s either a problem with your TV, or you’re not watching HD content (eg Foxtel HD) and directly comparing it with SD. The difference is like night and day. Switching from AFL on 7 to AFL on Fox Footy HD is like taking a layer off glad wrap off the TV screen.

      • Completely agree – the HD on Foxtel is superb compared to anything out of FTA. Occasionally you will get ok HD from FTA but so there is so little actual HD content on the so-called FTA HD channels in any case.

        Another point here is that if your TV is small you may not be able to tell the difference between HD and not HD.

    • So do I. I also have foxtel and I can tell the massive difference between foxtels HD channels and the crappy picture you get with SD on out main FTA stations.

  13. There hands are not tied. They could simulcast if they wanted to. They merely choose not to and would rather show movies from the 60s and Danoz direct on the HD channels.

  14. This really is a no-brainer, so of course our “gumnet” (thanks for the laughs Tony, no really… there’s the door, don’t let it hit your butt on the way out) is dragging its collective feet.

    I would go further however and restrict Seven, Nine and Ten to only one extra SD channel instead of the two – the picture quality suffers too much otherwise. Unless of course they use the better MPEG4 technology.

    Let’s get moving on this. Even North Korea now has their main television in HD. It’s an embarrassment that we do not.

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