Coalition approves primary channels for HD

Switching to High Definition for our favourite shows will end one of viewers' biggest gripes.


Malcolm Turnbull’s move to allow networks to broadcast their primary channel in High Definition will put an end to one of viewers’ biggest gripes.

Yesterday the Coalition approved an amendment to allow networks the option of switching their primary channel to HD, with Nine and TEN already welcoming the news. The legislation is expected to be put to Parliament today, with anticipated support from Labor and the Greens.

Early reports indicate it is expected to pass in time for the AFL and NRL Grand Finals, although it remains unclear if all the technical requirements will be in place for those broadcasts to be in HD.

TEN Network Chief Executive Officer, Paul Anderson said, “TEN Network welcomes the Government’s proposal to remove the restriction on broadcasting our main channel in high definition. The legislation is catching up with technology. This is great news for viewers, as it will allow us to enhance our service by presenting premium content on the main TEN channel in HD – for free. It will take time to move the main channel to HD, but we are already working on the technical and rights issues.”

Nine CEO David Gyngell said, “This move by the Government will ensure the Australian public continue to have the best quality television service live and free in their homes. Our team are working to ensure all the appropriate rights and technical issues are resolved so High Definition on our main channel can proceed, to provide the audience with the best possible experience of all our premium content, from sport and drama to live events.”

A Seven spokesperson said, “It is pleasing to see our legislation being brought in to line with technology. We certainly hope to bring viewers more HD content in future. But there is still more to be done to address regulatory constraints on commercial broadcasters. In particular we still pay the highest licence fees in the world and are facing competition from international players who aren’t subject to the same rules and in some cases don’t even pay tax. We are looking forward to continuing to work with the Government to address these imbalances.”

Free TV CEO Julie Flynn said, “This is a win for viewers as it will give broadcasters the flexibility to screen more premium content in HD.

“In a digital environment, it doesn’t make sense to limit the primary service to Standard Definition. We welcome this as a first step to allowing free-to-air broadcasters to deliver more enhanced services to all Australians, for free.

“These positive changes may take some time to implement for each broadcaster, depending on the resolution of technical and rights issues.

“This is a move in the right direction. However, we still have a long way to go. The Australian
television industry is facing unprecedented challenges, including some of the highest broadcaster licence fees in the world and the entry of largely unregulated global content providers.

“We commend the government and urge them to implement further deregulation measures to allow free-to-air broadcasters to remain competitive so they can continue to deliver these highly valued services to all Australians for free.”

For television viewers the change cannot come soon enough. Watching our favourite dramas, documentaries and sport in standard definition is an outdated concept, and should have been remedied quickly after the analogue switch-off at the end of 2013 (David Gyngell even flagged this after the last NRL rights deal!).

Foxtel has always been able to push its array of HD broadcasts as a key selling point. Free to Air is long overdue in addressing that imbalance.

TV Tonight readers who have been completing the Audience Inventory survey have ranked the problem as one of the Most Important issues to them as viewers. 798 surveys have been received thus far, and the lack of HD has attracted plenty of comment.

Here are some select quotes from readers:

  • For all Primary Channels to switch to HD.Australia has been waiting far too long.
  • Number one priority right now should be getting the primary channels HD. Glad you include that as one of your listed issues.
  • Can’t believe we still haven’t got HD for the main channels.
  • HD as primary FTA channel is SO important, as is HD sports. Most critical issue IMO.
  • Not enough HD and 5.1 surround sound. Shows too slow to appear. FTA Terrible. Too much reality TV.
  • Nine need to set up HD streaming for live NRL matches and make Foxtel redundant.
  • FTA wants more access to shows that Foxtel/Pay TV has, but when they get the access they muck it up. EG AFL – Seven refuse to screen in HD, but Foxtel has had it in HD for years.
  • Lack of original programming is disappointing. Lack of HD and live sport is disrespectful. Shopping channels should be banned.
  • Fast tracking all shows, in HD, is the only way to combat piracy.
  • TV networks are being left behind with the technology advancing so quickly around them. HD mandatory within 18 months please, the difference is amazing between FTA sport and FoxHD sports (eg AFL).
  • Programs are made in HD so broadcast them in HD!
  • Every channel should be in HD.
  • I love TV. I’d really like to see main channels in HD. And more sport in HD. I can’t get HD Foxtel in my apartment building which is very frustrating.
  • The lack of FTA HD content is appalling. Especially sport that is exclusive to FTA.
  • Biggest priority – HD primary channels. It is ridiculous we cannot watch events like State of Origin in HD.
  • Picture quality is appalling compared to when digital TV launched -we need FULL HD and better bitrate!

While it has been copping a whacking in the polls, it sounds like the government will win some favour with this one.

You can still have your say on the issues in TV that matter to you here.

35 Responses

  1. Aparrently someone in America decided to charge more for true HD content so nearly all of the current contracts are for SD copies of HD shows, hence “rights issues” across the networks, hence why they can’t just flick a switch to make the main channel HD

  2. I just don’t understand why this should take a long time. Surely it is a case of just flicking a switch( or more lickly touching an icon on a touch screen) to move primary channels to the hd signal and the hd channels to SD signal. What can be so hard about that??? It should happen in 2016 and then I might go and by a 75 inch screen

  3. Great news. Now we need some bandwidth for quality HD and not the rubbish that is being broadcast at the moment. Maybe one or two less shopping channels could help free up some bandwidth?

  4. So people don’t care, what is shown as long as it is in HD, no wonder the commercial networks show nothing but reality and sport, oh and lets not forget the animals that make you laugh.

  5. The question is when will they switch over now and how difficult is it to switch over? Will there be a big hoo ha from the networks when they do or just do it with no fanfare? I’m sure 7, 9 and ten have had their HD logos in mothballs for ages now

  6. In 2005 I remember seeing on ACA “switch over to channel 90 for high definition”. In 2007 Ten promoted their AFL coverage as HD and surround sound. We last saw HD main channels including AFL and NRL in HD with Seven and Nine in 2010 prior to the launch of GEM and 7mate.

    Nothing has stopped the networks from simulcasting events in HD all this time other than their own commercial decision to maximise advertising revenue from extra channels. The big kick in the teeth with the idea of HD major sports events simulcasts is the fact all of them have on at least one occasion simulcast reality shows on their HD channels.

  7. A few people are saying this could affect network branding, eg: Seven moving the main channel to 7mate’s frequency meaning it would move from 7 on the remote control to 73. There’s no reason why each network can’t have two HD channels, the main channel and the current HD channel. Just axe those stupid home shopping and ad channels and use the bandwidth of those channels and the main SD channel for another HD channel.

    1. There’s not enough bandwidth for two HD channels even with the datacasting channels gone. Changing the primary to HD though wouldn’t require a channel number change though because those numbers aren’t related to frequency. And all of a networks channels broadcast on the same frequency anyway.

      1. If you manipulate the bit rage of each channel my understanding is that you could get 2 HD channels out of one networks’ spectrum and still have another 3 SD channels – quality won’t be the best though.

        I recall seeing once that the bit rates for Seven main (SD) and 7mate (HD) weren’t all that different…

        1. I suppose potentially. Personally I reckon that high bit rate SD is a better picture quality than rubbishy bitrate HD and SD. You can see the difference if you watch a Fox Footy SD simulcast of a Seven AFL match; the Seven broadcast just looks a lot better. (Obviously Fox Footy HD is a different story because it’s not a bad bitrate.)

          Ideally, a long term view to move to H.264 would be best, but that can’t really happen till most of the incompatible tech people have dies out, much like how SD technology has disappeared. If the channels did that prematurely, bitrage would be the least of their concerns..

  8. Some TV viewers, the live viewers the network are interested in especially.

    I still watch TV on a CRT in the evening to avoid blue light in the evening so SD is fine. And I will now need 3 DVRs to record the same number of episodes (before watching them in SD anyway).

    Foxtel has been able to plug HD, but most of their customers are using old SD IQs.

    1. Alston tried to drive digital too early. HD surround sound equipment and file sizes (MPEG2) were expensive and had so it had slow uptake, and many people bought cheaper SD instead. So the government mandated an SD stereo copy for poor people. Then Networks lobbied to use the HD channel as a 3rd channel to target demographics and compete against Foxtel, instead of showing a HD simulcast of the main channel.

      Yes this all could have been avoided by mandating a DVB, MPEG4, 1080i spec. for all devices made after say 2007. It would have got us to HD quicker and cheaper as happened in the US.

  9. Does this include ABC

    It will be now be curious to see what is actually produced in HD. Studio cameras, field vision and all graphics need to be in HD for the full experience.

    For news, networks need to source HD material from cnn, NBC, Reuters, fox sports and 7|Sport and 9 world of sports etc – so the whole news broadcast is in HD. Including GfX

    Sky News has confirmed HD by the end of the year too.

  10. What technical requirements? They are both filmed with high definition cameras and are currently shown in HD in some states. There is nothing to stop them showing the games in HD – they could easily simulcast and channel 9 did in 2010.

  11. Of course if this happens AFL fans in Qld and NSW will no longer get games in HD and NRL fans outside Qld and NSW the same as they’re currently broadcast on HD secondary channels.

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