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“Do we keep VICELAND, yet turn off ABC ME?”

ABC & SBS are hoping a proposal around reform will not lead to channel switch-offs.


ABC and SBS might be forced to reduce multichannels if one scenario proposed in the government’s Green Paper reform proceeds.

November’s Media Reform Green Paper: Modernising Television Regulation in Australia, a response to the 2019 Digital Platform Inquiry, envisages a scenario where ABC and SBS might share a ‘multiplex’.  A multiplex allows multiple digital (or analog) signals to be combined into one signal over a shared medium. This would free up spectrum for sale.

Appearing at Senate Estimates this week, ABC Managing Director David Anderson was asked about the public broadcaster preparing a response. He noted ABC’s position was not yet final with another Board meeting to be held before submission closing dates.

“I will not suggest anything that I’m about to say is certainly locked in stone about a position on this. But we’re concerned about a number of things…. concerned about timing, concerned about technology that’s required. I think it’s an initial discussion paper… to have the discussions about how we’re going to be sustainable into the future,” Anderson replied.

“I do worry if the ABC and SBS are forced to share a multiplex as to when we start making choices before we’re ready to reduce our channels. Do we keep VICELAND, yet turn off ABC ME?  We’re looking to make sure we can have a sensible discussion about this. About what is the right thing to do, when?

“I think it’s a good discussion to have. It’s good that the Green Paper was put forward. What it does do is surface issues around what is possible, when it’s possible.”

However ABC does disagree with the concept of a local content quota imposed on the broadcaster (currently it has none). It fears a minimum level of expenditure for television production would reduce the broadcaster’s flexibility, and may set a precedent for further interventions in the allocation of ABC’s budget.

“I do fundamentally take a position on content quotas and that imposition on the ABC. I think it’s in breach of our own independence. When it comes to the activities of the ABC that is determined by a Board and management as to where our investment goes,” Anderson said.

“Content quotas are certainly not an issue for us but (with) the amount of money the ABC already spends ….it will always seek to (create local content). It’s not an issue of intent for us. It’s a question of budget. That’s why I know the response around content quotas will be that we will be resisting that.”

Meanwhile Labor Senator Louise Pratt asked SBS if a reduction in services would be the likely result of sharing a multiplex?

Managing Director James Taylor replied, “”It depends on the technology adopted and it depends on the compression capability available at the time if we were to move from two multiplexes to one. In one scenario it is possible that services will be reduced.

“But it’s also possible that depending on the technology adopted, that no services will be lost.”

27 Responses

  1. A bit of clarity is needed re the UK’s Freeview.

    There are 8 multiplexes. One is used by the BBC, the rest are mostly owned privately.

    All channels need to buy space on those muxes. Some of the muxes are only viewable by HD TVs (even if the channel is in SD). Not all areas receive all muxes.

    Many of the channels are time-shared. So even though they have their own channel number, a channel might switch on for 4 hours while another channel is off-air for the same period (ABC used to do this with Fly/Kids). Some of those are merely to keep a valuable channel number (e.g. ITVBe+1 is on between 5am and 6am… one hour… and that is Teleshopping anyway)

    Many of the channels are home shopping (even the HD ones!). Some of the channels are simply data pointers to online streaming portals.

    Rescans due to channels opening/closing/moving are a monthly thing. Most TVs can do this…

  2. Content quotas might be a good thing for the ABC. The volume of home-grown content is excellent but the range of topics is very narrow, and narrowing all the time. Maybe they need to be mandated to broaden the subject content of both documentaries and drama.

  3. As demographics change and fewer people watch TV at all it makes sense to reduce the amount of channels on air and free up spectrum for other things. There’s no business case for it.

  4. If this were to occur, mandate all channels go h.264 HD. Ditch the SD simulcasts of ABC1 and SBS1.
    And also that all commercial services do the same, ditching SD simulcasts of 7, 9,10 7mate and 9Gem. This might encourage the ditching of the fulltime home shopping channels one hopes.
    All acheivable with DVBT2. All networks should be mandated to share 3 multiplex’s collectively with each getting an equal 5th of all the available bandwith across them as a pool.

    1. I agree, SD is no longer acceptable, modern TV’s are now set up for 4K UHD and work better with SDR, which requires an HD broadcast to provide any visual benefit to the viewer.
      SD or standard definition broadcasting is last generation and is long overdue being phased out by TV broadcasters in my opinion.

  5. Good to see people not dismissing Viceland anymore.
    From the start it was a perfect match for SBS and I think they are doing a good job with programming to underrepresented segments of the community.

  6. The Media Reform Green Paper includes:
    Offering commercial broadcasters a one time, irrevocable choice to operate under a new commercial television broadcasting licence, with a reduced regulatory burden, provided they agree to move at a future point to using substantially less radiofrequency spectrum.

    Promoting the public interest derived from spectrum by encouraging multiplex sharing by broadcasters.

    Formalising the role of national broadcasters as key providers of Australian content.
    …..
    The commercial networks will love the changes to local content rules but SBS & ABC not so much.

    The basic idea is to reduce 5 VHF TV channels to 3 and move UHF TV into the freed VHF spectrum, the UHF space is then sold to Mobile Phone operators.

    Combining two TV channels into one without losing services could mean ditching the SD simulcasts and using MP4 or higher…

  7. I think that SBS has some very good content. However, I feel that it has strayed so far from it’s original function that it now just another channel.

    IMHO it is missing out on hundreds of non-english speaking tv shows which are available from all over the world in many categories, docos, nature, cooking, game shows,sport etc.

    As a simple guide, I would expect that a large majority of shows on SBS would have sub-titles, that does not seem to be the case.

    I’m not sure that there is anything “special” about the Special Broadcasting Service.

    1. They aren’t missing out on them, they are streaming 100s of them on On Demand. A few of them are actually good. They are also providing Mandarin, Arabic and Vietnamese subtitles on some content.

  8. There shouldn’t be any reduction in mutichannels. The services should be exponentially increased. We see that in the UK there are many more digital channels. Modernising should allow for an increase, not a decrease in services. Freeview Australia had also promoted itself as more choice and variety as a point of publicity for digital TV services, implementation and expansion.

    ABC seems to have used issues of outcry, such as cancelling Olympics live broadcasts and dismissal of ABC ME and other ABC staff that was questioned prominently on Q and A, when at the same time, there has been criticism of the highest paid salaries or remunerations, and or inefficiencies in the human resources.

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