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On the 10th of September 2014, the Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, announced his proposal to not renew Community Television operators' Apparatus Licence beyond 2015. To support this proposal the Minister declared that currently vacant spectrum (the so called sixth channel) would be required to test and trial a new broadcasting compression standard (MPEG-4) that is more efficient and could have the potential to carry more services. Community TV would have to make way for these trials to occur. In his announcement the Minister stated that the “best outcome” for community TV would be to move the entirety of their service to the internet at that time.
Is there a pressing need for Community TV (CTV) to vacate its current spectrum allocation in order to free up the “sixth channel” for trials of MPEG4 (and other new technologies)?
Although providing metropolitan coverage, CTV services are NOT using the sixth channel allocation in any of the capital cities. It is therefore not necessary for CTV to vacate its current spectrum allocation in order for these trials to proceed.
In fact if CTV does vacate the spectrum at the end of the year, our channel will remain unused for a number of years.
In the future there may be a need for CTV’s spectrum – at this point there will be capability to carry many more services than there are currently and there seems no reason why a small allocation of spectrum for CTV could not then be accommodated.
Following the announcement the Minister asserted that Community TV does not have the audience to justify access to spectrum. Is this correct?
Community TV nationally reaches around 3 million viewers per month in the capital cities in which it broadcasts.
Community TV, however, should not and indeed does not have its merits assessed based on commercial measurements of audience but in how it engages with its community. In fact the three permanent CTV licensees (Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane) just prior to the announcement had their Broadcast Service Act (BSA) Licence extended to 2019 based on key criteria of community inclusion and participation, and their business capacity as assessed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
So CTV stations are licensed by the ACMA until 2019?
Denying CTV a renewal of an Apparatus (transmitter) Licence leaves the sector stranded – the CTV operators will have a BSA Licence to operate a Community TV station but will not have the required licence to operate the transmitter to broadcast their signal!
Are Community Television stations committed to moving online?
Yes, most certainly.
Community TV stations have undertaken a thorough process of due diligence and research into the steps required to successfully transition its key stakeholders – participants, content producers, sponsors and viewers – from a free to air broadcast model to an online model of delivery. Unsurprisingly it shows that the task is a Mount Everest of a challenge. A longer period of dual platform operation is considered essential if the sector is to survive.
Has watching video online replaced traditional linear broadcasting?
It is clear that the way audiences are consuming media is changing. However audiences continue to watch Free to Air TV as their main way of watching long form video content. According to the Australian Multi-Screen Report 2014, 89% of all video hours consumed in Australia is delivered by broadcast television. Furthermore the average viewer currently consumes 24 hours per week of Broadcast TV compared to a little over 2 hours per week on their laptop or PC – less on mobile and tablet.
The research is clear that the internet has a long way to go to replace traditional TV - indeed commercial and national broadcasters provide online catch up services as a complementary service offering rather than as a replacement for their traditional free to air platforms for this reason.
Will accessing Community TV continue to be free to the consumer if it receivable exclusively online?
The internet is commonly available to varying degrees of service but it is not free to access, restricting the ability for services to be consumed by members of the public who may not have the means (or technical capacity) to download the data required to watch long form video online.
This presents a tricky problem for Community TV as it is a requirement of the Broadcasting Services Act that a community broadcaster must be able to be received by commonly available equipment and must be made available to the public free of charge.
What has Community TV been doing since the proposal to not renew Apparatus (transmitter) Licences beyond 2015 was announced?
Following the announcement there was an overwhelming response to our Commit To Community TV campaign. Since then CTV stations have been working hard behind the scenes assess the options that are available to us – to understand the opportunities that may be available online and how we might efficiently and effectively transition our organisations from our current operating models to the new model proposed by the Minister.
Through this process we have undertaken discussions and explorations with many experts in the fields of broadcast television, online video delivery and have consulted with leading thinkers and innovators in the broader digital space.
What outcome is Community TV looking to achieve?
CTV operators appeal to the Minister to review his proposal not to extend CTV Transmitter Licenses beyond 31 December 2015.
CTV stations seek an extension of their Apparatus (transmitter) Licences to run concurrently with their BSA Licences to 2019.
In order to support their efforts to build an online service offering that will meet the challenges of the future, the CTV sector requests that a process of consultation be undertaken to determine the adequate level of funding required to successfully achieve this outcome.