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.