Laws to smooth DTV moves

A NEW definition of datacasting and a smoother transition to digital television for both industry and consumers are the key aims of new legislation introduced by the Federal Government.

New datacasting legislation distinguishes between broadcasting and datacasting, and should help to ensure that datacasting services are differentiated from traditional TV broadcasting.

Datacasters will not be able to provide content in genres commonly regarded as free to air TV, such as drama and lifestyle programs, but will be allowed to provide extracts of up to ten minutes of such programs.

News, sports news, financial, market and business information and weather may be provided in ten minute headline bulletins or as individual stories of any length provided the stories are only available to a viewer by selecting from a menu on the screen.

Outside these genres, datacasters will be able to provide material such as educational programs without restriction.

The Australian Broadcasting Authority will oversee a licensing regime for datacasters.

New legislation extending the digital conversion framework agreed by Parliament in 1998 stipulates free to air broadcasters must offer both high definition digital (HDTV) and standard definition digital (SDTV) broadcasts.

Commercial and national free to air TV broadcasters will be required to provide a SDTV simulcast of their analogue services at all times, in addition to meeting HDTV quota requirements, to ensure consumers have the option of purchasing low cost standard definition TVs and set top boxes.

Within two years of the commencement of SDTV digital transmissions, commercial and national broadcasters will need to provide at least twenty hours per week of HDTV material.

Free to air broadcasters will have the option of providing digital enhancements to their main simulcast programs, as long as there is direct linkage between the enhancement and the main program material.

Minister for Communications Senator Alston said consumers would be able to choose between different types of TV viewing to suit their needs and budget “with HDTV providing the very high quality pictures or cheaper SDTV viewing which will, nevertheless, offer the new services available.”

The analogue broadcasting network will be completely shut down by 2008 – by which stage both SDTV and HDTV digital TV sets should be more affordably priced.

Channel Nine commercial production manager Rex Ranieri said the transition from traditional broadcasting to digital broad-casting would occur in a similar way to the advent of colour TV.

Mr Ranieri said the cost of digital TV sets would very rapidly drop to a level affordable to most consumers.

“I’ve been in the TV industry for twenty-eight years and witnessed the introduction of colour TV,” Mr Ranieri said.

“The prevailing attitude by doomsayers was that no-one would be able to afford a colour TV set.

“Other countries converted sooner than Australia and we did so at a phenomenal rate.

“Current debate over digital conversion consumer issues are political red herrings. I am confident it is much ado about nothing.”

Mr Ranieri said the beauty of HDTV was in its enhancement of the home theatre experience.

“It makes home theatre as it was intended to be – like being at the cinema. The demonstrations I’ve seen of HDTV have been quite stunning,” he said.

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