The future remains bright for community television as the Rudd Government announced community stations will be allocated space on the digital broadcasting spectrum.
Melbourne community station Channel 31 has been campaigning heavily to make the transition, stepping up its calls as the 2013 national digital switchover deadline approaches.
C31 has been a strong voice for the GLBT community, screening local content from queer community television group Bent TV.
C31’s Jim Wright told Southern Star the announcement was a “huge win” and relief for the station under threat of losing viewers and sponsors to stations broadcasting digitally.
“If we weren’t given the licence we would basically finish when analogue TV finishes in 2013,” he said. “We’re now confident of a successful future.”
Digital television was introduced in Australia in 2001 and commercial stations were given spectrum and support to start digital broadcasts, while community television was left on analogue.
The Government says it will temporarily allocate vacant spectrum — previously known as Channel A — to the community broadcasting sector, allowing community television stations to simulcast until the digital-only switchover.
Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy said the move preserved an important part of Australia’s media landscape.
“This initiative will bring community TV into line with commercial and national broadcasters, and ensure their loyal and passionate audiences can continue to enjoy their beloved local community TV stations as they switch to digital television,” Conroy said.
Conroy also announced a funding allocation of $2.6 million for community stations across Australia to help with the costs of changing over.
Wright said he’s unsure how the funding will pan out at this stage, however, C31 has estimated it will cost the station $2 million to make the transition.
“On the technical side of things, we need to upgrade all our transmission equipment, so that’s certainly going to be a significant undertaking,” Wright said.
“We need to purchase a digital transmitter and we need to get space on a transmitter tower as well, so there’s quite a lot of things we need to achieve to be able to start broadcasting digitally.
“Whether or not the $2.6 million is enough is still unclear, but certainly at this stage it’s a tremendous start and we’re just happy we’ve got the ability to broadcast on digital.
“It gives us a chance to move into the future.”