This post officially starts Regional Television Month in honor of the 20th anniversary of the start of aggregation in Australia, where this blog will take looks into the history of regional telly, with the 50 Years of Brisbane TV feature having a country twang (with a small history of regional television in Queensland prior to 1991, when Queensland was aggregated), as well as a specific look at NQTV, the former solus broadcaster for Cairns and Townsville, which became QTV for aggregation, and eventually became Southern Cross Ten's Queensland affiliate. But now onto the first topic in this post:
Aggregation, what is it?
Aggregation, in Australian TV terms, is where three previously solus regional operators expand into each others coverage areas, each carrying a capital city network's programming e.g Southern NSW/ACT: You have three operators, Capital (based in Canberra), Win (based in Wollongong), and Prime (based in Orange/Dubbo). As a result of aggregation, let's say, Win is now licenced to operate in Capital and Prime's broadcast areas, while Capital and Prime can expand into Win's broadcast area, as well as Capital/Prime's, to provide a three commercial channel service similar to the capital cities for all three former solus licence areas.
Aggregation's splits-Who got what.
The original plans for aggregation were for six aggregated markets, two in QLD (which were merged to form one super TV market), two in NSW (which went ahead) and two in VIC (which were merged into one statewide market while Mildura was excluded) Tasmania was added later on in 1994, but with two stations, and recieved a third station (Australia's first TV station to air on digital television only with no analogue simulcast) in the early 2000's.
30th of March 1989- A-Day.
The first stage of aggregation began in Southern NSW/ACT on the 30th of March 1989, with former solus stations, Prime Network, Capital 7 and Win TV expanding into each other's markets. All three had name changes, and logo changes, depending on which affiliation they took, with Prime adopting Channel 7 "like" (which used the same music, but their own logo) ID's (and eventually adopted ID's in 1990 fully based on 7's ID's of the time), Capital Television adopting the "X" Ten branding (as they were owned by the main Ten Network, and later adopted the "TV Australia" branding, dropping the "Television" and just becoming Capital, a name that stuck in many forms until 2001.) and Win adopting the 9 dots of their capital city partner, Channel 9. This was on the edge of the 1990 recession, which affected all stations, but Win came out on top. By the time round two started in 1991, this time in the Queensland super TV market (running from Cairns to Caloundra) Win snapped up a couple of Queensland stations (including DDQ-0, a former owner of Channel 10 Brisbane), and "bought" the 9 affiliation away from Cairns-based QTV. It was this moment, where Win became a force, where the money it made in two markets, went into acqusitions. By 1999, 10 years after aggregation started, Win was the success story, where it had 9 affiliation in almost every aggregated market (with NBN being the sole independent 9 affiliate (only to be bought by PBL in 2007), in northern NSW.) and was undergoing a western push, with the launch of Win Western Australia going up against Prime owned, GWN, for loyalty. But the winds of change were coming...
2001: A local news disappearing act.
Aggregation was a boon for news, but as costs spiralled, some broadcasters, like Queensland's QTV cut local news to their new markets, but retained their former solus bulletins. But 2001 was a major downer, as Prime cut local news from their least represented markets, and Southern Cross cut local news in their heartlands, prior to rebranding as Southern Cross Ten. A government inquiry was done, and regional broadcasters were heavily regulated to provide some local news. Some went beyond the call, like 7 Queensland which expanded their news back, after dropping it outside the Sunshine Coast in the early days of Queensland aggregation, to take on Win in most sub-markets, while others only produced updates to fulfill their commitment. But the local news cuts have continued, with satellite regional broadcaster, Imparja, cutting local news in 2008, becoming the only 9 affiliated station to do so.
Where to for regional television in the 21st century?
The major issue facing regional television in this country today, is the same as the capital cities, that being digital television. Some regions who were left in the cold by aggregation like Tasmania, and Mildura in Victoria (which got a second station in 1998, and a third digital-only station in 2006) were given extra licences, to give them choice. The three markets with digital only Ten affiliates, Tasmania, Mildura and Darwin (which recieved licence two in 1998 and their third digital-only licence in 2008), have the highest digital TV takeup rates in the country. What these markets use, is the alternate system to aggregation, a multichannel scheme, which was dropped in the mid 1980's, where these markets have three operators in town (This was modified to two and 1/2 operators in digital markets, where the third station is a joint-venture between the existing two broadcasters), with local content. But in the rest of aggregated Australia, digital takeup is slow. New transmitters and playout facilities have been built to expand for digital signals, with complaints at the rate this is going. But this is just like the battles regional television have fought, like aggregation, one that will change the way television (regardless of location) is seen forever.