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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Digital Switchover: What should occur on the Gold Coast

As I am writing this, it is less than 18 months until digital switchover begins in Queensland, with regional areas from Maryborough to Cairns, switching off analogue in the 2nd half of 2011. But the main issue concerns the Brisbane switchoff, in three years time, with the need for the Gold Coast to gain local stations, as a trade-off for more space to be freed up on the UHF band (to allow future commercial operators) in and around Brisbane.


There are currently on the Gold Coast, three UHF frequencies given to each network, two analogue (one for each of the legacy transmitters at Mount Tamborine and Currumbin) and one digital (shared with all GC digital transmitters).




But, there will be a backlog of new channels, freed up in South East Queensland with digital transmission, in particular in and around the Gold Coast, all on UHF. The only logical solution, is to move towards three Gold Coast licensees (as a test, towards implementing in those markets with access to both aggregated and metro markets such as NSW's Central Coast), with the eventual phaseout of interstate regional broadcasts, in favor of a 100% Queensland based model.


By Queensland based model, we mean, either auctioning off three digital licences, or alternatively offer the Brisbane commercials, secondary licences, in similar fashion to the late 1990's issuing of secondary licences to most solus markets, which eventually got third stations solely receivable via digital transmission. The reasons for such a tectonic shift for Gold Coast viewers, are varied including:
  • Gold Coast viewers being able to get multiple instances of multichannels, including two GO!'s, two One HD's and two 7Two's (albeit one branded as 7Two On Prime)
  • The need for improved local news, which is currently, being only fulfilled by a 5:30 service, from the Brisbane metro 9 station, while other stations do need to realise the growing need for local news (not just weekdays but weekends too) in the fast growing area, particularly after recent events.
  • The Gold Coast's population is surging ahead, with predictions of the city's population to reach 750,000 in fifteen years, and often makes up a third of the audience of the average Brisbane 6pm news bulletin.
  • With this growth, there is the need for increased local TV advertising, especially in a city as focused on the tourist dollar, as the Gold Coast. 
My strategy of how this should be carried out, that the ACMA should follow is simply:
  • By the end of 2010, there should be a review into the Gold Coast's UHF arrangements, including a investigation into GC local news from the metro operators, digital multichannel doubling as well as conducting a feasibility study into removing the regional NSW networks from the Gold Coast upon Northern NSW's digital switchover, in late 2012.
  • By the end of 2011, the delivery method of Gold Coast digital switchover, including any new licences, either supplementary or auction, should be announced as well as announcing any changes from the Gold Coast UHF review.
  • By the end of 2012, the beginning of Gold Coast switchover would be overseen by a new authority (with Brisbane commercials, Northern NSW commercials, FreeTV Australia, ASTRA and the federal regulator all having seats, to drive digital takeup) would take ownership of all transmission sites, as well as the beginning the first stage of UHF freeing up, thanks to the withdrawal of NSW stations, as well as working with any Gold Coast licensees, and Brisbane's commercial stations, for the upcoming Brisbane switchover/licence switch (where Gold Coast local stations would use the former Brisbane digital commercial UHF frequencies).
  • By mid 2013, the Gold Coast switch to digital local broadcasters would be completed, with a mandatory overnight Gold Coast UHF closedown, on the day Brisbane switches off analogue, to adjust equipment, and a handover to the new Gold Coast licensees. The authority administrating digital switchover on the GC would be wound up, ninety days after digital switchover, with transmission sites transferred to a new company, owned by the new licensees.
Other factors with this switch include local content and job guarantees (meaning, that the new licencees can't run Gold Coast programming from Brisbane, as well as the idea of employing locals in most jobs, while Brisbane commercial employees based on the GC would be rolled over to the new licencees), stringent local news quotas (trialling major changes in local content quotas for regional areas) as well as multichannels, and a clearly defined image, including labelling the stations as Gold Coast-only, compared to their Brisbane cousins. But a bigger goal, is in sight, and would help solidify any case for local stations. If the Gold Coast were to win the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the current layout of stations would mean all production, would be handled by Brisbane's commercial stations, home of three O&O stations, while ignoring the needs, of a local service, which could probably handle themselves, during the Commonwealth Games, much like Melbourne did, back in the embryonic days of television,where all three Melbourne TV stations (two commercial and the ABC) covered the 1956 Olympics.


Is the Gold Coast ready for a challenge, it has to accept? Would it be a drawn out process, away from my suggested timeline? Would the northern NSW regional TV stations, do a protest, akin to what TVW-7 and STW-9 in Perth did when NEW-10's licence was being issued in the mid 80's? Would the Brisbane metro TV stations accept losing a third of their viewers, to a upstart that serves a area better than they ever did?


Only time will tell.

2 comments:

  1. The outlined plan is feasible, but a lot rides on ACMA putting in the local content quota described. Without it, there would likely be no additional local news programming.

    Prime used to have a GC news bulletin, but axed it in 2001. Canberra, with a similar population to the Gold Coast, has three commercial licences but only one commercial TV news service.

    Given that NBN is now owned by the Nine Network, there's nothing stopping it's Gold Coast service rebranding as "Nine Gold Coast", and broadcasting the Nine GC bulletin.

    Similarly, without any licence changes, Prime could return it's news service, and Southern Cross Media could establish one - though reception in the north could well be spotty.

    There's no law saying that all NNSW licencees must broadcast from all their transmission sites on NSW time, or focus on NSW news, sport, etc. Historically, it's just been the only feasible option, but with NBN's new ownership, and modern playout facilities, this is much less the case.

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  2. I think that Prime, Southern Cross and NBN should adopt a more local angle for the Gold Coast. Maybe add some local idents, possibly add some local short-mini programs.

    Obviously Local News doesn't rate well enough (well, not enough that it pays the bills) on these channels but other programming might.

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