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Program 1.3: Broadcasting and digital television

The objective of the Broadcasting and Digital Television program is to ensure the smooth switchover to digital-only television by the end of 2013, and support access to high-quality, innovative and diverse broadcasting services that deliver content consistent with Australia’s diverse community expectations.

Our responses to the performance information for Program 1.3 can be found throughout the chapter.

Switchover to digital television

PBS and PAES 2010–11 – Key Performance Indicators and Deliverables
  • The Digital Switchover Taskforce, within the department assesses the effectiveness of the switchover to digital television through the Digital Tracker by monitoring the following indicators for each switchover region on a quarterly basis:
    • awareness of switchover to digital television
    • understanding of what needs to be done to prepare for switchover
    • attitudes towards digital switchover
    • intentions to convert to digital television
    • the proportion of Australians who have switched over
    • satisfaction with digital television
  • the switchover to digital only television transmission by the end of 2013. In 2010–11, the department will:
    • coordinate and oversee switchover across Australia focussing on Mildura, regional South Australia and regional Victoria, the first three regions to switch
    • review lessons learned from the pilot switchover in Mildura on 30 June 2010

The switchover to digital television, which is happening across the world, offers significant benefits to viewers. These include more television channels, improved pictures—including widescreen, and better sound quality. The ‘digital dividend’ of spectrum freed-up by switching off the analog transmission network can also be made available for alternative uses.

Our Digital Switchover Taskforce is implementing a region-by-region approach to switchover, which will be completed by the end of 2013. We solve technical transmission and reception issues; organise switchover timing and upgrades with broadcasters; and contract and administer support arrangements for consumer groups. For 2010–11, the program incurred administered expenses of $54.1 million. Available administered funds were not fully expended primarily due to lower than expected take up of assistance programs, and delays in completing funding agreements with industry.

During 2010–11, Switchover was completed in regional South Australia and Broken Hill (15 December 2010) and regional Victoria (5 May 2011).

Switchover activities and programs, including local communications activities, are undertaken on a regional basis and reviewed after each switchover. The lessons learned from the switchovers in Mildura/Sunraysia, regional South Australia and regional Victoria have been incorporated into processes for regional Queensland, the next region to switchover.

The effectiveness of the switchover to digital television is measured through the Digital Tracker survey. The indicators monitored for each switchover region are listed under the key performance indicators on page 50.

At the end of 2010, we decided to drop the ‘intention to convert’ summary measure, as the data was no longer providing an accurate guide to actual behaviour.

Every quarter, around 10 000 households—with a working television set used in the last six months—are interviewed via phone. Trends against the six key indicators are set out in the graph below.

Figure 2.3 The Digital Tracker: measuring digital switchover (by financial quarter)

The Digital Tracker graph, which measures the digital switchover (by financial quarter). TEXT VERSION FOLLOWS

Figure 2.3 text version

During 2009–10, the switchover measures have progressively increased. At the end of the 2010–11 financial year (Quarter 2, 2011) awareness remained steady with a slight increase to 96 per cent while conversion has steadily risen to 82 per cent. The measure of attitude (negative) towards switchover has steadily declined reaching 6 per cent.

The switchover areas in regional Queensland have seen significant increases in conversion from 46 per cent in Quarter 1 2009, to 84 per cent in Quarter 2 2011, and are well on track for switchover on 6 December 2011.

Raising public awareness and understanding of digital switchover

PBS and PAES 2010–11 – Key Performance Indicators and Deliverables
  • conduct an information and communications program to raise public awareness and understanding of switchover to encourage action required to get ready, including region-specific activities in regional South Australia and regional Victoria

To explain how, when and why digital switchover is necessary, we developed a multi-regional advertising campaign that ran at key periods (January, March/April, September and December 2010 and January 2011), as well as local advertising in each switchover region.

In South Australia and Broken Hill, advertising began nine months before switchover, in March 2010, and in regional Victoria, it started six months before switchover, in December 2010.

As part of local advertising in South Australia/Broken Hill and Victoria, a public relations consultancy was used to support technical road shows, media briefings and launches, and also attend community events. They worked closely with our full-time Digital Switchover Liaison Officers in the area. Consultancies targeting people from non-English speaking backgrounds and Indigenous communities were also enlisted as part of our communication strategy.

We supported five Digital Switchover Liaison Officers (DSLOs) in regional South Australia, one in Broken Hill and four in regional Victoria. The DSLO Program funds non-profit organisations or government entities to employ an officer to develop and implement community engagement strategies.

The officers work across the switchover region with local councils and community organisations, distribute materials, meet with key stakeholders and host or take part in local events, or give presentations to local groups on how to switchover to digital television.

DSLOs worked in regional South Australia from July 2010 to January 2011, and from November 2010 to June 2011 in regional Victoria. The Program began rolling out in regional Queensland in June 2011.


The switchover to digital-only television will happen at different times across Australia, and coverage and channel availability will vary greatly from region to region. This means switchover will not be uniform across the nation.

To help households prepare for the change, our Digital Switchover Taskforce has created a unique and innovative online mapping application that provides information specific to different locations.

The mySwitch application pulls information from various sources and presents a result based on a viewer’s exact location. They get the name of their switchover area, the time it switches over, the expected level of coverage at that location, the best source of television (including the direction and distance), any alternative television transmission sites that can be accessed, and what can be done to improve reception.

The application uses a Google maps search engine to locate addresses around Australia. It also allows users to manually position themselves on the map if they live on a rural property that is difficult to automatically locate through the search engine.

mySwitch is the main method used to test eligibility for the new Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) service. By entering their address, or manually positioning it within mySwitch, a viewer can check whether the VAST service is available in their area and then apply to receive it.

Professional antenna installers can also use mySwitch to check the digital television conditions at houses before they visit. This includes technical information about the television transmission sites, such as the location and frequency of each transmitter, transmission pattern and license details.

mySwitch also helps people connect to local resources such as endorsed antenna installers and digital advisors who can provide one-on-one advice to ensure a smooth transition to digital. It is a key component of the Digital Ready website ( It provides information on events hosted by the Digital Switchover Taskforce in local areas, which are aimed at helping people get ready for digital television.

mySwitch online mapping application.

The mySwitch online mapping application.

Household Assistance Scheme

PBS and PAES 2010–11 – Key Performance Indicators and Deliverables
  • 61 000 households assisted through the Digital Switchover Household Assistance Scheme
  • through the Digital Switchover Household Assistance Scheme, provide practical end-to-end technical and installation services for maximum benefit to aged and disability support pensioners, carers payees and equivalent war service pensioners and income support supplement payees

The Digital Switchover Household Assistance Scheme helps vulnerable Australians convert to digital television. It provides for the free supply and installation of high-definition set-top boxes specifically chosen to meet the needs of older people or those with a disability.

It also provides for any internal cabling and antenna work where necessary, includes a full demonstration of the equipment, and provides a 12-month aftercare service. If a person lives in an area that cannot receive terrestrial television, they get equipment to receive television by satellite.

People may be eligible for help under the scheme if they live in a television licence area that is currently switching to digital television, own a functioning television, do not already have access to digital television and receive the full payment of the:

  • Age Pension
  • Disability Support Pension
  • Carer Payment
  • Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) Service Pension
  • DVA Income Support Supplement Payment.

Contracted service providers selected through open and competitive tender processes in each region supply the service. Those contracted during 2010–11 were:

  • Hills Industries for the Mildura/Sunraysia area
  • Hills Industries, in association with TechLife, and SkyBridge (Australia) Pty Ltd for the regional South Australia and Broken Hill areas
  • Hills Industries, in association with TechLife, and SkyBridge (Australia) Pty Ltd for the regional Victoria areas.

Those eligible for the Scheme received a letter from Centrelink to opt-in. Installations start generally six months before switchover and continue for one month after switchover. In 2010–11, 37 838 households received assistance under the Scheme in regional South Australia, Broken Hill, and regional Victoria.

This figure is below the PBS target of 61 000. It is likely that more people have done their own conversions than was expected. This conclusion is supported by very low complaint levels. This trend will continue to be monitored in future rollout regions, and targets adjusted as necessary.

‘Talking’ set-top box trial

The ‘talking’ set-top box (STB) can improve access to television, particularly for customers who are blind or vision-impaired. STBs with these innovative and unique features are not currently available in Australia, and it was felt a targeted trial could help introduce them to the Australian marketplace.

The ‘talking’ STB trial coincided with the introduction of the Household Assistance Scheme in regional Victoria. The Scheme was developed in 2008 as part of a comprehensive package to drive the conversion to digital television. It provides practical and technical help to those likely to have difficulty in selecting and installing the appropriate equipment to switch from analog to digital television.

Improving customer access to the ‘talking’ STBs has been a priority since the Scheme began. Tender submissions for regional Victoria provided a value-for-money opportunity for the government to procure and help develop Australia’s first ‘talking’ STBs, with improved features such as ‘talking’ menus and electronic program guides (EPG), as well as the capacity for receiver-mixed audio description.

A ‘talking’ STB plugs into a standard analog or digital television set. When turned on, the box uses synthetic speech to tell the user what channel they are on, what television program is showing, and gives them information about the channel. When the EPG is called up the user can scroll-through the menu and the information for each channel will be spoken to the user. Additionally, if in the future broadcasters choose to show their programs with audio for hearing-impaired viewers, these ‘talking’ STBs are capable of receiving those additional services.

Two different providers have supplied prototype ‘talking’ STBs for the trial. They include Hills Industries Pty Ltd and Skybridge Australia. We have spoken to industry and consumer groups representing the elderly and people with a disability to work out the most appropriate specifications for the ‘talking’ STBs. Our Consumer Expert Group, which consists of representatives from blind and disability associations, has also guided development of the ‘talking’ STB.

Feedback from participants in the trial has been very positive, with one customer saying that what had been provided to her ‘has been an amazing thing ... it has really changed my viewing experience.’

Once the trial is completed, we will give a number of organisations access to the results to assess commercial possibilities.

'Talking' set-top box and its remote control.

‘Talking’ set-top box and its remote control.

Working with suppliers and retailers of digital equipment

PBS and PAES 2010–11 – Key Performance Indicators and Deliverables
  • work with the retail industry and suppliers of digital television equipment, including through the digital switchover labelling scheme and support for antenna installers

As part of the switch to digital television, we have managed programs to help consumers buy the right digital television equipment and find endorsed antenna installers.

In consultation with industry, we have developed a series of labels for televisions, STBs and digital television recorders, to help consumers identify products that are digital ready.

At 30 June 2011, the Digital Switchover Labelling Scheme had 42 participating suppliers and 882 digital ready products available for consumers to choose from in the market place.

The Retail Advisor Scheme identifies retail staff able to advise consumers about their options for switching to digital television, particularly in relation to the labelling Scheme. At 30 June 2011, there were 2328 approved Digital Advisors in retail stores throughout Australia, and 1309 licensed retailers involved in the Scheme.

In consultation with industry, we also developed the Antenna Installer Endorsement Scheme (AIES) to give consumers an industry-wide cooperative scheme, and support industry antenna installers who met certain requirements. At 30 June 2011, there were 1285 Endorsed Antenna Installers.

To underscore the AIES, we created training and assessment resources for ten areas or ‘units’ of competency in Digital Reception Technology for antenna installers. These units are nationally recognised accredited training components. Launched in April 2011, they are being delivered by Registered Training Organisations including TAFEs and industry-based organisations.

New digital satellite service

PBS and PAES 2010–11 – Key Performance Indicators and Deliverables
  • support the provisions of the VAST service and assistance programs for regional commercial broadcasters

In 2010, the government announced a significant step forward in helping Australians in areas of poor or no television broadcast coverage receive the same range of free-to-air television channels as are enjoyed in metropolitan and larger regional areas.

The Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) service became available for viewers in Central and Eastern Australia in December 2010 (an interim service was available for around six months before that date for Mildura and regional South Australian viewers). It started in Western Australia in March 2011 in an interim form, with the full service available in July 2011. By June 2011, nearly 30 000 households were accessing the service.

The service carries the full suite of commercial and national free-to-air television channels in all regions of Australia. This includes channels delivering Seven, Nine and Ten network programs, and digital channels including ONE, Eleven, GO!, GEM, 7mate and 7TWO. ABC and SBS services, including ABC1, ABC2, ABC3, ABC News 24, SBS ONE, SBS TWO and SBS HD are also available. Local regional commercial news bulletins are available via a dedicated news channel or, in Western Australia, as part of the main service.

We worked with the ACMA and the broadcasting industry during the year to implement conditional access schemes for the VAST service, which govern the terms under which viewers can access the service.

Satellite Subsidy Scheme

PBS and PAES 2010–11 – Key Performance Indicators and Deliverables
  • through the Satellite Subsidy Scheme, provide assistance for installation of satellite reception equipment for households served by ‘self help’ analog terrestrial retransmission sites which are not upgraded to digital
  • 4500 households assisted through the Digital Switchover Satellite Subsidy Scheme

The Satellite Subsidy Scheme is designed for households in remote and regional areas, where a local ‘self-help’ community-run television tower is switching off and not being upgraded to digital. More than 600 towns (520 towers) are potentially affected across Australia.

The subsidy provides installation of equipment to receive the VAST service by government-contracted installers. Each eligible household receives a satellite dish, cabling and a high definition VAST satellite decoder. Many of these areas have only received four analog television channels in the past so the 16-channel VAST service brings a substantial improvement in the range of content available, as well as dedicated regional local news bulletins.

The subsidy reduces the cost of getting ready for digital television by satellite in regional and remote areas. After the subsidy, the payment for installation is expected to be between $200 and $350, depending on location.

By the end of June 2011, the Scheme had been delivered to more than 2600 households in regional South Australia, regional Victoria and regional Queensland. The other remaining states are scheduled for 2011–13. This figure is below the PBS target of 4500 as some local government authorities have elected to keep providing self-help television services and therefore their residents were ineligible to receive a Satellite Subsidy Scheme installation.

Satellite free-to-air television

The government-funded Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) service was launched on 15 December 2010.

Although Australia is generally well served by terrestrial transmission sites, broadcasters (who are responsible for coverage) occasionally find it is not economical or practical to provide good television coverage from terrestrial towers in all areas. The VAST service can fix this problem by providing the full range of digital television channels by satellite to Australians who have been struggling with poor television reception, or have had no reception, because of issues such as the distance to a transmitter or local terrain.

For the first time, virtually all Australians can now access the same range of television channels, whether they live in Sydney or on a remote station in central Australia. The VAST service currently provides all 16 free-to-air channels, including high definition television services and access to local regional news services. This compares to the four channels previously available in many parts of rural Australia via the current Aurora satellite service.

Two similar versions of the VAST service are provided. One of these serves the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, while the second serves Western Australia.

A household on the Aurora service can move to VAST simply by buying a new VAST certified set-top box and connecting to their existing system. The new VAST set-top box can be registered for free online through the mySwitch application on the Digital Ready website. Other viewers in remote parts of Australia can connect to VAST now as well.

Viewers in regional or metropolitan areas who are in signal blackspots can apply six months before the switchover date in their area, and will receive the service if they meet criteria agreed with the local broadcasters.

Some households will receive financial and practical help through the Satellite Subsidy Scheme to convert to VAST. This is offered where communities previously received television from an analog self-help retransmission tower and that tower is not converting to digital. In these areas households will generally only have to pay a modest co-payment and government-contracted installers will install the equipment for them. For those householders eligible for the Household Assistance Scheme, installation of VAST will be free-of-charge, where relevant to their needs.

More than 30 000 households signed up to VAST by 30 June 2011, which is a strong indication of the value of the service to people living in regional and remote Australia who have had limited access to television over many years.

DBCDE and Skybridge staff at the house of Mr Robert Woolley, the 1000th Satellite Subsidy Scheme customer.

DBCDE and Skybridge staff at the house of Mr Robert Woolley, the 1000th Satellite Subsidy Scheme customer.

Help for regional and remote broadcasters to provide new channels

Many viewers in regional South Australia, remote and regional Western Australia, and remote Central and Eastern Australia have never received the same number of analog or digital free-to-air channels as their counterparts in the capital cities. In November 2010, the government announced the Additional Services Assistance Program. This provided $34.0 million over four years to allow commercial television broadcasters to upgrade existing transmission sites throughout these areas.

These upgraded sites will allow viewers in these areas to receive the same number of commercial channels as people in capital cities. In combination with the VAST satellite service, this measure will provide virtually every Australian with the ability to access the full range of commercial free-to-air digital television services.

Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Dividend and Other Measures) Act 2011

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Dividend and Other Measures) Act 2011 was passed by the Parliament on 10 May 2011. The Act provides the ACMA with improved planning and enforcement measures to effectively implement the restack of digital television channels to realise the digital dividend. It also improves the regulatory framework for digital switchover and the delivery of terrestrial and satellite free-to-air digital television services.

Regional Equalisation Plan

The Regional Equalisation Plan provides broadcasters with a 50 per cent subsidy to convert their terrestrial transmission facilities to digital and operate them for a period of eight years. Help is provided by licence area as capped annual rebates against broadcasters licence fees supplemented by a grants component, where necessary, to achieve full compliance. Licence fee rebates are administered by the ACMA.

Help under the Plan was provided throughout 2010–11 to regional broadcasters. In 2010–11, $1.3 million in the form of supplementary grants was provided to commercial broadcasters operating in Broken Hill and Riverland in South Australia, and to broadcasters in regional and remote Western Australia.

Strong and independent national broadcasters

PBS and PAES 2010–11 – Key Performance Indicators and Deliverables
  • supporting the Minister on ABC and SBS policy and funding matters, the rollout of digital services, and in relation to ABC and SBS board appointments
  • advising the Minister on broadcasting policy matters such as media ownership, anti-siphoning and digital radio

We provide policy advice to the Minister on the national broadcasters, particularly in regard to funding, accountability and transmission issues. We work closely with the national broadcasters and deal with correspondence and queries from Parliament regarding their activities.

During 2010–11, the Minister approved funding for the ABC and SBS to roll out digital television services at a further 14 sites, so that more Australians have access to ABC and SBS digital television services. This included a new ABC digital-only service for the community of Clare in South Australia to ensure adequate coverage in the area before the switchover on 15 December 2010.

Funding was provided in the 2011–12 Budget to convert 12 ABC and 47 SBS self-help services at sites where all of the other services are (or will be) provided by commercial broadcasters. This follows on from funding provided in the 2010–11 Budget for the conversion of an initial seven SBS analog self-help television services.2 This will allow the communities relying on these sites to receive in digital the television services that were provided in analog mode. The conversion of these services will be managed by the ABC and/or SBS.3

We provided advice in support of the government’s reform agenda for the national broadcasters, including the implementation of the merit selection process for the appointment of non-executive directors to the ABC and SBS boards, chaired by the former Secretary of the Department of Defence, Mr Ric Smith AO, PSM.

In 2010–11, a process to appoint several new members to each of the ABC and SBS boards was conducted, which attracted more than 300 applications from across Australia. On 30 June 2011, the government announced the appointment of two new members each to the ABC and SBS Boards. Additionally, a Deputy Chairperson was appointed to the SBS board and one re-appointment was made to the ABC and SBS boards in the year under review.

Legislation that amends theAustralian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983andSpecial Broadcasting Service Act 1991 to set the new board appointment process in law is currently being considered by Parliament.

Digital radio

PBS and PAES 2010–11 – Key Performance Indicators and Deliverables
  • providing funding through the Community Broadcasting Program to assist with the delivery of community radio services
  • advising the Minister on broadcasting policy matters such as media ownership, anti-siphoning and digital radio

Wide area community radio licensees launched digital radio services on 13 May 2011. The services are available in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney and are in addition to commercial and national (ABC and SBS) digital radio services that officially started in these cities on 1 July 2009.

Commercial Radio Australia and SBS started a trial of digital radio in Canberra on 14 July 2010. A digital radio trial started in Darwin on 13 August 2010, with the local commercial broadcaster simulcasting its two analog services and providing one digital-only service.

In addition to our work providing policy and funding support to help grow digital radio services in metropolitan areas, we started a review of technologies for digital radio in regional Australia in 2010. A discussion paper asking for public comment was released in November 2010 and 29 submissions from industry groups, individual station operators and members of the public were received. The ACMA is providing technical input to the review and a report of the review’s findings will be tabled in Parliament when finished.

Accessibility of electronic media

PBS and PAES 2010–11 – Key Performance Indicators and Deliverables
  • advising the Minister on broadcasting policy matters such as media ownership, anti-siphoning and digital radio

In 2010–11, we finalised our report on potential approaches to improve access to electronic media by the hearing and vision-impaired and sought Australia’s views. The ‘Media Access Review Final Report’ was tabled in Parliament by the Minister on 3 December 2010. It outlines 22 recommendations, together with the government’s response. We are moving to implement the Report’s recommendations, and will continue to liaise with stakeholders on the implementation of the recommendations that affect them.


PBS and PAES 2010–11 – Key Performance Indicators and Deliverables
  • advising the Minister on broadcasting policy matters such as media ownership, anti-siphoning and digital radio

We provided advice to the government on the anti-siphoning scheme that is intended to allow viewers to continue to have access to key sporting events on free-to-air television. A key component of this involved the development of a package of alterations to the anti-siphoning scheme following a review in 2009. The Minister announced these reforms on 25 November 2010. Complex regulatory changes were required as a consequence.

During 2010–11, we also supported the government in establishing an interim anti-siphoning list to ensure the continued operation of the anti-siphoning scheme while legislation is being developed and introduced. The new list was made by the Minister on 22 December 2010.

Community broadcasting

PBS and PAES 2010–11 – Key Performance Indicators and Deliverables
  • Funding is provided through the Community Broadcasting Program to assist with the delivery of community radio services
  • Community television broadcasters in all major capital cities commence digital television broadcasting from 2010

We provided policy advice and administered funding via funding deeds to the Community Broadcasting Foundation and Radio for the Print Handicapped Australia, to support Australia’s diverse and extensive community broadcasting sector.

The Community Broadcasting Foundation received $12.1 million in funding in 2010–11 for the maintenance and development of community broadcasting. Grants were distributed to the sector supporting broadcasting for the benefit of the general community, ethnic radio, Indigenous Australians and print handicapped. In addition, Radio for the Print Handicapped received $464 000 under a separate funding deed.

National Transmission Network Residual Funding Pool

The National Transmission Network Residual Funding Pool provided transitional funding for a number of commercial broadcasting services (Golden West Network, Imparja TV and North West Radio) affected by the sale of the former National Transmission Network.

For 2010–11, this program incurred $122 000 in administered expenses. We did not provide funding to Imparja TV in 2010–11 as it was unable to satisfy all reporting requirements. The services Imparja TV provides have continued throughout the period.

The closure of the National Transition Network Residual Funding Pool effective 30 June 2011 was announced in the 2011–12 Budget.

[2] Since the 2011–12 Budget, the Western Australian commercial broadcasters have confirmed they will not be converting in Narembeen (WA), reducing the number of SBS self-help conversions to 46. This community will now be eligible for subsidised equipment under the Satellite Subsidy Scheme.

[3] The Mandurah (Western Australia) and Tieri (Queensland) services are to be operated as part of the ABC network once converted as the analog services in these areas serve larger communities than normal self-help services. The remaining services have been funded for operation on a self-help basis once converted


Document ID: 142461 | Last modified: 3 October 2013, 5:36am