Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull dropped a bombshell during his keynote speech at the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s RadComms Conference in Sydney today.
He’s killing off community TV in Australia’s capital cities at the end of 2015 to free up the so-called “sixth channel”, CH31, for other possibilities.
Under the guise of creating a broadcast industry standard, Turnbull said the government plans to “free up the spectrum known as the sixth channel to assist in the testing and migration” to more efficient technology.
The move will see C31 Melbourne and Geelong, Television Sydney, 31 Digital Queensland, C31 Adelaide and WEST TV Perth lose their TV broadcast licences a little over a decade after the Howard government introduced them in 2004.
The more than 70 community stations broadcasting on UHF60+ are unaffected by the move, but it will force Sydney fans of Humphrey B Bear to make alternative plans to get their twice daily does of the pants-free Australian childhood icon.
The minister goes on in his speech:
The sixth channel remains substantially vacant, but is currently being used by community television in some state capitals.
The Government believes that the best outcome for community television is that in future it uses the Internet as its distribution platform.
To allow for this the Government will extend current licensing arrangements until the 31st of December 2015.
I have no doubt that this transition is in the best interests of community television.
The minister is keen to push community TV to online broadcasting arguing it “will deliver wider audiences, at less cost on a wider range of devices”
He said some representatives acknowledged that their internet “is their ultimate home” but dismissed their request for more time to transition saying “the Internet is not new”.
The community TV sector has been fighting back with a lobbying campaign to save it.
The government is undertaking a spectrum review to decide what to do with the sixth channel – “alternative non-broadcasting uses” he suggests, but ultimately, the government is looking at selling off the spectrum to a market more lucrative than community TV
Turnbull’s full speech is here.