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CNET Australia Podcast

Thanks for the memories  July 26, 2012

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CNET Editor

Derek loves nothing more than punching a remote location into a GPS, queuing up some music and heading out on a long drive, so it's a good thing he's in charge of CNET Australia's Car Tech channel.

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Is Australian TV really that bad?

We all complain about the state of Australian television, but how bad is it really?

Let's do this by rattling off a few of our pet peeves, and see how other countries compare.


Unless you're coughing up AU$70 to AU$110 every month for HD Foxtel, it's pretty safe to say that we're poorly served in this regard. Every free-to-air network has an HD channel at its disposal, but very little of the content shown on these channels comes close to qualifying as HD.

ABC News 24 is technically an HD service, but anyone who has ever tuned in, even on a small TV, will notice that its picture quality falls well short of what you'd see on many primary SD channels — this is presumably done to free up bandwidth for the higher-rating main channel, ABC1.

SBS HD is a simulcast of SBS1 and rarely ever transmits native HD content, which, given the broadcaster's exceptionally tight financial situation, isn't too much of a surprise. GEM and 7Mate primarily transmit alternative programming, targeted at females and males, respectively, but the amount of native HD content is thinner than Shane Warne's "regrown" hair.

It's sad to say that although it's fallen a long way from its glory days as an all-sports channel (think Nascar, baseball, gridiron, live Formula One and MotoGP), HD broadcaster One still has the widest offering of native HD content, including movies, Australian drama and some sport. So how does this meagre free-to-air HD offering compare to overseas?

Any way you try to cut it, we lag behind most of the developed world in terms of free-to-air HD broadcasting — though this wasn't always the case, just by the by. In the UK, anyone with the Freeview-compatible digital tuner can receive BBC HD, BBC One HD, ITV1 HD and Channel 4 HD. In the US, each of the four major networks originates its signal in either 1080i (CBS, NBC) or 720p (Fox, ABC); but, in the end, it's up to the local affiliate to transmit it at this resolution. A similar situation exists in Canada, while in New Zealand, TV One, TV2 and TV3 all broadcast in 1080i.


We've run a number of news stories recently about local networks spawning new data-casting services (WIN Gold, Seven's TV4Me and Nine's Extra) that primarily show infomercials. This is in addition to the infomercials that have taken over TV schedules from the midnight hour until sunrise, as well as the numerous product discussions that are littered across the post-breakfast TV landscape.

Flick on a TV in the US and you'll see that many network affiliates have filled their overnight and daytime schedules with many of the same infomercials that grace our airwaves. But you should be ever so thankful that the direct advertising of drugs is strictly forbidden in Australia. Though we still have a few annoying curios, such as men playing pianos with their penises', these are infinitely preferable to the drug adverts that infest every ad break in America, and seem to include more disclaimers than actual information about the drug.

Over the ditch in NZ, they mightn't be suffering under the yoke of multiple dedicated free-to-air home shopping channels, but infomercials are dotted across the TV schedule — even on the state-run network.

Viewers in the UK can thank their proud history of public service broadcasting, even for commercial networks, as their regulator Ofcom only permits three hours of infomercials daily. To make up for this, however, commercial broadcasters have taken to airing interactive casino-like shows overnight.

Sports availability

On Australian TV, if you hate sport, there's probably too much of it going around. For others, though, it's one of the few times that Channel BitTorrent can't satisfy their needs. In terms of our major sports — rugby league and Australian rules in the winter and cricket in the summer — we're well served.

Under current broadcasting deals, there are three NRL matches and at least four AFL matches aired for free every week. For those craving the sight of leather on willow, every cricket home Test match and one-day international match is shown on free-to-air TV.

Compare this situation to the UK, where the average sports fan either has to find a pub or pay up for a Sky subscription, if they want to watch either Premier League football or cricket on television. And the situation in New Zealand is almost as bad, with pay-TV operator Sky mopping up all the sports TV rights that matter. Rugby, in the form of the Super 15 and the local ITM Cup, as well as international cricket, all air live on Sky, with selected matches being doled out on delayed coverage to the Sky-owned free-to-air network Prime.


Without going into issues of programming quality, a subjective debate that could go on for hours, the state of Australian TV isn't that bad. Yes, the state of HD is more developing than developed, and the quantity of infomercials seemingly rivals our population of poker machines — but, at least there's enough free sport to be had, no drug-pushing commercials and a distinct lack of TV gambling.

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SteveW5 posted a comment   

tell me there are no more comments allowed then dont let me type one then just make it vanish. it's like watching sports.


SteveW5 posted a comment   

Not me, I love my sport why I can't get enough sport I even have 2 televisions just so I can watch channel 10 and channel 11 both play the same sport event at the same time, because I have two eyes damn it why should I put up with one eye missing out on more sports. and I have the radio on with sports too because I cant get enough sports it should be on 24 hours a day 7 days a week and if anyone doesnt like it they're not bloody australian and should bugger off back to new zealand or tasmania and get off the real country where we watch sports in the dark because it's better than sunlight. Sports is all you need god I cant imagine how the poor buggers lasted in australia before they invented the sports box, they probably had to play the stuff, imagine that having to play sports.. hahaha poor old black and white people.. not like us manly men of 2014 where we watrch sports 24 hours a day and I record it with my set top box because what if I miss a second of it, I can rewind it. Yep, I love me sports. Cant get enou someone shoot me please god please.


SeanZ posted a comment   

I'm discusted with the bit rate of digital TV here in Australia. I have seen better quality videos on youtube in SD and HD then free to air TV and also i can record home videos on my video camera using a SLR lens in 1920/1080 in 25P or 50P with the video transferred from the video camera.


LeifAlbor posted a comment   

Okay I%u2019ll bite. My biggest gripe with Australian FTA TV is that the emphasis from all 3 commercial broadcasters (and to a lesser extent ABC and SBS too) is the emphasis is quantity over quality.

The argument over whether content is broadcast at 576i SD resolution or 720p/1080i HD resolution is almost entirely made irrelevant by the level of digital compression placed on the video stream %u2013 the end result is regular compression artifacts any second tier channel, which arguably is more noticeable on HD offerings. Try watching Friday night NRL on GEM where there%u2019s fast motion within the picture and you%u2019ll see exactly what I mean - even though it's a 1080i stream, I've seen substantially better picture quality on my previous 10 year old DVD player.

Obviously high compression and low bit-rates on second tier channels allow for the broadcasters%u2019 primary channels to a greater allowance bandwidth, however in regional area%u2019s it%u2019s also arguably done so that broadcasts can be received in low reception areas. %u201CInfotainment%u201D channels (like WIN Gold, launched just this week in my area) add insult to injury %u2013 consuming more precious bandwidth within the spectrum and serving nothing other than to line broadcasters%u2019 pockets.

So where%u2019s it all gone wrong? Firstly, SD only set top boxes and receivers should have never gone on sale in Australia. They%u2019re the sole reason why the 5 primary channels aren%u2019t broadcast in HD. Clearly it makes no sense (commercially or otherwise) to simulcast the same content in both SD and HD; but in our current scenario, broadcasting a channel in HD only servers alienate a percentage of potential audience.

Federal government anti-siphoning regulations weren%u2019t consistent when they were reviewed, and have never been effective at %u201Cnurturing%u201D the evolving digital TV environment. Instead it focussed on making sure that existing analogue viewers %u201Cdidn%u2019t miss out%u201D. I don%u2019t remember having access to TV being a human right previously; I%u2019m not sure how it came to be one over the last decade.

Fixing previous mistakes clearly isn%u2019t as easy as getting them right in the first place; but from a viewer%u2019s perspective, here%u2019s my suggestions on how the deferral government could update regulations to see FTA TV content improve considerably:

- Ensure consistency across all channels for viewer ratings. If the same program is simulcast over two channels, allow its viewer count as if it%u2019s a single broadcast.

- Reduce the number of digital channels allowed for each commercial broadcaster to 2, removing some channels will open up bandwidth which can be reallocated to the surviving channels. Both the 7 and 9 networks use 7Two, 7Mate, GO! And GEM as dumping grounds for reruns and low rate-ers. Content on these channels could easily be consolidated into 2 channels without losing any %u201Cfirst run%u201D content. Neither of Ten%u2019s OneHD and 11 are pulling high ratings on any of their shows %u2013 but kudos to Ten for not pumping as much %u201Cencore%u201D, %u201Ccatch up%u201D and repeat content into them.

- As far as WIN Gold, Seven's TV4Me and Nine's Extra are concerned %u2013 they shouldn't have existed in the first place (if it weren%u2019t for digital TV, they never would have); they don%u2019t need to exist in the future.

- Remove anti-siphoning regulating forcing sport and Australian content to be broadcast on first tier channels. The vast majority of us own HD receivers these days, and can receive any channel we want. We don%u2019t need certain content to be forced onto certain channels any more.


Im Batman posted a comment   

The actual amount of high HD (1080i) content that we see broadcast is minimal, i was a bit shocked to see Avatar, the blockbuster, was only coming in at 720p... they couldn't broadcast it in all its glory.

Why is it?? are the networks trying to squeeze/split more channels into their allocated spectrum, and therefore slowly wilting down the quality of each channel.

is this due to the limited spectrum that they have been given, bundled with a requirement to use mpeg 2 compression.

Is it going to get any better?
is it likely they are going to get any more bandwidth? or able to use a more efficient compression (mpeg4) ... if the set top boxes can support it
What rules can the government change to make it better?

Agreed, NZ tv was littered with infomercials ... got a boot load while we were over there during summer.


troyhulm posted a comment   

What about putting the NRL on at a reasonable time in Melbourne.. That would make the sports on TV here a bit more enjoyable!


grumpi posted a comment   

WIN Gold, Seven's TV4Me and Nine's eXtra are just an appalling waste of broadcast spectrum which could have been used for HDTV.
How on earth did these horrible informercial channels ever get approved in the first place?
Has our government been asleep at the wheel?


Matt_au posted a comment   

All very good, unless you get VAST satellite.

The you get.
1. No Television if it rains
2. Melbourne News. ( I have only been to Victoria twice in my life) We don't even get news from Adelaide our home state.
3. A set top box that mysteriously stops working until you turn off the power at the wall for 2 minutes
4. A set top box that goes to electronic heaven on an annual basis.
5. An additional cost of several hundred dollars for each Vast box and a huge delay while the federal government decides if your entitled to more than one Television per home.

This whole Digital Television thing has been a failure, complete and total. Now I look at the NBN, and see quite clearly that it to is going to fail in the same way and for the same reasons. The decision makers make decisions based on how many votes it will buy. as remote and rural Australia has basically no one left to vote, they no longer matter.


Pining posted a comment   

Good story!
I don't agree with your conclusion. You say it isn't bad. I believe a more accurate conclusion would be it isn't bad in comparison to other countries. They are two very different statements.
I remember going to England/Ireland in 1995 and looking at the frre to air TV and thinking how disgraceful it was. Nothing but "Today" like shows, "Romper Room," news, "Neighbours" like shows and early reality type things. I can't honestly remember if they had any sport, but if they did, it wasn't much because I watched most sport I saw down at the pub.
(........or was that because of the beer?)

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