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Australia to abandon HDTV?

Australia looks ready to reverse its policy of using digital spectrum capacity for high-definition TV and instead push its terrestrial channels into multi-channelling.

Australia looks ready to reverse its policy of using digital spectrum capacity for high-definition TV and instead push its terrestrial channels into multi-channelling.

Communications minister Richard Alston wants to tie in the push to multicasting with a change in the anti-siphoning legislation that keeps major sports events on the terrestrials to create a source of content for any extra channels.

Two terrestrial channels - the government funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and SBS - have already been permitted to run extra channels using digital spectrum. But the Nine and Ten commercial channels have fiercely opposed multi-channelling. They fear they will be forced to find extra programming to fill airtime which will dilute the mass audience that draws advertisers.

Seven Network is an advocate of multi-channelling. It has already operated a sports channel that was carried on the Optus pay TV platform until earlier this year.

In 1999 the Australian government voted to use the spectrum for datacasting, while putting stringent curbs on the genres of programming and how much video could be carried. These measures were to mollify the terrestrials who were worried that datacasters would become de facto new channel operators ahead of the end of the moratorium on newcomers that ends in 2007.

The conditions meant that Alston had to cancel the datacasting auction because of a lack of bidders in May 2000. Alston's department conducted a review of datacasting policy earlier this year and concluded it was not viable because of a lack of commercial interest.

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