Digital Television— “Switching Over”— to What????

Australia is due to switch off its analogue television service and go digital between 2010 and 2012.

It may seem off the horizon for looking at 2018 because one could say “well by then it will all be over” and we just need to take the new spectrum as a given for 2018. But what are we taking as a given? In a recent book, “TV Futures” about policy and regulation in the OZ context, author Jock Given, compares and analyses the four different scenarios developing in the UK, New Zealand, Australia and the US.
(Jock Given, “Switching Off Analogue TV “, TV Futures, Ed. Andrew Kenyon. Melbourne University Press. 2007)

If, as OZ consumers, we have an assumption that a “switch over” merely takes all of what we’ve become used to on analogue “free to air”, with some new channels thrown in, for the cost of a digital set top box – then Given provides a critical readjustment to that type of thinking.

In indirect ways the chapter challenges us to think about the current “value” of the analogue system that has evolved for 50 years in OZ under specific national technical, commercial and regulatory environments. Here “value” means not only the financial revenues for broadcasters and advertisers, but also the evolution of public service broadcasting, programming codes and access.

However, I’m not writing here to do a review of the chapter, but want to highlight one section which I think relates very much to the idea of identifying critical “uncertainties” that scenario planning deals with.
Given argues that the switchover involves a number of “x factors”. These could very well still be in play by 2018. While acknowledging the impact broadband Internet connections are having on traditional analogue television, he contends,

“….It may be harder for tomorrow’s television proprietors to co-opt parliamentarians to help craft the media future into the shapes they most desire … Fresh perspectives on the roles of what are often caricatured as old and new media might be bought by a different generation of leaders. More distant, less predictable things might also have an impact on the future of DTTV, as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina have already demonstrated, and as the two world wars did on the development of radio and television.”

(in the chapter Given outlines the ways 9/11 and Katrina abruptly shifted resistance to DTTV in the US and hastened a deadline for an analogue switchover to allocate its spectrum to public safety communication systems)

“Climate change might bring more critical scrutiny to communications policies that render large quantities of electronic equipment unusable, or that encourage higher electrical consumption to power larger screens and more equipment left permanently in standby mode. Abundance might become a more ambiguous promise.” (p.305)


2 Responses

  1. Fascinating post. I haven’t read Jock’s article, but I will now.

    I guess our focus in the project has inevitably been on the digital future, with digital almost becoming unsaid, taken for granted. I don’t mean that we have overlooked it, as discussion about what digital technologies and spectrum might enable permeates all areas of the project. But that because our focus is television, and television will (surely) be digital in Australia by 2018, we have overlooked (necessarily, to some extent) what the analog spectrum might be used for post-switchover, or do we think that this will categorically be ‘not TV’?

  2. I think that the switch-off of “analog media” is inevitable – although as we seem eg with CDMA mobile phone services and with Australia DTV switch-over dates – the actual switch-overs may be months or years after initial specified deadlines. I also think that switch-over will be completed probably by about 2014-15. There will be a defined “Digital Media” lexicon with some definition for “Television” as of at that time. Does the idea of “analog” spectrum being “re-used for what?” suggest that a traditional definition of “television” should be retained or updated? Not sure on that thought..


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