Today at 9am, the analogue television system was shut off permanently in the Sunraysia region. This serves as the first region to take part in the systematic shut down of analogue TV broadcast systems across Australia.  By December 31 2013, Australia should be an entirely digital TV nation.

By December 13, Broken Hill in NSW, and the Riverland, Mount Gambier and Spencer Gulf regions in SA will encounter the analogue switch-off. Further regions will follow, finally culminating with the switch-off in Australia’s capital cities.

Every viewer who wants to continue to access the digital service will require the purchase of a digital television, or at least a digital set-top box. Mildura was chosen specifically as the starting point for the rolling closures for the fact that 70% of its 24,000 residents had already made the digital conversion — the highest percentage in Australia. Despite this, there is always the reality that some residents would be left behind through ignorance or apathy.

Andy Townend, of the Digital Switch-over Taskforce, has said that “In any work you are doing it would always be nice to have more time” [to convert every resident’s receiver], however, ground reports from technicians indicate that there has been a massive rush job in the final stages of the transition. The Australian quotes Mark Wilson, owner of one of Ouyen’s registered antenna-installers and chairman of local progress group Ouyen Inc:

“It would have been desirable to have seen the satellite service made available a lot earlier and the repeaters … up and running earlier. Just so there was more opportunity to get things switched over in a more orderly manner.”

There is one significant aspect of the conversion that most of the media have been overlooking in Australia, which is the viewers who don’t mind being left behind following the digital conversion. The viewers who simply don’t care if they can’t receive broadcast television. Some may see it as an excuse to cut television out of their lives altogether, while others may simply be so used to getting their TV content from other sources (i.e. DVD, Bittorrent, internet delivery, etc) that they simply have no interest in broadcast television. One would assume that there are a lot of younger people who fall into this latter category, a notion that has to be concerning for Australian TV networks.

Today marks an interesting time in Australian television history. While digital television provides stronger picture clarity, better sound, multichanneling, and additional data services, it is also set to create a divide between those that have made the conversion and those that haven’t. At 9 o’clock this morning, the analogue system was shut off with television screens going dark. Some of them permanently.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey