A few days ago I wrote an opinion piece about the Abbott government’s decision via Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull (artist’s impression above) to cease transmitting community television on television. It appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Age (incidentally, my first time in The Age). If you missed it, you can read it online here.

It went a bit viral yesterday and as of this moment, there’s a “112” next to the Twitter logo and a “241” next to the Facebook logo on The Age website. Thank you very much to the people who shared it and thanks for showing your love and support for community TV in Australia.

It must have struck a chord, because Malcolm Turnbull replied with his own opinion piece in The Age today. In it, he essentially repeats the arguments he made on his website when he made the initial announcement.

So, I thought I’d reply to a few of his recent points Fatboy Slim-style. Right here, right now:

“Commercial and national television broadcasters are already responding to the demands of audiences for more content online, and I envisage this trend will continue, particularly where the content is specialised and local. Nielsen’s Australian Connected Consumers 2014 report found that of the 80 per cent of Australians with the internet, 50 per cent of them watched television programs online. This represents a significant Australian audience watching TV from an internet source with the most growth coming from under 35s and over 60s.”

So, 60 per cent of Australians do not watch television programs online. More than half the audience still prefers to watch TV on a TV.

I agree with Malcolm this trend will continue, but that percentage just supports my call for a more gradual transition for community TV to move online. People will need to change their living room set up, purchase Internet TVs and in many cases, wait until faster, more reliable internet is available in their area. The end of 2015 is an inadequate deadline.

Leaving to one side the fact that Malcolm Turnbull isn’t requiring the other commercial stations to transition to the internet in this same time frame (or at all).

“Currently there are five community television services in Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. Apart from Geelong, because of its proximity to Melbourne, Australians outside  these metropolitan capital cities have never been able to access CTV.”

At last year’s C31 Melbourne & Geelong Christmas party, general manager Richard McLelland told the crowd his vision to expand their free-to-air TV signal to the regional centres of Bendigo and Ballarat.

The desire is there. The audience is there.

The power to make it happen is yours, Minister.

“OzTam official ratings data shows that CTV has very small audiences.  Over the last five years with an average annual daily audience in prime time (6pm to midnight) for all stations of about  6000 viewers. To put this in perspective the total viewing market is about 15 million viewers.”

As has been said by others before me, using “average” ratings to compare the niche broadcasting of community TV to the other stations is not a fair measure and misses the point entirely.

The nature of the diversity of programming on community TV means ratings for individual programs are going to vary wildly. C31 Melbourne & Geelong says community TV reaches 3 million viewers each month.

Regardless, achieving high ratings is not the primary aim of community TV. It exists to give people experience in broadcasting, to air programming the other big TV stations wouldn’t touch with a ten foot TV pole and content which appeals to smaller, less commercially-viable sections of the community.

Community TV is supposed to have smaller audiences. That’s the point.

Does anyone know how many people actually watch those God awful shopping channels?

“In the short term (from 2016) sixth-channel spectrum will be used to assist free-to-air broadcasters in the migration to MPEG-4, a video compression technology that is almost twice as efficient as the MPEG-2 standard they currently use. This migration will allow for more channels and better picture quality with the same amount of spectrum.”

So, if it’s possible to have more channels on the TV spectrum… can you not just give community TV one of those channels?

And secondly, why should we be bothering with this spectrum upgrade at all, if you say the future of television is on the internet?

I don’t see how it’s possible to have it both ways there. Unless of course this is all bullshit and based purely on some right wing ideology.

Community TV is somewhat of a passion of mine. If you think it’s important to keep it, I’d encourage you to sign up at Commit to Community TV, and continue sharing the passionate articles written by proponents. Including this blog entry.

If for no other reason than just so I can see how Malcolm Turnbull responds 🙂

Kind regards,
TV’s David M. Green

PS. Many thanks to Tony Sowersby for that fantastic cartoon. He draws others, you know. Check them out on Facebook!

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Community TV Good. Abbott Government Bad., 4.9 out of 5 based on 9 ratings