Why Moving Community TV Online Is A Bad Idea

Last week, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed that community television broadcasts will be pushed online at the end of 2015. Turnbull's announcement came as a surprise to many of those working in community television, so what's the likely impact of this transition on the industry?

Picture: Getty Images

Many of our well-known television personalities began their broadcasting careers on community TV. Rove McManus (pictured), Corinne Grant, Waleed Aly and of course Hamish and Andy are all beneficiaries of the community TV melting pot, and it could reasonably be argued that the commercial and public broadcasters who currently employ these luminaries and their compatriots are also benefiting from the community training ground.

In addition to the handful of recognisable names, there are hundreds of others who cut their teeth at places such as the Melbourne community channel Channel 31 who are now quietly working in various technical and craft roles at all levels of the media industry.

Networks, whether public or private, benefit from having a pool of young, enthusiastic and – most importantly – experienced cast and crew to draw from. Rather than take a risk on an unknown quantity, employers are able to take their pick from a talent pool that has likely already made its rookie mistakes.

The experience gained through working in broadcast television, albeit in a modest setting, simply cannot be replaced by a switch to webcasting.

The pressure to perform when you know your work is being broadcast on one of a limited number of free-to-air stations is vastly greater than that experienced when you are providing content for one of more than a billion discrete websites.

The constant adrenaline rush of free-to-air comes from the fact anyone could be watching, while webcasters are usually more concerned that perhaps no-one is.

Of course, there are already community-based online channels in existence, such as Hive Television, but they have neither the profile nor the audience penetration of a "real" television channel – one that exists on the free-to-air spectrum and can be viewed on a television set without the need for either IPTV or a pay-TV interface.

There are certainly many older Australians who benefit from nostalgia programming on free-to-air community channels who would lose that service completely in a shift to online-only.

Let's face it, nursing home audiences in their 70s, 80s and even 90s will not follow community television to online delivery, destroying a mutually beneficial arrangement whereby community channels provide free content from as far back as the 1930s that is of specific interest to elderly viewers. This small but valued audience sector will lose out.

For younger viewers the serendipitous discovery of local content on the telly will disappear. Channel surfing is a real thing in the world of broadcast television, where viewers make unexpected discoveries as they flip through the available offerings whenever boredom or advertising strikes.

Screenwriter and fellow lecturer Ben Michael said to me:

… would I watch two metal heads talk guitar solos online? Probably not; there's too much stuff I'm actually into to drag my eyes in their direction. But when I'm flipping channels and they come up, do I get a kick out of how bizarre, crazy and great Channel 31 can be? You bet I do.

To equate webcasting with broadcasting is disingenuous and, while it may be an understandable confusion coming from the less tech-savvy members of our current government, it seems less so when it is announced by the current Mr Broadband.

One wonders what cost-benefit analyses or economic and social impact surveys have been completed prior to the decision being taken?

Are we simply seeing the predictable ideological outcome of a government that cannot bear to see a tradeable commodity being "wasted" and wants to grab the opportunity to make a buck by selling off the spectrum?

Considering the difficult financial times faced by our current commercial broadcasters, one must assume the spectrum is not being earmarked for the long-awaited fourth commercial channel, so it must presumably be needed for other purposes.

Perhaps to support the revised NBN rollout? There is, after all, only so much Wi-Fi spectrum to go around.The Conversation

Peter Allen is a Lecturer in Film and Television, Victorian College of the Arts at University of Melbourne. He does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Comments

    One counter arguement is that outside of major metro zones, community TV is scarce. Moving online will increase their pontentioal viewing audience.

    Having said that. Online community TV will only work if it is incorporated into the new FreeviewPlus system, where the channel is still avaliable on the TV, just delivered via IP rather than UHF/VHF. Much like the catch up services are suppose to work.

      ..Online community TV will only work if it is incorporated into the new FreeviewPlus system, where the channel is still available on the TV, just delivered via IP rather than UHF/VHF. ..

      I agree.

      but the larger reach will increase the costs of licensing shows, and being online could also have an effect on what shows they can get.

    Darned if I'm going to get out of my comfy sofa in the living room, watching some good CTV program (which I found with the pre-view channel surfing on my smart tv) and hop onto my computer to do the same. I won't I use my computer differently from my TV. And on my smart TV (what a dumb term "smart" TV) I have to go through all sorts of hoops to look at utube, so I don't. Back to good old free to air.

    But why are they selling the spectrum, and who are they selling it to??

      Because $$$, and to the phone companies. They will use the frequencies to transmit data.

    That quote from Ben Michael has got to be one of the weakest justifications the author could possibly have come up with - "I won't watch this stuff online because there is stuff I am actually interested in, but I get a kick out of seeing weird stuff when I flip channels on TV" Really?

    step 1: cripple nbn
    step 2: push services requiring high speed net access
    step 3: ???
    step 4: profit

    They should look at getting rid of all the stupid shopping channels instead.
    Who's watching - or learning anything from - those?

      Personally - I hate these channels too and feel like they are a waste of time - BUT - There's definitely people and like this great article has raised several points, the elderly/stay at home parents do watch and buys things and as they are more often then not locals it provides training and jobs for people in your area.

      The flip side here is - If the government is pushing these to Online then it needs to bare the responsibility to provide a way for these people to reconnect to their watching as easily as possible, non-download quotas for the channels would be a start as well as trying to turn them into apps like ABC's iView and Catchup.

    Online tv would be good if it wasnt for the fact our internet is so bad, i think if you do the math with a standard net connection(in aus) watching tv online will end up costing more than pay tv??or watch 1 days worth of tv and you reach your cap and is it just me or do they not even want us watching free to air tv? the owners of 7 and 9 dont by any chance have shares in foxtel do they? things like airing kids shows at 3am, repeating shows on the same channel 4 hours after the aired(the repeat) the first time, replaying the same lame movies 10+ times over there 3 channels in a month, 7 and there obsession with slightly racist movies from the 40's and 50's, they want to add more ad's even though their already bypassing the allowed ad time by claiming infomercials arnt ad's. all there stupid "reality tv shows" like gator humpers or whatever, that all seem to be made by the same company that is exploiting the fact that most people are retarded and are capable of being entertained by a by 15 mins of a metronome ticking padded out with 15 mins of ad's, fuk em all , the pirate bay it is for me, i might even donate some money to them, stolen content or not at least they give me what i want and dont spoon feed me trickles of crap because they have use over a barrel and theres nothing we can do about it , you can make out i and people like me a bad people, but what sort of a stupid system we have where 30 odd million people are dictated to as to what they can view by 3 or 4 people and the lacky politician's

    I thought that living in a democracy meant something more. But it would appear we live in something different - a society where the power of the $$ and big business is more important than the society those interests are supposed to be served. It makes sense I suppose - vote for the LNP and expect nothing less. Fits perfectly with the plan to give businesses more rights than humans in voting in the City of Sydney council elections. Expect more of the same in coming years. My vote and my worth as a human being is only contingent upon my $$ value worth...

    I love how they argue that SO many people have made it big thanks to community radio. But has it boosted revenue for community tv? Hardly. It's an expensive business for the government to find when it hardly makes a return.

    Still, SBS should be the first target but that's another topic for another day.

    Moving community TV online is just another way to buff up telco revenues and forcing people to get internet and other services! Despicable.

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