One of the most frequent complaints we hear about TV in Australia is the fact that the main channel for each network is standard definition (SD), while high definition (HD) broadcasts are only found on secondary channels. Turns out TV networks are nearly as unhappy about that as you are.
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Although each channel was granted some HD spectrum, commercial TV networks were required to broadcast their main channel in SD while we were switching from analogue to digital, to ensure that all viewers could see that content. Hence 7mate for Seven, GEM for Nine and One for Ten all run in HD, but HD isn't supported on the primary channels for those networks. (Different rules apply for the government-owned ABC, which uses its HD spectrum for ABC News 24, and SBS, which runs SBS HD as a replica of its main SD channel.)
Since that switchover was completed at the end of 2013, it seems illogical not to offer the primary channel for each network on HD. The only viewers who wouldn't be able to see those channels now would be anyone who had a cheap digital set-top box that only supported SD broadcasts.
Turns out TV networks are agitating for that change to happen. As TV Tonight reports, industry association Free TV Australia has been asked by the government to make a submission on the issue by the end of March. Free TV Australia CEO Julie Flynn put it bluntly:
It is something we are absolutely working on and it is something we hope the government will do, but they have not yet done. They have proposed that we get rid of that restriction that we can't do HD on the main channel. This is something they could do tomorrow. Just do it. It's bleedingly obvious.
One possible roadblock? That request is tied up with various other changes the networks would like, including a reduction in their licence fees, which is likely to delay the decision. If the request for HD was being made on its own, it might be processed more quickly.
It's also important to remember that a switch to HD wouldn't necessarily mean that absolutely every single broadcast was in HD. The lack of HD broadcasts for free-to-air sporting events is another common source of complaints, but wouldn't necessarily be fixed simply by switching the main channels to HD spectrum -- networks still have to film in HD for that to happen.