Monday, November 21, 2005

Australian IT - Govt to fast-track digital TV

So Senator Coonan is thinking about subsidising the sale of digital set-top boxes so they can free up that bandwidth by 2008? Problem is, there's only so many boxes you can sell with the marketing line "purty pictures, great for a TV set you probably don't own yet."

Here's the problem, and it's no secret. People don't want to buy set top boxes because it's too expensive for what's extra to watch on it (other than ABC2, but as fond of it as I am it's just not enough to get the crowds pouring in), manufacturers don't want to make more because no one's buying them, and content providers don't want to make content because no one owns one.


Ahem. Sorry.

So anyway, now that it's become obvious to the government what should have been obvious to all from the start, they're looking into handing out set top boxes to get people off the analog service.

"There is the issue of how you would get a consortium of retailers, consumers, governments and broadcasters to plan the switch-off," Senator Coonan said yesterday.

"Because one of the problems we have got is that the market-driven model won't work unless you (provide incentives).

"(The issue is) whether or not (there is) a cost-benefit of continuing to pay for analogue-transmission simulcast or whether it would be more cost effective to give a box to people who haven't crossed over."

But even that won't work. Want to know why? Let's go back to Mark Cuban's "Path of Least Resistance from Total Boredom". The more obstacles you put in the way of people, the more they're likely to look elsewhere for entertainment. That's what a set-top box is, an obstacle. You want to sell digital TV? Provide incentives for manufacturers to build the tuner into the set so it's exactly the same as their old analog receiver. If manufacturers keep selling analog TV's, or digital TV's with no inbuilt tuner, why would you bother? Especially with the rather ridiculous rules regarding what can and can't be put in the available bandwidth. Heaven knows content won't be the bait, and if "the King" can't drag in the customers, what can?

"Senator Coonan stepped away from the possibility of allowing free-to-air television to broadcast on multiple channels and all but ended any hopes for a fourth free-to-air television licence, saying she did not think it would be commercially viable."

Well yeah, a fourth TV channel would be suicide with our population, but maintaining the clamp on multi-channeling just stymies innovation. Then again, it could be argued that having to think outside the box engenders innovation, but we all know that any new ideas are likely to get stomped on...

" part of a digital action plan that will be the subject of a broad discussion paper on new media rules to be released next month ahead of planned legislation later next year.

The paper will also canvas options for relaxing cross-media restrictions, foreign ownership, the spectrum for so-called data-casting services that become available in 2007 and changes to anti-siphoning rules...

"The paper will have a very short consultation period that now formalises the informal consultations that I have had with industry," Senator Coonan said yesterday. "

Short consultation period? Well, that doesn't come as a great surprise. We're kind of getting used to that.

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