Is Australian TV really that bad?

We all complain about the state of Australian television, but how bad is it really?

We all complain about the state of Australian television, but how bad is it really?

Let's do this by rattling off a few of our pet peeves, and see how other countries compare.

HD

Unless you're coughing up AU$70 to AU$110 every month for HD Foxtel, it's pretty safe to say that we're poorly served in this regard. Every free-to-air network has an HD channel at its disposal, but very little of the content shown on these channels comes close to qualifying as HD.

ABC News 24 is technically an HD service, but anyone who has ever tuned in, even on a small TV, will notice that its picture quality falls well short of what you'd see on many primary SD channels — this is presumably done to free up bandwidth for the higher-rating main channel, ABC1.

SBS HD is a simulcast of SBS1 and rarely ever transmits native HD content, which, given the broadcaster's exceptionally tight financial situation, isn't too much of a surprise. GEM and 7Mate primarily transmit alternative programming, targeted at females and males, respectively, but the amount of native HD content is thinner than Shane Warne's "regrown" hair.

It's sad to say that although it's fallen a long way from its glory days as an all-sports channel (think Nascar, baseball, gridiron, live Formula One and MotoGP), HD broadcaster One still has the widest offering of native HD content, including movies, Australian drama and some sport. So how does this meagre free-to-air HD offering compare to overseas?

Any way you try to cut it, we lag behind most of the developed world in terms of free-to-air HD broadcasting — though this wasn't always the case, just by the by. In the UK, anyone with the Freeview-compatible digital tuner can receive BBC HD, BBC One HD, ITV1 HD and Channel 4 HD. In the US, each of the four major networks originates its signal in either 1080i (CBS, NBC) or 720p (Fox, ABC); but, in the end, it's up to the local affiliate to transmit it at this resolution. A similar situation exists in Canada, while in New Zealand, TV One, TV2 and TV3 all broadcast in 1080i.

Infomercials

We've run a number of news stories recently about local networks spawning new data-casting services (WIN Gold, Seven's TV4Me and Nine's Extra) that primarily show infomercials. This is in addition to the infomercials that have taken over TV schedules from the midnight hour until sunrise, as well as the numerous product discussions that are littered across the post-breakfast TV landscape.

Flick on a TV in the US and you'll see that many network affiliates have filled their overnight and daytime schedules with many of the same infomercials that grace our airwaves. But you should be ever so thankful that the direct advertising of drugs is strictly forbidden in Australia. Though we still have a few annoying curios, such as men playing pianos with their penises', these are infinitely preferable to the drug adverts that infest every ad break in America, and seem to include more disclaimers than actual information about the drug.

Over the ditch in NZ, they mightn't be suffering under the yoke of multiple dedicated free-to-air home shopping channels, but infomercials are dotted across the TV schedule — even on the state-run network.

Viewers in the UK can thank their proud history of public service broadcasting, even for commercial networks, as their regulator Ofcom only permits three hours of infomercials daily. To make up for this, however, commercial broadcasters have taken to airing interactive casino-like shows overnight.

Sports availability

On Australian TV, if you hate sport, there's probably too much of it going around. For others, though, it's one of the few times that Channel BitTorrent can't satisfy their needs. In terms of our major sports — rugby league and Australian rules in the winter and cricket in the summer — we're well served.

Under current broadcasting deals, there are three NRL matches and at least four AFL matches aired for free every week. For those craving the sight of leather on willow, every cricket home Test match and one-day international match is shown on free-to-air TV.

Compare this situation to the UK, where the average sports fan either has to find a pub or pay up for a Sky subscription, if they want to watch either Premier League football or cricket on television. And the situation in New Zealand is almost as bad, with pay-TV operator Sky mopping up all the sports TV rights that matter. Rugby, in the form of the Super 15 and the local ITM Cup, as well as international cricket, all air live on Sky, with selected matches being doled out on delayed coverage to the Sky-owned free-to-air network Prime.

Conclusion

Without going into issues of programming quality, a subjective debate that could go on for hours, the state of Australian TV isn't that bad. Yes, the state of HD is more developing than developed, and the quantity of infomercials seemingly rivals our population of poker machines — but, at least there's enough free sport to be had, no drug-pushing commercials and a distinct lack of TV gambling.

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About the author

Derek loves nothing more than punching a remote location into a GPS, queuing up some music and heading out on a long drive, so it's a good thing he's in charge of CNET Australia's Car Tech channel.

 

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