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Seven dips toes into the HD multi-channel waters

Viewers watching Channel Seven's HD channel 10.30pm on Monday night would have witnessed Australia's first tentative steps into the world of commercial multi-channelling.

Viewers watching Channel Seven's HD channel 10.30pm on Monday night would have witnessed Australia's first tentative steps into the world of commercial multi-channelling.

Channel Seven is claiming that its two-hour block of unique programming, late at night on weekdays, is Australia's first commercial digital multi-channel. Indeed it even goes so far as to claim that it's "Australia's first new commercial television network in four decades". This conveniently ignores the fact that since 1989 SBS has been able to accept commercial sponsorship for its programming, with full advertising introduced not long later.

On Monday night, with little fanfare or warning, Channel Seven re-launched its high-definition channel with a limited line-up of separate programming. For two hours from 10.30pm, 7HD, as the new channel is branded, is showing either first run movies, premiere episodes of the US series The Grid or repeats of That '70s Show. The remaining 110 hours of the weekday schedule is a replica of Seven's analog and standard-def channels. During the weekend, some of Seven's sport programming will be swapped out for movies from the Walt Disney Company.

Seven's soft launch of HD multi-channel is the latest step in Australia's long march towards the brave new world of multi-channelling. Recently all three commercial networks announced intentions to launch different programming on their HD channels by the end of the year.

Since 2001, Australia's government-backed broadcasters have had digital channels with alternate programming. The ABC was first out of the blocks with its ABC Kids/Fly TV, which died in 2003 due to a lack of government funding. It was replaced in 2005 with ABC2, which mainly shows time-shifted ABC programming, as well as a clutch of original programming including Good Game, Australia Wide, WNBL, netball and music-related features.

The SBS has been broadcasting its World News Channel since 2002, which loops the international news programs in their original language, that the mother channel airs between 5am and midday. Although during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the channel was used to broadcast match highlights, alternate views and news updates from the competition.

Have you been watching Channel Seven's HD channel late at night this week? What do you think of its new programming line-up post-10.30pm? Leave your comments below.