Seven, Ten plan free-to-air, high-def channels

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SYDNEY -- Australian networks Seven and Ten have announced separate plans to launch two new high-definition channels this year, the first new free-to-air channels to launch here in 40 years.

Network Ten, which has invested AUS$10 million (US$8.2 million) in its digital broadcasting strategy this year said plans were well underway for its HD channel launch on Dec. 1.

The Seven Network said it will reveal details of the branding and content for its HD service in the "coming months," ahead of a December launch of its own.

Ten's channel, under the moniker Ten-HD, will include high-definition broadcasts of Ten's main broadcast schedule; 50 hours per week of HD programming including live sport, entertainment, movies and documentaries from National Geographic; 11 hours per week of time-shifted Ten programming; HD extensions of such Ten franchises as the "Biggest Loser," "Idol" and "Big Brother"; and theme nights like Sci Fi Saturday.

Ten is currently broadcasting the Australian Football League Finals series, the Rugby World Cup, all its U.S. programming and key local productions in high definition.

Under plans to drive the adoption of digital TV here, Australian broadcasters are required to broadcast 20 hours per week of programming in HD, while the commercial networks are able to air one HD multichannel, like those planned by Seven and Ten.

Ten HD also will be part of pay TV provider Foxtel's eight-channel HD service, set to launch early next year.

Industry group Digital Broadcasting Australia estimates that more than 28% of Australian homes are currently able to see digital free-to-air television, while about 10 million flat-panel, high-definition sets are expected to be sold here by the time the analog broadcast signal is switched off in 2012.
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