Australia to finish digital switch by 2013


SYDNEY -- Australia's conversion to digital TV will be finalized by the end of 2013, the country's new communications minister senator Stephen Conroy said Tuesday.

Meeting a pre-election promise to abolish Digital Australia, the agency created by the former conservative government and charged with managing the switchover, Conroy said that the transition will be managed by a Digital Switchover Taskforce within the newly created Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

The new task force will be headed up by Andy Townend, the former CEO of Digital UK, who arrived in Australia this year as CEO of Digital Australia. He's now been charged with providing the new minister with a comprehensive switchover timetable by the third quarter of 2008.

The previous government had set a target date for the switchoff of Australia's analog broadcasting system of between 2010 and 2012.

Conroy said that "setting a firm date of 2013 for the switchover from analog to digital television transmission in Australia has given industry the certainty it needs to drive consumer uptake of digital television. Until now, industry has had no declared end date and has been unable to plan effectively for digital television."

In addition, Conroy has pushed back the date for the start of digital-only TV transmissions in metropolitan markets by 12 months.

With penetration of digital TVs and set-top boxes in Australian households of just 30%, December 2008 "is clearly an impossible date for both viewers and industry. The government will now work with industry to ensure that all Australians are prepared for digital television," Conroy said.

Australia's TV networks are currently simulcasting analog and digital signals, but no concrete timetable has been put in place to manage the switchover.

Conroy said ahead of Australia's November general election that the most likely approach would be for a phased introduction of digital services, beginning in a rural test market with metropolitan markets to follow soon after.

"We will need a critical mass of digital sets in the market, and to achieve that we have to have some certainty in our dates," Conroy said then.