Oz chooses regions for analog switchoff

Full digital rollout due by the end of 2013

SYDNEY -- The Australian government has earmarked rural areas in Victoria and South Australia as the first to switch off analog TV services under a digital TV switchover timetable announced Monday.

The phased switchover will see the regions complete the switch by June 2010, with other rural and regional centers to follow. Major cities Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide will be the last places in the country to have their digital switchovers finalized -- with a target of Dec. 31, 2013.

Communications minister Stephen Conroy said that Mildura-Sunraysia was chosen to lead off the switchover because it has the highest penetration of digital TV in Australia.

"At over 70% of homes ... it makes sense to start there," Conroy said. "This particular community is already well informed about the benefits of digital TV after the third commercial network entered the market in 2006 and drove take-up with digital-only broadcasts."

The switchover and consumer education campaigns are being overseen by the Digital Switchover Task Force, while the free-to-air TV networks are aiming to jointly launch a suite of digital-only channels under a "Freeview" brand in 2009, in a bid to help drive digital TV penetration.

Julie Flynn, CEO of industry body Free TV Australia, said that "the timetable is challenging but achievable," adding that they want to ensure that "no viewers are left behind as we make the transition to digital."

The government estimates about 42% of Australia's 7.2 million TV households have digital television.