Sydney to get new free TV channel

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Australias first free-to-air digital television channel not created by a commercial or public TV network will launch in Sydney today.

More than seven years after free-to-air digital TV started in Australia, the National Indigenous Television (NITV) service will become Australias first open narrowcast TV channel when it launches on Broadcast Australias Digital Forty Four datacast channel.

The launch is the first new free-to-air TV content to be made available since the commercial TV networks launched their high-definition TV channels earlier this year, and the ABCs launch of ABC2.

The commercial multi-channels mostly mirror their analogue equivalents, but NITV will be the first with a mass of new content.

Its publicity material says the channel features "a daily news and weather service created for and by indigenous people, award-winning sports programs, stunning dramas, insightful documentaries, cultural programming, music events, childrens shows, hilarious comedy, indigenous lifestyle and reality series and entertaining movies".

NITV chief executive Patricia Turner said the move was a huge plus for the service, which launched in July.

"This is the biggest TV reception market in Australia and it is the location with the largest Aboriginal population. About 60,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in Sydney," she said.

Broadcast Australia managing director Graeme Barclay said it would broadcast NITV using its datacast trial licence.

The previous federal Government awarded the licence to test datacast services - on which providers could only show a limited amount of video per hour - after its auction of digital TV spectrum failed to attract bidders in 2001.

That forced the Government to dump its datacast plan, with the spectrum instead earmarked for what became known as Channel A - a channel for narrowcasts or niche programming. Howe'ver, that plan has also been put on ice by the current Government.

But that has not prevented Mr Barclay from launching the NITV service.

"If Channel A ever emerges as a full-time permanent commercially available service it will allow the carriage of open narrowcast, datacast and community broadcast channels. So this is the first free-to-air open narrowcast service being carried on free-to-air digital TV," he said.

And he said the new content should help convert more people to free-to-air digital TV.

"Certainly in the Sydney market we would expect the availability of NITV to have a positive impact on the whole digital take-up," he said.

Ms Turner said NITV, funded by the Government, was now available to about 150 Aboriginal communities in remote Australia via free-to-air TV and satellite.

And it also recently became avaiable on the Foxtel, Optus, Austar, Neighbourhood Cable and TransACT pay-TV services.

"In terms of the overall moves to reconciliation between our people and other Australians we believe its important to be available to as many people as possible," Ms Turner said.



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