Free-to-air television recently went digital in Australia, increasing from five basic channels to fifteen. All of the existing channels, plus high definition (HDTV) versions, and in some cases secondary channels, are now available for free to all living in Australia with a TV and set-top box.
These are the commercial stations, and all offer a fairly familiar mix of bland Australian programming and game shows, Australian soap operas (for you Neighbours and Home and Away fans from the UK), and reruns of American sitcoms and dramas. All are now available as High Definition channels.
Channel Ten’s spin off all-sports channel. Get ready for cricket, talk about cricket, and reruns of classic cricket. If you tire of that, they occasionally show the odd car race or footy match as well, but will usually interrupt to report on exciting updates involving cricket.
Channel Nine’s spin off channel for showing mostly American programming. Don’t expect anything new though, as current content consists mostly of Seinfeld, Frasier, and the Flintstones.
Seven 2 / Seven 3
Channel Seven’s additional channels. As it stands now, both channels show the same programming broadcast at the same time as Channel Seven (they’re identical), with the exception of occasional children’s programming in the morning on Seven 2. In the near future, Seven intends to diversify programming across these channels, just as soon as they can generate enough revenue to actually purchase enough content.
ABC channels represent government-owned and operated non-profit broadcasting (similar to BBC in the UK or PBS in the USA). Content is commercial-free and generally more intellectual than the commercial channels (which can be a welcome change, especially in the news hour). The ABC is highly regarded for its in-depth coverage of Australian current affairs. If that’s all a bit deep for you, don’t despair, the ABC (and especially ABC 2) show some extremely engaging Australian drama and comedy, as well as some great new shows and old favourites from the BBC. ABC 3 currently only operates a limited number of hours, and shows music programming and children’s shows.
SBS is the commercial World Channel. Along with award winning English newscasts (with a decidedly international focus), SBS broadcasts a high number of foreign language films (all are subtitled), as well as weekly and daily broadcasts of non-English news bulletins, sports and cultural events (such as operatic productions). Documentaries screened on SBS are frequently engaging. The content shown on SBS is often far more risqué or shocking than that available on commercial stations, although there will be spoken warnings before airing if the content is unsuitable for younger or more sensitive viewers. Currently all three iterations of SBS show the same content, at the same time, with the exception of SBS 2, which has recently begun broadcasting foreign language programming during primetime when the film or documentary shown on the main channel is in English.
All programs shown on Australian free-to-air TV are given ratings: G for general viewing, PG for parental guidance recommended for those under 15 and M for anything that the younger ones should be in bed for. You will also hear (on ABC and SBS) a uniquely Australian caution: If a program is going to show images of the deceased, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders are forewarned as many believe that a deceased person should never be spoken of, for fear that their spirit will be recalled from the next world.
PAY-TV / CABLE
The cable television market in Australia is incredibly limited due to previous government regulation that saw a monopoly on the industry. As such Melbourne has only one major provider of Pay-TV, Telstra (through its Foxtel subsidiary). Pay-TV is relatively affordable, but its worth and value are debateable.
To set up a Foxtel account, you will need to pass the 100 point ID check (as discussed previously in the Home Phone section). Foxtel regularly run specials and deals for new subscribers, but most of these come with the caveat of a 12 or 24 month contract. Foxtel has recently introduced a new IQ recorder service that allows you to pause and rewind live TV, and record programs for later viewing, or stream movies on demand (similar to Tivo). IQ is very convenient, but the convenience comes with a high price.
Some costs you can expect to pay in your first month include:
- $70 installation (which is usually waived for new subscribers)
- $70 per month for the most basic package
- +$15 for each additional TV you wish to hook up to the service
- +$200 for any outlets you wish to ‘upgrade’ to allow for IQ
- +$10 per month per IQ receiver
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Satellite TV is available for those who live long distances from the infrastructure required for cable (usually many hundreds of kilometres from the Metro area). All Satellite content in Australia is also provided by Foxtel, and usually at considerable cost.