A merger between SBS and the ABC could save the broadcasters more than $100 million a year and provide the government with another 7 megahertz of broadcast spectrum to auction off to a telecommunications industry hungry for it.
Mark Scott floated the idea of putting the ABC and SBS on the same spectrum slot at his National Press Club address today:
“Currently the ABC and SBS can together run about eight TV services. Pending compression technology around transmission and restacking, the spectrum could allow even more channels to be delivered.
“But how many is the right amount? What services will be better delivered by broadband in years to come? What is core to a public broadcasting offering? Better use of the broadcast spectrum could again free up much more money for digital investment, without demanding more from the taxpayer.”
Using current technologies, there isn’t room to air all the ABC and SBS channels on the spectrum currently solely reserved for the ABC. But both broadcasters could air some channels online. The Mandarin sister publication Crikey understands the ABC is keen to stream youth-focused channels like ABC2 and ABC Kids online, freeing up the space they use on the broadcast spectrum. It’s a line of thinking with a precedent — the BBC’s youth-focussed BBC3 channel went online-only this month, saving the corporation 30 million pounds a year it says it intends to reinvest into drama.
Currently there are six television multiplexes (an industry term referring to the chunk of spectrum that is enough for a TV station), each comprised of 7 megahertz, allocated to Australia’s broadcasters — three to the commercial networks, one that’s largely free and used to house community television, and the two multiplexes allocated to the public broadcasters. These used to provide enough space to air one channel each, but with digital compression, broadcasters can now air multiple channels, one in high definition, on each multiplex.
If SBS and the ABC could fit in one multiplex, that would leave a revenue-hungry government with an enticing, scarce resource to sell. Both TV broadcasters and telcos share the same spectrum band, and telcos pay much more for it.