Australia is a small media market compared to places like the United States, but it has a range of media to reflect the variety of Australian culture.
Basically, there are four kinds of television channels: public, commercial, community and pay TV.
There are two public networks: the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (the ABC, not to be confused with the American ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), both of which are funded by the government.
The ABC has a wide variety of programmes in order to fulfill its obligations as a public broadcaster, with news, current affairs, religious services and programming for indigenous Australians and rural viewers. Although it has a low budget, it has created many quality programmes, such as Four Corners, Good Game, Collectors, Kath and Kim, The Chaser's War on Everything, Gardening Australia, Spicks And Specks, Media Watch, The Gruen Transfer and many children's programmes; it's generally held in high esteem for the quality of its journalism and news programs. The ABC also imports popular programmes from Britain, like Doctor Who, Life On Mars, Death in Paradise and Channel 4 comedies. It has been Australia's third most-watched television network since mid-2012. ABC has four TV channels broadcast in digital, available nationwide: three are in Standard Definition, one in High Definition. The broadcasting type and LCN for each channel is noted below in brackets (one has multiple LCNs).
ABC1 (SD, 2 & 21), a general channel.
ABC2 (SD, 22), airs the "ABC 4 Kids" preschoolers' programming block from 5AM to 7PM, then becomes a young-adult-oriented channel in primetime. Plays host to a substantial number of repeats.
ABC3 (SD, 23), Australia's only free-to-air channel exclusively for kids' shows. Unique in that it only airs from 6 am to 9 pm because of its young audience.
SBS was originally created to provide programming to Australians who have English as a second language. Consequently, it broadcasts in more languages than any other broadcaster in the world. SBS supplements its income through advertising. These days, it has a range of alternative programmes, including documentaries, sports (especiallyfootball), foreign-language series such as Austria's Inspector Rex and Sweden's Wallander, lots of cooking shows, irreverent home-made comedies like Danger 5 and Pizza, foreign language films and news programs, a block of American imports such as Big Love and Boardwalk Empire, and a tradition of at least one hour of sex-related viewing, documentary or otherwise, every Friday night. (This mix has led to the commonly-usedbackronym "Sex and Bloody Soccer".) SBS has three channels broadcast in digital available nationwide, and is the only network to still simulcast its main channel in Standard and High Definition. The broadcasting type and LCN for each channel is noted below in brackets (one has multiple LCNs).
SBS ONE (SD, 3 & 33 note The latter is a placeholder for future a channel, and is labelled "SBS3". It currently just runs duplicate broadcasts of SBS ONE. 34 was formerly "SBS4" and served the same function as 33, however it now broadcasts NITV. ; HD, 30), the network's "general" channel, also broadcast in analogue on channel 28.
SBS2 (SD, 32), a channel for young people, with a greater focus on cult comedy shows like Community, Japanese Game Shows like Ninja Warrior, and a variety of foreign dramas and quirky documentaries.note This is the result of a rebrand on 1 April 2013 - formerly it was basically just a second version of SBS ONE
NITV (SD, 34), the National Indigenous Television service, airs national television for Indigenous Australians. The service itself was launched as an independent channel in July 2007, but it merged with SBS in 2012. It launched as SBS's third channel at 12pm (AEDT) on 12 December 2012. note Used to be broadcast in Sydney on free-to-air digital channel 40, but this ended when community station Channel 31 (see below) began broadcasting. It was broadcast over Imparja Television's existing satellite capacity (which is not nationwide) until it's official launch on SBS free-to-air. As well as local programming, NITV airs overseas shows about minority groups, most notably The Boondocks.
SBS also has three audio-only digital channels: SBS Radio 1, 2, and 3 (Radio 1 is simulcast on AM Radio, Radio 2 is simulcast on FM, and Radio 3 is Digital only).
There are three commercial networks in Australia, called Seven, Nine and Ten. Each one broadcasts three channels — two in Standard Definition and one in High Definition, which is the legal limit. The "main" eponymous channels are all broadcast in SD, to ensure maximum viewers — they used to be simulcast in HD until certain legal restrictions against commercial-network multichannelling were relaxed. The broadcast type and LCN of each channel is indicated below in brackets (some channels have multiple LCNs).
The Seven Network was established in 1956. In 2007, it became the highest-viewed network in Australia, ending the Nine Network's decades-long run in that spot. Its main rural affiliate is Prime Television Limited (Prime / Golden West Network).
Seven (SD, 7 & 71), a general channel.
7TWO (SD, 72), aimed towards older audiences, with most of its programming seeming to be imported from the UK. note This is the result of a retool: when first launched, 7TWO acted as a sort of spill-over channel for programs that weren't popular enough to show on Seven or weren't getting enough ratings: both LOST and Stargate Atlantis got demoted to 7TWO for their final seasons, for example.
7mate (HD, 73), specifically targeted towards blokes. Currently dominated by reality shows about cars, pawn treasure hunters, cars, prisons, cars, tattoos and cars. And reruns of Seinfeld.
The Nine Network, established in 1956, has traditionally been the most popular network, having the catchphrase "Still the One" (originally from the American ABC) for decades. However, in the past few years, a lack of quality local productions and the loss of quality American shows to Seven or Ten has caused Nine to drop to second place behind Seven. It also cut a lot of flak for its poorly-organised Olympics coverage in 2012. Its main rural affiliate is WIN Corporation.
Nine (SD, 9), a general channel also broadcast in analogue on Channel 9.
GO! (SD, 99), supposedly a "youth-oriented channel"; this does hold true in the daytime, which is mostly kids' programming intermingled with imported newsmagazine shows from the US. Primetime is mostly reruns of sitcoms and movies.note This appears to have replaced the practice of GO! being used as a spill-over channel much like 7TWO was, at a time when Nine was notoriously cancel-happy with new programming.
GEM (HD, 90), features programs targeted toward women, plus whatever particularly important games of sport the Nine Network wants to broadcast in HD. Airs dramas, soaps and lifestyle shows, plus two hours of Friends every weekday (no exceptions). Also features a lot of movies, both classic and relatively recent. The name is supposedly an acronym for "General Entertainment & Movies".
eXtra (SD, 94), Nine Entertainent Co's Datacast channel. (Eastern Metropolitan and Northern NSW Markets)
Gold (SD, 94), WIN Television's Datacast channel, apart from the Infomercials, contains snippets from WIN Television lifestyle shows. (Perth, Adelaide and rural viewers)
Network Ten originated in 1965 as the Independent Television System, and became the 0-10 Network in 1970. Typically, they show a wide range of popular programmes from the United States, but also show a range of local shows. Although Channel Ten consistently wins ratings with younger audiences thanks to reality programmes and imported teen dramas, its overall ratings have become so abysmal that some have speculated the station will soon close. Its main rural affiliate is Southern Cross Media Group, part of the Macquarie Group.
Ten (SD, 10), a general channel also broadcast in analogue on Channel 10. Previously expressly targeted the 16-39 demographic, in contrast to Seven and Nine aiming at ages 25-54; since introduction of the extra channels, it has shifted its demographic focus towards an older audience to match the two rival networks, with very little success.
One (HD, 1 & 12), originally conceived as a 24-hour sports channel, and now to be relaunched as another "channel for blokes" like 7mate due to woefully low ratings. The new programming focus is being slowly phased in, with most of the day's schedule still being sport.
TVSN (SD, 14) Australia's TV Shopping Network, previously exclusive to Pay TV
Spree TV (SD, 15) Only contains infomercials.
Australian content on the commercial networks, although mandated by law, has dropped in quantity and quality over the years. Commercial TV predominantly consists of US shows. Unscripted Australian programmes such as RSPCA Animal Rescue and Motorway Patrol are the norm during primetime, and there's very little scripted programming. Occasionally, though, they produce some good scripted programming and they tend to give it significant hype; Underbelly is a good recent example and one of the bigger success stories in this regard.
Due to media ownership laws, the networks are represented by different services outside Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, such as Prime, which broadcasts Channel Seven's programming in rural Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria and, for some strange reason, in Canberra. In some areas, this is little more than a live feed from Sydney or Melbourne with half-an-hour of local news thrown in, while others add in more local programming. However, some sparsely populated markets such as in central Australia are previously served by only two channels, which choose between programmes from the five networks but with the advent of digital TV the everyone can receive all the channels (excluding the Data-casting channels(TV4ME, Gold/Extra, TVSN, SpreeTV etc.; hardly a great loss!)
Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth each have a community television service on channel 31, which caters for local content and community services. The popularity of Channel 31 varies from city to city: in Adelaide, the local channel is usually ignored (except in other community media), while the service in Melbourne has gained wide popularity and has almost become a sixth major channel. Despite this, Channel 31 was not able to broadcast in digital (being denied a digital broadcast license) until 2010. Because the digital channel 31 already belongs to SBS (which itself is because the digital channel 28 belongs to ABC), Channel 31 paradoxically broadcasts on the digital channel 44.
There are five separate community channels, which don't actually form a network per se but are all broadcast on the same frequency:
C31 Melbourne, broadcast in Melbourne and Geelong (Victoria).
TVS, broadcast in Sydney (New South Wales).
31, broadcast in Brisbane (Queensland).
44 Adelaide, broadcast in Adelaide (South Australia)
West TV, broadcast in Perth (Western Australia).
Pay TV is not popular in Australia, with only a quarter or so of the population having a pay TV service. Australians far less likely to have pay TV than Americans (where pay TV is extremely popular). In fact, Australians are still far less likely to have pay TV that Brits or Kiwis (and in the UK and New Zealand, pay TV is only half as popular as it is in the US).
The largest pay TV provider is Foxtel, which transmits on cable and satellite to the capital cities and throughout Western Australia, and owns the majority of Australia's pay TV channels, including Fox Sports, and FOX8, the most popular pay TV channel. Foxtel transmits its cable service via Telstra hybrid fibre-coaxial cable into the Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth areas. Foxtel also transmits its satellite service into these cities as well as the state of Western Australia and the cities of Newcastle, Geelong Victoria, Central Coast, Canberra and Gold Coast. Anywhere else is covered by Austar. As well as the major services, there are also foreign language pay TV services such as Ubi World, which broadcasts in languages such as Greek, Chinese, Arabic and Italian.
The free channels may all be competing against one another (except the ABC and SBS), but this doesn't stop them getting together and doing joint commercials where their stars join forces to advertise the advantages of free TV. They also have another campaign trying to get sport for free on TV rather than limiting it to paid TV services. Supposedly so it's not limited to just those who can pay. Of course, the fact the commercial stations can then charge for advertising time is inconsequential.
Most Australian radio stations have moved to a combination of music and talk, although there are a handful of talk-radio stations remaining, such as 2UE in Sydney, or FIVEaa in Adelaide. Most radio services, especially in the larger cities, are syndicated, such as Nova, Mix and the Austereo network, which includes stations such as 2Day FM in Sydney, as well as Triple M. There are also a number of community radio services throughout the nation. The ABC and SBS also broadcast on radio. SBS broadcasts programming over two radio networks (SBS AM, or Radio 1, and SBS FM, or Radio 2) primarily in a wide range of foreign languages, while the ABC has a few separate stations available throughout most of Australia, including 40 local radio services; Radio National, a 24-hour news service with a mix of informative programming; Classic FM, and Triple J, the national youth service with a wide mix of alternative music formats as well as current affairs.