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 five TV channels broadcast in digital, available nationwide: four 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; H.264 HD, 20), a general channel.
- ABC Comedy (SD, 22), airs the "ABC Kids" preschoolers' programming block from 5AM to 7.30PM, then becomes a comedy-themed channel in primetime. Also broadcasts original comedic shows like Tonightly With Tom Ballard.
- ABC ME (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.
- ABC News (HD, 24), Australia's most watched 24 hour news channel (as opposed to the cable channel Sky News Australia).
- ABC also has two audio-only digital channels: Double J and ABC Jazz.
- 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 (especially football), 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-used backronym "Sex and Bloody Soccer".) SBS has three channels broadcast in digital available nationwide, and used to be the only network to still simulcast its main channel in Standard and High Definition (before Nine brought back their HD simulcast to collide with the launch of 9Life). The broadcasting type and LCN for each channel is noted below in brackets (one has multiple LCNs).
- SBS ONE (SD, 3; H.264 HD, 30), the network's "general" channel.
- SBS Viceland (formerly SBS2) (H.264 HD, 31), 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 Since November 2016, it has been co-branded as an Australian version of Vice's U.S./Canadian TV channel Viceland, adding its own edgy, youth-oriented programming to the channel.
- SBS World Movies (H.264 HD, 32): A channel dedicated to showcasing movies from around the world.
- SBS Food (SD, 33), A "premium" food channel, mainly from well-known chefs.note
- 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 As well as local programming, NITV airs overseas shows about minority groups, most notably The Boondocks.
- SBS also broadcasts their radio stations as audio-only digital channels: SBS Radio 1, 2 and 3, SBS Arabic24, PopAsia, PopDesi and SBS Chill.
There are three commercial networks in Australia, called Seven, Nine and Ten. Each one broadcasts several channels — some in Standard Definition and one in High Definition (usually a HD feed of the main channel nowadays). The "main" eponymous channels are all broadcast in SD and HD, to ensure maximum viewers. 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), although Seven do it in Queensland and Southern Cross Television does so in Tasmania.
- Seven (SD, 7, 71; H.264 HD, 70), a general channel.
- 7TWO (SD, 72), aimed towards older audiences, with most of its programming seeming to be lifestyle/house programs and programs imported from the UK. note
- 7mate (SD, 73), specifically targeted towards blokes. Currently dominated by reality shows about cars, pawn, treasure hunters, cars, prisons, cars, tattoos, cars, home videos, cars, blockbuster movies, and cars. And reruns of The Simpsons.
- 7flix (SD, 76), a youth-oriented channel, mainly showing movies and younger-skewing imports.
- RACING.COM (H.264 SD, 78), Victorian Horse Racing. A joint venture with Racing Victoria. The site itself may come into the hand of international people who end up searching it.
- 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 Southern Cross Television.
- Nine (SD, 9, 91; H.264 HD, 90), a general channel.
- 9GO! (SD, 93, 99), supposedly a "youth-oriented channel"; this does hold true in the daytime, which is mostly kids' programming (under the "Go! Kids" brand). Primetime is mostly reruns of sitcoms and a variety of movies.note
- 9Gem (SD, 92; H.264 HD, 95), features programs targeted toward women. 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".
- 9Life (SD, 94), Lifestyle and Reality programs, mostly Scripps programs.
- 9Rush (SD, 96): An older-skewing channel trying to compete head-to-head with 7mate.
- 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 became so abysmal in The New '10s that it was speculated the station would close. Instead it was bought out by CBS in 2017. Its main rural affiliate is WIN.
- Ten (SD, 10: H.264 HD, 13), a general channel. 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.
- 10 Bold (SD, 1 & 12), the other channel aimed at men, mainly showing sport, fishing, What's Up Downunder and other stuff.note
- 10 Peach (SD, 11), A youth-aimed channel, airing anything of their their younger-audience (including a lot of older CBS programs (mostly those from Paramount Television with a mix of actual CBS-produced programming)) and the long-running Neighbours every 6:30pm.note
- TVSN (SD, 14) Australia's TV Shopping Network, previously exclusive to Pay TV.
- Spree TV (SD, 15) Only contains infomercials.
- Sky News on WIN (H.264 SD, 83), a FTA version of Sky News. Includes all the notable Sky News programming plus exclusive content like Fox Sports News bulletins and a morning news program (the latter also appearing on Sky News Weather). Only available in WIN areas.
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 Bondi Vet 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 forbidding a single broadcaster from serving more than 75% of the population, the networks are represented by different affiliates outside Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. In some areas, this is little more than just the same schedule out of Sydney or Melbourne with half-an-hour of local news thrown in, while others add in more local programming. The concept of regional affiliates came as part of the process of "aggregation", wherein neighbouring markets were merged so that they would have three stations each (in most cases). With stations losing their monopolies and being forced to compete against others, the smaller chains of commonly-owned stations largely began to affiliate with the owners of the metropolitan stations, thus forming the national networks seen today.
The aggregation was followed by a chain of mergers and acquisitions which formed a "big three" of regional broadcasters — Prime (GWN), Southern Cross, and WIN, as well as the Aboriginal-owned Imparja. Some sparsely populated markets, such as in central Australia, were previously served by only two channels, which chose between programmes from the five networks. With the advent of digital TV, as well as the ability for joint ventures of the two "analog" channels in a license region to form a third, digital-only service, means that everyone can now receive all the channels (excluding the Data-casting channels(TV4ME, Goldnote /Extra, TVSN, SpreeTV etc.; hardly a great loss!)
In July 2016, after Nine Network had a falling out with its long-time affiliate WIN (because they sued them for allegedly violating its regional exclusivity by offering a live stream of the network online. This suit, however, was thrown out when a judge declared that Nine was not "broadcasting" into WIN's markets as per the affiliation contract), Nine Network announced that the Southern Cross Ten stations would switch to Nine on 1 July 2016. Likewise, WIN announced that it would switch its allegiance to Network Ten the same day.
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, KIISnote and the Hit networknote , 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.