By Martin Vedris

SYDNEY: In the switchover to digital TV, rural Australia will lead the country in the phase-out of analogue TV broadcasting and rural retailers will be first to benefit from the Government’s million-dollar advertising and promotional campaign.

At his opening address to the two-day Get Ready For Digital TV Conference at the Sydney Hilton Hotel today, Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, explained that Mildura, a rural Victorian town on the banks of the Murray River with 30,000 people, already has the nation’s highest take-up of digital TV at 70 per cent of households. This makes Mildura an ideal launch pad for the nation-wide phase out of analogue TV broadcasting, which begins on 1 January 2010 and ends on December 31, 2013.

Once the analogue signal is switched off, consumers without a digital tuner either in their TV or in a set top- box or digital TV recorder, will simply no longer be able to watch free to air TV. This is the simple point that Senator Conroy aims to get across with a nationwide advertising and promotion campaign called the Digital Switchover National Awareness Campaign, which starts with TV advertising on Sunday 5 April.

“From this coming Sunday, television and radio advertising, as well as point of sale material and hardware labels will start appearing nationally,” said Senator Conroy.

“TV and radio ads will help explain to people about digital television and what they need to do to be ready. These ads are a very important element of the Government’s efforts to keep the public informed.”

While the government aims to inform consumers that upgrading is a simple process, this is a great opportunity for retailers to encourage consumers to invest in the technology.

“People need to know what equipment is digital-ready and that upgrading can be as simple as adding a set-top-box to an existing television set,” said Senator Conroy, who announced a labelling scheme in-store to assist consumers with their purchases.

“For this purpose, the digital-ready labelling scheme will be integral to our awareness campaign. Labels have been developed in consultation with industry and will clearly indicate which products are digital-ready and those that are not.”

After Mildura, Broken Hill with start the digital TV phase in on 31 July 2010, with rural South Australia to follow. Rural Victoria and rural Qld will begin the digital TV phase in on 1 January 2011, with rural NSW not starting the phase in until 1 January 2012.

The nation’s capital cities will not begin the phase in until 1 January 2013, but by then it would be expected that most areas would be digital TV-ready anyway.