By Matthew Henry

CANBERRA: Federal Parliament today passed the Howard government’s controversial media package including digital television reforms which could see up to eight new digital-only channels come online as early as next year.

Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan, today said the new legislative framework could broaden the appeal of digital TV with the potential for eight new free-to-air digital TV channels, 30 mobile phone TV channels and new multi-channels from the national and commercial broadcasters.

“By next year, a range of new services including free-to-air, in-home, digital-only channels or even perhaps ‘snack television’ – small segments of TV content delivered over a mobile device like a mobile phone – could be available,” said Senator Coonan.

Genre restrictions on the ABC and SBS and the high definition simulcast mandate for commercial broadcasters will be lifted.

“Both national broadcasters will be able to show a range of new and exciting content on their digital multi-channels and commercial broadcasters will be permitted to augment their current offerings with a high definition digital multi-channel by next year and a standard definition multichannel by 2009.”

The new legislation could also be good news for retailers and suppliers of digital TV products, many of whom have been calling on the government to encourage more digital-TV-only content, which will provide an incentive for consumers to buy set top boxes and integrated digital TVs.

“With these new services we hope to make the digital experience in Australia more attractive for consumers so we can energetically drive take-up of digital television in Australia,” she said.