Digital TV, 20 years on, may never end up fulfilling its potential


It’s 20 years this summer since Australian broadcasters launched digital TV with great fanfare, but they’ve struggled to deliver on the promise of an entertainment revolution.

The fate of sport and television has been intertwined ever since the first black and white broadcasts brought the 1956 Melbourne Olympics into our homes. So it seemed only fitting that the 2000/01 Test series against the West Indies introduced digital television to our lounge rooms.

Digital TV was launched in Australia in January 2001, but has progressed very slowly.

Digital TV was launched in Australia in January 2001, but has progressed very slowly.

The crisp standard-def digital picture looked fantastic compared to fuzzy analogue broadcasts which were prone to interference and ghosting. Meanwhile, the new cinema-like widescreen format gave us a glimpse of more of the fielders in the slips.

Digital television also came with innovations such as multiple channels, with the option to flick between the standard cricket broadcast, stump-cam, the scoreboard and the view from the grandstand. Admittedly the novelty of watching stump-cam soon wore off, but it was a tantalising taste of how digital could reinvent the viewing experience.

At the time we had no idea that such innovations would soon be abandoned, once free-to-air broadcasters decided it was easier to turn their extra channels into shopping channels or fill them with repeats of Gilligan’s Island from the 1960s.

High-def broadcasting was a long time coming for the same reason, it began in 2007 but was then abandoned for a few years so we could follow the adventures of Gilligan and his ill-fated shipmates.


It was almost a decade before we got a real taste of digital’s potential, when SBS simultaneously broadcast the 2009 Ashes series and the Tour de France, so fans could watch either sport live.

Multi-channel broadcasting had finally come of age, just as Netflix’s fledgling streaming service was finding its feet in the US; not that broadcast giants or Blockbuster video rental stores had anything to fear.

It wasn’t until 2016 that Australia finally enjoyed its first free-to-air multi-channel Olympics, spreading the coverage from Rio across three channels. Today the broadcasters each have two HD channels, which they’ll put to good use during the Tokyo Olympics, plus the major tennis tournaments and footy codes are also spread across multiple channels.

Of course, even with the promise of live sport, broadcast television has been bleeding viewers for a decade. As streaming services lock away more sports rights, Australia’s golden age of multi-channel free-to-air broadcasting might be coming to an end, but at least we’ll find out if Gilligan ever made it off the island.

Technology newsletter

The top technology stories, gadget releases and gaming reviews delivered every Friday. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in Technology


Related posts

Battletoads’ unlikely revival is flawed but fantastic

News Editor

Facebook embraces remote working beyond COVID-19, but may cut pay

News Editor

Twitter removes thousands of accounts linked to Chinese Communist Party

News Editor

Leave a Comment