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Datacasting Set Limits in New Legislation

The Federal Government has imposed limits on the content datacasters will be able to distribute, in new legislation introduced to Parliament.

The legislation, which builds on and extends the digital conversion framework agreed upon by Parliament in 1998, introduces a new definition of datacasting and restricts datacasters to certain content genres and time limits.

This new definition, which the federal Department for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts said "provides certainty to the industry, and ensures that datacasting services are different from television broadcasting", sets a 10 minute time limit for content available on television to be datacast.

Datacasters will not be able to provide content in genres established as the domain of free-to-air broadcasters, such as drama or lifestyle programs, but at best they will be able to provide 10 minute extracts of programs that fall within these categories.

Similarly, a 10 minute headline bulletin will be set as the limit for general news, as well as sports, financial and other business information. These stories can only be available to viewers by selecting from an on-screen menu.

Outside of the free-to-air genres, datacasters will be able to provide content without facing any restrictions.

While the broadcasting industry has speculated on such datacasting restrictions edging into legislation, they have been some time coming. While the Government maintained they will aid consumers in the move to digital broadcasting next year, they also appear to offer some protection to the established domain of the free-to-air broadcasters.

With this protection though they will also have to meet distribution responsibilities, as all free-to-air broadcasters will have to provide both High Definition (HDTV) and Standard Defninition (SDTV) broadcasts. This move will give consumers the option to purchase lower cost SD television sets and use set top boxes.

Broadcasters will also be able to provide digital enhancements to their main simulcast programs, as long as there is a link between this enhancement and its source program, and as long as the enhancements are relevant with their linked programs.