Australian pubic broadcasters and commercial networks have formally announced the establishment of their version of Freeview to help drive take up of free-to-air digital terrestrial television. The consortium is loosely based on the approach adopted by Freeview in the United Kingdom.

Shareholders of the not-for-profit organisation include the ABC, SBS, the Seven, Nine and Ten networks, Prime, WIN and Southern Cross.

“This is an extraordinary step forward for the free-to-air broadcasters,” said Kim Dalton, director of television at the ABC, who will chair the group. “Together we have pioneered digital television in Australia, investing millions in infrastructure and converting our equipment and studios accordingly. Now it’s time for Australians to reap the rewards,” he said. “Freeview will offer viewers more channels, great content and the very best quality picture and sound.”

Australia has had digital terrestrial television for many years, including high-definition services, but progress in the transition to digital has been slow and the launch of additional channels has been limited.

From the start of 2009, each of the free-to-air networks will be able to launch an additional standard-definition channel. Three new channels from the Seven, Nine and Ten networks will bring the total number available to 15.

A promotional campaign in the coming months will precede the launch of Freeview in Australia next year. The consortium will work with manufacturers to ensure appropriate technical standards are met for receivers that will carry the Freeview brand.

A key requirement for Freeview will be the creation of a coherent electronic programme guide and the establishment of standards for digital video recorders and interactive services as well as over-air-updates to maintain the platform.

The Australian Freeview service is likely to be loosely modelled on Freeview in the United Kingdom, where it is now the leading digital television platform. A similar Freeview service has already been launched in New Zealand.