Cable TV and Pay TV in Australia FAQ 

Section 2: Cable TV and Pay TV in Australia 

2.1 How do I get pay TV in Australia? 

Pay TV is available in Australia via three methods, via cable, via satellite, and via MDS. These three methods are discussed in greater detail in the following sections. 

Cable TV 

There are two major cable TV services available to Australian homes: Foxtel and Optus Vision. Foxtel passes around 2.5 million homes in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Adelaide, and Perth. Optus Vision passes over 2 million homes in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide.  Both Foxtel and Optus Vision have stopped their rollout now, well short of their original respective targets. The total number of homes in Australia are about 6.2 million. 

There is also a cable TV service operated by Northgate Ballarat in Ballarat. They plan to expand into other regional markets. Austar operates a cable TV service in Darwin. There are plans for other regional cable TV providers to set up services in other parts of Australia. 

There is also a specialised cable TV service  called Telstra LaserCast that provides limited cable TV to some hotels in Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns. This service will however be phased out within three years. 

Pay TV via satellite 

At present, there is only one direct to home satellite pay TV Service, consisting of a number of pay TV channels, a number of niche channels (e.g. a business news, a home shopping channel, etc.), and a number of pay radio channels.  This service is  operated by Austar and distributed by Austar or Foxtel, depending on what region you are in.  Optus Vision has announced its intentions to start a satellite service, and is currently transmitting 16 channels available free of charge.

Foxtel intends to move its channels to a new satellite when it becomes operational. 

A satellite dish mounted on the roof receives the signals. and passes them through an amplifier and downconverter on the dish. They are then carried via a cable into the home and to the set top unit. 

The size of the satellite dish required will vary from around 65 cm (26') in the mainland capital cities, to 120-150 cm or more in remote areas. This is due to the shaping of the satellite footprint. However, many people in rural areas will be able to use a 90 cm dish. 

The system used is a Ku band (12 Ghz) all-digital MPEG 2 and DVB compliant DBS system a little like the DBS systems available in the USA, the Middle East, South Africa, and soon to be available in the UK, Asia, South America, and elsewhere. The satellite used is the Optus B3 satellite located at 156 E.  Foxtel intends to use PAS-8, operated by PanAmSat, due for launch later in 1998.

Pay TV via MDS 

MDS, which is also known as MMDS or wireless cable, uses microwaves to deliver signals to the home. Like satellite, MDS utilises a dish placed on the roof, connected via cable to a set top unit in the home. However, unlike satellite, the transmitter is ground based. Also, the dish required is much smaller (e.g. 20-30 cm (8-12 inches). In some cases, a dish is not required, only an antenna. The other main difference, MDS is only available within line of sight of a MDS transmitter or repeater. 

The only pay TV services available by MDS is Austar, which is available in Hobart, Wollongong, Newcastle, Cairns, Gold Coast, Townsville, Bendigo, Ballarat and Mt. Isa. Towoomba, Sunshine Coast and Launceston are expected to follow in the near future. Galaxy used to be available via MDS in Sydney, Melbourne, Geelong, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth until they ceased transmission on May 20 1998. There are several other foreign language channels in Sydney and Melbourne, and a tourist channel or two in Cairns and possibly the Gold Coast. 

MDS licenses have been allocated in most, if not all of the rest of Australia, so MDS will be spread progressively to other cities and towns over the next few years. Up to 19 analogue channels are available in each location within Australia. With digital transmission, the number of channels available will be greater. 

2.2 How many people are watching pay TV in Australia? 

Foxtel has up to 350,000 subscribers (including up to 50,000 subscribers acquired from Galaxy). Optus Vision has around 180,000 subscribers. Austar has around 220,000 subscribers. This brings the total to around 750,000, or around 12.1% of Australian households. 

2.3 How much does it cost? 

Here are some examples of pay TV charges. Foxtel costs $29.95 for installation and $42.95 per month for their main channel package via cable, plus $6.95 for World Movies, or $9.95 for the 5 extra channels in the Foxtel Entertainment Plus package. Foxtel via satellite costs $49.95 per month. Optus Vision costs $29.95 for installation and $9.95-$49.95 per month for its main packages, depending on which channels are included. There is an extra $6 per month charge for Sports AFL, $6.95 per month for World Movies, and $10 per month or more for each of the foreign language channel packages. However, World Movies and Sports AFL are included in the $49.95 package.

2.4 Why should I pay for pay TV when I can watch regular TV for free? 

This is a question that has been asked by many people in Australia, especially TV stations, who probably don't want people switching over to pay TV. 

Since the part owners of two of these stations are major publishers in Australia and elsewhere, it's worth asking the following question:" 

Why should people pay for newspapers and magazines when they could get other newspapers and magazines for free? 

The answer I believe is similar: newspapers and magazines that you pay for provide many things better than the ones that are free. However, the reverse is also true, and each has its place.