Prime Television, the regional Seven Network affiliate servicing New South Wales, Victoria, the ACT and Western Australia, is reported to be closing down two of its studio facilities as it faces the cost of digital conversion.
The Australian reports that Prime is set to close down its studios in the NSW towns of Orange and Wagga Wagga and will move ahead with plans to centralise local news production for those towns in Canberra.
The Orange-based station is the former base of regional station CBN8 which commenced operation in 1962 as one of the first regional stations in New South Wales. The Wagga Wagga studio is the former regional station RVN2 which began broadcasting in 1964.
Both CBN8 and RVN2 were incorporated into the Prime Television network in the 1980s in the lead-up to the process of aggregation, the process used to expand choice to regional viewers in the eastern states.
Prime’s Tamworth studios, the former local station NEN9, is also said to be shutting down.
Prime will maintain some news staff in the affected towns but the stories will be compiled and half-hour news bulletins produced from Canberra.
TV Tonight reports that Prime’s Albury studios, the base of its Victorian network, has been upgraded to digital at a cost of less than $100,000. Prime’s Albury studios currently produce a half-hour bulletin for the Albury-Wodonga region, while producing only brief news updates for other regions across the state.
It is unknown if Prime intends to make any changes to its production structure for its Western Australian operation, GWN, which covers the entire state outside of Perth from studios in Bunbury.
The move by Prime in NSW represents the continuing decline in regional television production since the advent of aggregation and the national conversion to digital transmission – but Prime are not alone in centralising regional production. Prime’s main competitor, WIN, has centralised local production to one or two sites in each of the eastern states, and Southern Cross Ten operates a central production facility in Canberra for its regional network that spans the eastern seaboard from Cairns to Warrnambool.
Regional networks such as Prime, WIN and Southern Cross Ten do face significant costs in upgrading studio and transmission facilities to digital to cover smaller audiences over much wider areas when compared to capital city networks – and it does appear that not much of the $250 million licence fee rebate handed out by the Government to the commercial TV sector has made its way to the regional operators.
The pressure is also on regional networks to complete the transition to digital infrastructure as regional areas will lead the shutdown of analogue services as it progresses around Australia.