Return to Feature Articles


NQTV: TNQ7 Townsville and FNQ10 Cairns

In the 1980s regional television in Australia underwent the most radical transformation possibly since the introduction of television itself.

The original framework for regional television in Australia (that is, outside of the major capital cities) allowed for well populated regional areas to receive one ABC station and one commercial station. The smaller capital cities Canberra, Hobart, and later Darwin, also came into this category. This was in comparison to the larger capital cities that had ABC and two (later three) commercial stations.

Under this system of regional television, the local commercial channel would have a strong connection to their respective communities through their coverage of local news, sports and community events and other local programs, and would enjoy a monopoly situation with the only competition coming from the national broadcaster ABC. The commercial channels could also “cherry pick” their selection of programs from the three capital city networks, though this was no guarantee that they would select the best or most popular programs. Regional viewers constantly bemoaned the fact that they would miss certain programs that were popular in the cities, or would see them much later than their city cousins.

Six Network Victoria: BTV6 Ballarat and GMV6 Shepparton

The “solus” system, as it became known, continued into the 1970s and 1980s. However by the mid 1980s, technology had advanced from those early days and regional viewers were still limited to only the ABC and their local commercial monopoly. The Hawke Government, keen to grab the support of voters in regional areas, initiated a scheme to bring viewers in these areas in the well-populated eastern states in line with their capital city neighbours — Regional Equalisation through the process of aggregation of local television services. (Other states would follow with alternative plans later)

The concept of aggregation would allow a local commercial channel to expand its signal to two neighbouring regional areas, and the stations in those neighbouring areas would reciprocate, thus transforming a larger area from three local solus markets to one competitive market. In addition to this, the second national broadcaster SBS would expand services into regional areas, therefore providing viewers with five free-to-air networks, same as the capital cities.

The three commercial channels would now be in competition with each other and would each form a relationship with one of the capital city networks for the supply of programs.

The regional TV operators objected to the proposal, claiming that it would destroy regional television and its local identity, and with that would affect local employment as local services would effectively become relay transmitters for the capital city networks.

Despite the protests, aggregation was to become a reality and the regional operators had to overcome the huge task of constructing infrastructure and facilities to enable their expansion into the neighbouring markets, costing into the millions of dollars, all while during a recession. At the same time, these former local monopolies were forming affiliations with the capital city networks.

Viewers in these areas were also preparing for pending increase in choice by upgrading their TV sets and aerials to pick up the new channels. Most of the new services would be on the UHF band, as opposed to their existing ABC and commercial channels which were predominantly on VHF, so in many instances a new UHF compatible aerial was required or at least some education in tuning their sets to UHF.

Prime Television studios in Canberra

The implementation of aggregation was phased in across Victoria, New South Wales/ACT and Queensland. The first “approved market” was Southern NSW and ACT, implemented in 1989, which would see former solus operators Prime (Orange/Dubbo/Wagga Wagga), WIN (Wollongong/Illawarra) and Capital (Canberra) expand into each others markets and each aligned to a capital city network – Prime to Seven, WIN to Nine and Capital to Ten.

Next stage was regional Queensland to be implemented on 31 December 1990 with the aggregation of the coverage areas of Sunshine Television Network (Mackay/Maryborough), QTV (Townsville/Cairns) and Star Television (Toowoomba/Rockhampton).  However controversy struck just seven days before the big day as Star, which was lined up as the Ten affiliate, suddenly snatched the top-rating Nine affiliation from QTV, which had yet to formalise its agreement with Nine. Star Television, owned by WIN Corporation, then announced its name change to WIN Television, in line with its NSW counterpart. QTV was left with no option but to revise its entire schedule, which had been based on Nine Network programming, and switch its allegiance to third ranked Network Ten at a few days’ notice.

NBN Television

The Northern NSW market, stretching from the NSW Central Coast up to the Gold Coast, was implemented from 31 December 1991 with local networks Prime (Tamworth/Taree), NBN (Newcastle) and NRTV (Northern Rivers/Gold Coast) now in competition across the expanded market as affiliates to Seven, Nine and Ten Networks respectively.

The next stage in the process of aggregation was Regional Victoria, originally scheduled for implementation in 1993, but had been brought forward to 1 January 1992 with VIC TV (Ballarat/Shepparton) and Southern Cross (Bendigo/Gippsland) expanding across the Victorian “approved market”. Prime Television (Albury) delayed its expansion across Victoria until March 1992.

TAS TV studios in Launceston

Once the three eastern states were completed, the Government decided to expand the concept to Tasmania which was then served by two local commercial services, one based in Hobart (TAS TV) and the other in Launceston (Southern Cross). On 30 April 1994, the two stations expanded into each others’ markets with TAS TV (now WIN) being a Nine affiliate, and Southern Cross entering into a joint affiliation with Seven and Ten. In 2004, Tasmania received a third commercial channel with the advent of Tasmania Digital Television (TDT), a joint venture between WIN and Southern Cross. The first digital-only commercial station in Australia, TDT launched with a predominantly Network Ten-based schedule but also carried some Seven Network programming.

Aggregation was not implemented in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory as it was deemed that these areas were too widespread and/or did not have the population to support three competing commercial television services. Alternative arrangements were made in more recent years to provide choice in these areas.

Southern Cross Ten

Aggregation did achieve its goal of providing the same level of choice across regional areas in the populated eastern states. Viewing figures jumped with the arrival of the expanded competition – people were suddenly spending more time watching TV. However with all this expanded choice comes a price. The dire predictions of the regional TV operators pre-aggregation were becoming reality. The cost of providing expanded services was taking its toll on the regional networks and cutbacks followed with the most effected area being local production. Local news and programming was being phased out in favour of networked coverage from the cities. Regional network giants such as WIN were being formed as the company bought out smaller regional operators such as VIC TV and TAS TV. Southern Cross Broadcasting, which began as two local commercial channels in Victoria in the 1980s, had expanded up the entire east coast with its Southern Cross Ten brand taking over Ten affiliates QTV, Capital and NRTV.

YouTube: Regional TV Australia

The new-look regional networks were gradually becoming clones of their capital city counterparts. Regional areas were losing their local identity, though it would seem most viewers see that as a small price to pay for the expanded choice available.

However by 2001, the situation had become desperate enough for the Australian Broadcasting Authority to step in. Community outrage had been sparked by the axing of local news services by Prime Television and Southern Cross Broadcasting’s Ten and Seven Network affiliates. In some areas this would leave only WIN or NBN as the only local news outlet and many argued this not to be an adequate or balanced coverage. An ABA investigation ruled that regional networks in the aggregated markets would now have to provide a minimum level of local news and information in individual markets.

Picture: The Mercury, Hobart, 30 April 1994

Related Links:
Transdiffusion/EMC: Australian Aggregation
Southern Cross Austereo
Prime Media Group
WIN Television
Australian Communications and Media Authority

original text © TelevisionAU

Permanent link to this article:


Skip to comment form

    • Chris on 8 December 2012 at 11:29 PM
    • Reply

    Great website and articles, just one correction for the Tasmanian section. TDT has only ever been a 10 affiliated station, it was expected they may be a dual affiliation when it began however this never eventuated with programs changed to other Ten network programming if Southern Cross took it to show it first. There were many nights early on where it would be a Simpsons marathon until Southern Cross weaned themselves from Ten programming and in latter years just showed AFL and motor sports. I don’t believe there is currently any Ten programming on Southern Cross now and it is a full Seven affiliate with local content. TDT still has no local content or local news, showing Melbourne bulletins and updates.

    • Neil Forbes on 24 January 2014 at 3:12 AM
    • Reply

    Oh how right were the regional stations in their objections! All their worst fears have been realised and we, the regional viewers are the losers, well-and-truly! Of the three operating into the Newcastle/Hunter Region, only NBN has retained its identity and continues producing its own nightly comprehensive news bulletin from its own Mosbri Crescent studios. Prime made a feeble attempt of 5 minutes local “parish pump” stuff tacked onto the ATN bulletin with ex-NBN newsreaders Chris Ford, then veteran Murray Finlay was dragged out of semi-retirement to front a half-hour bulletin of more “parish pump” stuff. This from a former rugby-union club premises in Newcomen Street, Newcastle. Then the shifted out to a new building at Elermore Vale but that didn’t last long. Local bulletins ceased almost as soon as they moved into their new studio. Northern Rivers Television kept up a fairly good weekday hour-long comprehensive bulletin from its Coffs Harbour studio but would plug into TEN-Sydney on weekends. That soon vanished, along with the NRTV logo. Effectively NBN is the ONLY regional station still producing its own comprehensive bulletins. And where is the ACMA in all this…..? Cowering behind a rock, too scared to do the job they’re supposed to do…REGULATE OUR MEDIA!!!

    • Andrew on 24 January 2014 at 6:52 PM
    • Reply

    i first heard about aggregation back in 1986 from ABC’s 7:30 report there is the good and the bad the good is that we will see current episodes of serials for example a country practice and home and away and the bad that most of the local station produced programs (some did retained after aggregation) will stay but really that wasn’t the case as you can see neil capital city viewing is slowly becoming regional

    • andrew on 24 January 2014 at 9:20 PM
    • Reply

    what you may find since the introduction of aggregation television ratings fared better what they were before reason is that viewers can see the current episodes of program that they didn’t have to wait six months for

    • andrew on 24 January 2014 at 11:25 PM
    • Reply

    parish pump involving local people only, or interesting only for people in a particular area yes that’s what local news from Prime, WIN and capital have to offer

    • Neil Forbes on 25 January 2014 at 12:54 AM
    • Reply

    Yes, and not even that much, as it seems now. Prime’s local bulletins for all of NSW and elsewhere are being produced out of their Canberra studio. They aren’t coming from Tamworth or Wagga. Prime’s key stations are CBN-Wagga Wagga and NEN-Tamworth. It is from these key stations that new bulletins should originate(using NSW as the example), and not just “parish pump” stuff either! If NBN can do it, the other regional stations CANNOT justify NOT producing their own comprehensive bulletins(comprehensive = International, National, State and local). The ABA(as it still was in 2001) showed concern about local news production bur – typically – didn’t actually do anything about it(gutless cowards, as they were). There was a better method and I’ll explain it elsewhere in another post.

    1. Neil,

      Prime still produces local news bulletins from Tamworth.

        • Neil Forbes on 29 January 2014 at 1:13 PM
        • Reply

        Local news is NOT enough! As I said, if NBN can produce a comprehensive bulletin out of its own studios, then the other regional stations have absolutely NO excuse for not following suite. It doesn’t have to be an hour but at least half-an-hour, and should originate in the pre-aggregation original studios, CBN, from Orange(not Wagga, as mistakenly stated elsewhere) and NEN from Tamworth, WIN from Wollongong, NRTV from Coffs Harbour or Lismore, etc. As far as Prime goes, I’m disgusted at the way promo’s for shows screened on the station don’t even acknowledge Prime at all in about 99% of the time. The network(?) should re-brand itself as PRIME REGIONAL TELEVISION or else break down to the original stations, NEN, CBN/CWN/MTN and others and let them go their own way. I live in REGIONAL NSW, I do NOT live in Sydney! Is it so wrong to expect a regional station to KEEP its regional identity AND autonomy?

    • andrew on 25 January 2014 at 11:09 AM
    • Reply

    yes Andrew they do and still relay from Tamworth also

    • andrew on 29 January 2014 at 4:15 PM
    • Reply

    Neil!!!! region news is just that for regional towns like Albury and Toowoomba and those stations don’t have the resources to do that I am looking at a program guide from 1966 and 30 minutes of local news its been produced as far back as then the news your describing on NBN is independent go on by news research and it seems the nine network let you know keep the feedback nostalgic

    • andrew on 29 January 2014 at 4:24 PM
    • Reply

    NBN can produce a comprehensive bulletin out of its own studios, then the other regional stations have absolutely NO excuse for not following suite. It doesn’t have to be an hour but at least well you may find and that they will WIN and Prime Television would reject to that

    • andrew on 30 January 2014 at 11:28 AM
    • Reply

    this is how it works and no WIN and prime don’t have ability to do so local news followed by state and national news as NBN is an independent station

    1. NBN is owned by Nine Entertainment Co, it might be independently-run but it is not independently-owned.

    • andrew on 30 January 2014 at 11:49 AM
    • Reply

    NBN takes channel nines national and international feed from sydney

    • Neil Forbes on 6 February 2014 at 5:47 PM
    • Reply

    NBN does a far better job of news than TCN. NBN’s anchor-persons, Natasha Beyersdorf and Paul Lobb present international, down to local news in a no-nonsense, straight-forward manner which puts metropolitan anchor-people to shame. Even with the revamped intro and sets, NBN is still streets ahead of other regional stations. The only real blot on their copybook is that they carry the Sydney-sourced 4.30PM bulletin, which NBN needs like tits on a bull.

    • andrew on 6 February 2014 at 11:24 PM
    • Reply

    as NBN is owned by channel nine only exception is that nine allowed NBN to keep its hourly news for how long I really don’t know

    • Martin on 15 February 2014 at 11:15 AM
    • Reply

    remembers prime televion test card PRIME TELEVISON the the location name to henry mancinis magnificent seven

    • Andrew M on 19 February 2014 at 6:48 PM
    • Reply

    Neil can I just make one point here NBN television is a Indipendent television station WIN and Prime arnt independent so they relie on local news I hope this will bring the end of the matter

    • Neil Forbes on 12 March 2014 at 3:16 AM
    • Reply

    The regional TV stations could do their own comprehensive news bulletins if they really put some effort into it. They wouldn’t need much: One camera(and operator) pointed at the anchor-person, a desk and a simple backdrop. Items from local on-the-spot reporters could be streamed back to the studios via the internet(MPEG-2 video files are of sufficient broadcast quality), and in the same fashion, reporters from the capital-city affiliates could be sent to the regional station, already edited and ready to go to air. The most recent generation of videocameras use no tape, they record their image to an SD-card or inbuilt hard-drive. The recorded images could be edited in-the-field on laptop computers with video editing software loaded on to them and the story would be ready for the nightly bulletin with a minimum of fuss and the only real expense is the laptop computer and the camera(the stations may already have said equipment, so the expense excuse is blown out of the water as well).

    • andrew on 13 March 2014 at 10:20 AM
    • Reply

    sounds like what they do on radio

      • Neil Forbes on 15 March 2014 at 2:36 AM
      • Reply

      Yeah, but with PICTURES!!!
      Prime could do a bulletin of international, national, state and local news out of its CBN-Orange studio for Southern NSW and Canberra and out of its NEN-Tamworth studio for Northern NSW using the method I explained. It wouldn’t cost them much as they may have their pre-aggregation news sets in storage. They don’t even need much studio space and, as the camera would be on the newsreader at all times(except while a field report is playing), there would be no need to have anyone else in the studio, other than the newsreader. A booth operator could cue up stories saved as MPEG-2 files on a desktop or laptop computer, plus take breaking news via live streaming. The computer could be the key to keeping costs down so regional stations COULD do their own 30-minute comprehensive bulletins. The equipment is there – the sets are there, they really don’t need much else beyond a good newsreader

    • andrew on 13 March 2014 at 7:52 PM
    • Reply

    local news yes that’s what they’re doing

    • andrew on 18 March 2014 at 11:21 AM
    • Reply

    I don’t think prime and WIN havnt got the ability to do that

      • Neil Forbes on 26 March 2014 at 5:37 PM
      • Reply

      Andrew, You don’t think they haven’t or you don’t think they have… Please clarify? In one sense you suggest they do have the necessary equipment and facilities, and in another, you’re saying they have neither facilities nor equipment, but say so in grammatically incorrect sentence(like someone else I know, on another website, hoping you’re not him).

    • Martin on 27 March 2014 at 1:43 PM
    • Reply

    I think what Andrew is trying to explain is that radio and television run in a similar format

    • Neil Forbes on 3 April 2014 at 3:10 AM
    • Reply

    I have two small videocameras that record to SD-cards. A 16Gb card can hold better than 7 hours and 45 minutes of content in standard definition, and when viewed on a computer or TV screen, the image is excellent.. One of the two picks up excellent stereo audio via its front-mounted microphones, just below the lens., the other, not so good in the audio department but still excellent video(yes, I know, I’m hammering the word “Excellent” but it’s the most apt word to describe the image quality). I bought them with poker machine jackpot wins in both cases, roughly a year or two apart(lucky me!) and their price was around 300 to 450 dollars, petty cash for any station, large or small. They’re feather-light and can be held in the palm of your hand or mounted on a tripod for professional standards. They have 16:9 aspect ratio screens that flip out to their left and can pivot 180 degrees(for “selfies”!) and are typical of what’s available today. Add to this, editing software that allows one to put up to 25 PiP (Picture-in-Picture)images overlayed onto a main image, not that you’d want more than one or two PiP images. A single camera operator/reporter could shoot and edit a report, save it to a flash-drive, copy it then to a studio computer and it’s ready for the nightly bulletin. Too easy! Regional TV stations, your expense excuse has been blown out of the water!

    • WIN Employee on 4 April 2014 at 11:54 PM
    • Reply

    and stay like that way Neil

    • WIN Employee on 4 April 2014 at 11:55 PM
    • Reply

    and it will stay that way

    • john on 9 April 2014 at 1:42 PM
    • Reply

    happy birthday to aggregation and what introduction the good thing about it is that regional stations didn’t have to wait six months behind the city stations to see the latest episodes

    • john on 9 April 2014 at 7:18 PM
    • Reply

    REGULATE OUR MEDIA!!! that cant be done

    • Barry on 17 April 2014 at 1:54 PM
    • Reply

    how did prime get its name well Seven is a prime number clever isn’t it

    • Neil Forbes on 7 February 2016 at 4:55 AM
    • Reply

    Summing up after more than 25 years! Bob Hawke deserves a swift kick up the backside for this almighty “brain-fart” called regional TV market aggregation!

      • 2 tribes media on 4 January 2017 at 5:07 PM
      • Reply

      totally agree with that one Neil.

      • BrizzieBoi on 9 February 2017 at 8:59 PM
      • Reply

      A******tion killed regional TV as we know it. I feel sorry for the poor bastards who have to put up with W**, S**th*** Cr***, and the others.

    • Pissed Off on 9 February 2017 at 9:00 PM
    • Reply

    The answer to this shitstorm, of course, lies in community television. Truly local stations – oh, fuck, Turnbull killed it. Ah well. There’s always W** and S******* C****.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.