A Brief History of TV in Australia (only the good bits though)
- Wednesday, 04 July 2018 13:10
It might seem as though TV has been with us forever, but actually, it’s still kind of new, but expanding and evolving so fast it hardly resembles its early predecessors.
‘Good evening, and welcome to television’
Black and White Television in Australia began experimentally in Melbourne as early as 1929, long before the US introduced their experimental baby at the New York World’s Fair 1939.
So why the early start, what was the Australian motivation for tinkering with technology?
Sport, obviously. It was the Melbourne Cup.
People in Ballarat wanted to watch the running of Australian’s biggest horse race so work went underway, with no notable outcome, as early as 1885 for a closed circuit picture broadcast, the same as the ones being experimented with in Europe. However, mainstream TV didn’t reach Australia until September 1956.
The trouble was money. The first TV licences were finally given out to Australian companies in 1950, but even then only to established Australian print media companies. Because of the recession there was a genuine fear that TV wouldn’t last and the government would be called in to help clean up a financial mess left when TV stations went bankrupt. It was figured that print media would be able to cut its losses and continue regular business after the TVs downfall.
People Got Lazy Early
TV remotes were introduced in the US (connected with a wire) in 1950. It was advertised as Lazybones. Even though few people had TVs, there were limited channels and almost no advertising, getting up to change the channel was still a pain in 1950.
Australia’s Got Talent
Australia’s first broadcasts were talent segments with locals doing everything from magic tricks and singing to cooking demonstrations and playing music.
Until the 1960s there was no tape facilities available so almost all local content was live to air which means most early Australian TV footage is lost and will never be seen again.
Go Big for the Olympics
In 1954 a second commercial station was released in Melbourne in time to show the 1956 Summer Olympics. That brought the station tally to three with two privately owned stations and the ABC. That was the first real boom for TV in Australia: Sporting events wins Australian’s over again.
Even with that ‘big’ TV boom hardly anyone owned a TV set of their own before 1960. Less than 5% of Melbournians and less than 1% in Sydney residents owned a box, firstly because it was expensive, around 6-10 weeks wages, and secondly broadcasts were limited to a few hours a day with test patterns running the rest of the time, so it’s not really a surprise.
Video Killed the Radio Star
An investigation in the 1960s showed that 97% per cent of all television drama shown on Australian TV between 1956 and 1963 was imported from the United States. American programs were topping the ratings and American companies started buying into Australian media ownership for print and TV.
This killed off Australian radio, which until that point had been thriving. Radio was just too different to cope against the modern wave.
Australian production companies just didn’t have the budget, international talents and giant economies to compete with the US and UK TV broadcasting agents. Hollywood was light-years ahead of the game.
Get Going Australia
After this investigation the Australian government offered up large grants to help boost Australian drama and program development. It was a huge success with the launch of many iconic Australia programs including the Graham Kennedy segments, Four Corners, Play School, and Here’s Humphrey.
By 1960 up to 70 per cent of Sydney and Melbourne homes had television sets. By the time other capital cities and regional areas began their broadcasts over 90 per cent of Australian homes had TV (except NT, because Darwin didn’t get any broadcasting until 1971).
March First into Colour
Then, on March first 1975 all stations switched to colour. Australia might have been late to the colour party but we sure made up for it with pace. Australia was one of the fastest countries to change to colour with over 64 per cent of household owing colour sets by 1978. See, we know how to buy a good TV.
The only real impact early Australian broadcasting had on the overseas market was the Skippy the Bush Kangaroo series (1968). Skip was sent to over 80 countries and was a hit in the States. At this stage Australian TV was still in black and white but Skippy was filmed in colour so the international audiences could get a true sense of that green and gold.
Key Sporting Dates for Australian TV
1967 The first live football grand final (in any football league) to be shown was the NSWRFL, costing the Nine Network a staggering $5,000 in broadcasting rights.
1977 Melbourne got the VFL (now the AFL) grand final shown for the first time. (North Melbourne v Collingwood)
2000 Sydney hosted the Summer Olympics and Seven Network hosted the TV broadcast. The highest rated program in Australian history at the time was the opening and closing ceremonies at 6.5 million viewers. This number is only topped today by the wedding and the funeral of Princess Diana.