The first regional television stations were launched five years after the rollout of television to metropolitan Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. GLV-10 in Traralgon opened on 9 December 1961 and was followed 14 days later by GMV-6 in Shepparton and BCV-8 Bendigo.
Television continued to expand throughout Victoria and the rest of the country throughout the 1960s with no fewer than twenty five stations making their first transmissions between 1962 and 1968.
1962 station openings
1963 station opening
1964 station openings
1965 station openings
1966 station openings
1967 station opening
1968 station openings
Many of the first stations produced their own local programming, supplemented to content from the capital city stations such as GTV-9 Melbourne's In Melbourne Tonight. GLV-10 Traralgon was amongst the first to make use of live 'off-air' relays of programmes from metropolitan stations without the use of video recording equipment.
VEW-8 Kalgoorlie opened on 18 June 1971 and ITQ-8 Mount Isa commenced on 11 September 1971 before television reached the Northern Territory on 11 November 1971 with the launch of NTD-8 Darwin. The last regional stations to launch were GSW-9 Albany (a relay of BTW-3 Bunbury) on 29 August 1974, RTS-5A Loxton on 26 November 1976 and GTW-11 Geraldton on 21 January 1977.
Similar to their metropolitan counterparts, various stations began to form programming and operational partnerships in order to reduce operating costs and share the cost of imported programming.
All television stations in Australia, including regional stations, were required to convert to colour transmission in 1975.
Stations continued to form various partnerships and networks throughout the 1980s.
Throughout the 1980s, a number of regional stations were required to move to different frequencies. These included GLV-10 in Gippsland, who moved to channel 8 in order to allow ATV-0 Melbourne to move to channel 10 in 1980. DDQ-10 and TVQ-0 switched channels to become DDQ-0 and TVQ-10, and SEQ10 became SEQ55 in 1988.
The last regional station to launch before aggregation launched unofficially on 2 January 1988 - IMP-9, Imparja Television in Alice Springs, began transmission via the AUSSAT satellites, as well as a number of terrestrial transmitters.
The Hawke Labor government of the 1980s introduced a system of regional equalisation, known as aggregation, which would provide regional viewers with the same viewing choice as their metropolitan counterparts.
Local stations protested at this proposal, arguing that their profits would fall, and that local output would also decrease. They offered their own proposal, whereby the existing operator would be allowed to operate relays of the other two networks, allowing a combination of both viewer choice and local programming. If NBN were to take the Nine affiliation, for example, their two relays would offer programs from the Seven and Ten networks, direct from Sydney. This proposal was, however, rejected.
The new system would allow stations to transmit into neighbouring markets, as an affiliate of one of the three metropolitan networks. For instance, before aggregation, there were three separate licence areas in northern New South Wales - Newcastle, New England, and the Mid North Coast, each served by a single commercial station. After aggregation, these three licence areas merged, with the three stations in direct competition for viewers.
Soon after realising they had lost their battle with the government, the stations began to organise affiliations with metro networks. Stations that hadn't joined forces beforehand began to merge and form new networks:
Vision TV (later Star Television)
Prime Television (later Prime7)
Sunshine Television Network (callsign STQ)
Southern New South Wales was the first area to be formed, in two phases (as a result of problems in Orange and Wagga), starting on 31 March 1989. WIN Television Wollongong (WIN-4) became an affiliate of the Nine Network, The Prime Network became a Seven affiliate, and Capital Television in Canberra became a Network Ten affiliate.
The next area to be aggregated was Queensland, which took place on 31 December 1990. QTV was to become a Nine affiliate, Star Television a Network Ten affiliate, and the Sunshine Television Network a Seven affiliate. However, in the week before aggregation was due to take place, WIN Television bought Star Television and gave them the Nine affiliation - meaning that QTV was forced to change its affiliation to Network Ten.
The next year, northern New South Wales was aggregated. NBN Television became the Nine Network affiliate, while the Seven Network would be carried by Prime7, formerly carried by 9-8 Television. Northern Rivers Television (NRTV) became the Network Ten affiliate. At one stage, WIN made its first attempt in setting up a northern New South Wales outlet by replicating the steal it had made in Regional Queensland. WIN tried to buy NRTV through bidding to steal the Nine affiliation rights from NBN, and force the latter to pick up the Ten affiliation. However, nothing came out of the deal and the respective affiliations remained as is among stations until today.
Aggregation in Victoria took place between 1992 and 1993. VIC TV (later WIN) became a Nine Network affiliate, Prime Television the Seven affiliate, and SCN the Ten affiliate. Tasmania was aggregated in 1994, albeit with only two stations - Southern Cross is a dual Seven and Ten affiliate, while TAS TV took programming from the Nine Network.
Remote and Central Australia was the final area to be aggregated - one of the largest geographical licence areas, taking in parts of the Northern Territory, western Queensland, the north west of South Australia, and other areas in which terrestrial television signals cannot be received. Stations broadcast to this area mainly through satellite or re-transmission stations. Imparja Television, based in Alice Springs, became a dual Nine and Ten affiliate, while Seven Central, based in Mount Isa, became a Seven affiliate.
A number of areas were not aggregated, due to their small size and relative inability to support more than one commercial station - these included Griffith, Mildura, Darwin and regional Western Australia.
Throughout the 1990s, a number of changes relating to local programming and identity began to take place - the first of which was to occur for NRTV, bought out by QTV's owners, Telecasters Australia in 1993. Soon after, both stations took on generic Network Ten branding with the name Ten Northern New South Wales and Ten Queensland. Local news services were also axed in most of these areas with the exception of Townsville and Cairns. Similarly, the Southern Cross Network in Victoria changed its name and logo to a pseudo-Ten SCN design. The same network later axed local news services and changed its name to Ten Victoria, in line with moves taken by the Telecasters Australia-owned stations in New South Wales and Queensland.
NBN Television made similar moves in 1994, when it launched a new logo based on that of the Nine Network at the time. Sunshine Television was purchased by the Seven Network in 1995 and became nearly identical to the network's metropolitan stations under the name Seven Queensland.
A second commercial licence was made available for single-licence areas such as Mildura, Griffith, and Darwin. Incumbent stations were permitted to apply for the new licence under Section 73 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, however only if the Australian Broadcasting Authority, at the time, felt that there was no other operator who would be interested or able to operate a new station in the area. The ABA initially denied all three stations the ability to operate the new licences.
A joint complaint to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal against the ABA and Imparja Television in 1996 found in favour of MTN-9 but against the other incumbent stations. In both the Darwin and Mildura cases, it was determined that Imparja satisfied the ABA's criteria of being in a position to run a second service in the area. Prime Television's applications in both Griffith and Mildura, for the purposes of the appeal, were rejected on the grounds of insufficient local coverage.
When the auction process ended in late 1996, however, Prime was awarded the Mildura licence for $3.2 million, and commenced broadcasting with the callsign PTV-32 in 1997. Telecasters Australia launched Seven Darwin using TND-34 in the same year, followed a $2.1 million bid for the licence.
In the same year, an amendment was made to the Broadcasting Services Act affirming the ability of existing broadcasters in one and two commercial station markets to apply for "supplementary licences". These new licences allowed either a single incumbent or group of incumbents working together to run an additional channel.
In the then-single station markets, applying existing broadcasters gained both analog and digital licences for a new channel. In two station markets, the two existing broadcasters were allowed to form joint ventures to later bid for digital-only licences following the introduction of digital terrestrial television in Australia in 2001. The new licences were known as section 38A and 38B licences, respectively, after the relevant sections in the Broadcasting Services Act. Remote Central and Eastern Australia remains the only licence area without one of these stations either proposed or currently available.
The name "Section 38A" refers to the applicable section of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 which grants such rights to solus operators.
Using its Section 38A licence, MTN-9 was able to begin their supplementary service in 1997 using the callsign AMN-31. The new station carried almost all of sister Prime7 station CBN-8's Prime programming with the exception of local news and major sporting events broadcast by Network Ten. This was allocated on 1996-07-18, and went to air in 1997, after being initially rejected by the Australian Broadcasting Authority. It is a feed of the Central West NSW station of Prime Television, and is licensed as AMN, broadcasting on UHF 31. A second licence for remote Western Australia, one of the last remaining solus markets, was put up for auction in 1998. WIN Television won the ability to broadcast to the entire regional Western Australia market (as opposed to GWN, which held separate licences in various areas), and subsequently launched its new station WOW in 1999. In the same year, WIN purchased Griffith affiliate MTN-9, as well as SES-8 Mount Gambier and RTS-5a Riverland.
In 2000 Southern Cross Broadcasting bought out both Telecasters Australia and Central GTS/BKN, subsequently removing any remaining local references, and rebranding its new stations with the 'Southern Cross' name. Supplementary licences were also issued to SCB and WIN in parts of regional South Australia and Broken Hill, while at the same time, local programming was cut. The remote Eastern and remote Central licence areas were also merged at this time, amongst the last to be aggregated.
The solus operators in the regional licence areas of South Australia have been granted an 38A licence, being allocated on 2002-04-24.
In more recent years, the premise has been extended to allow for two station markets where there are two different owners to apply, either separately or jointly, to operate a digital-only third station. These are known as "Section 38B" licences, and were created by the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Digital Television and Datacasting) Act 2000.
Section 38B allows current operators to apply for the additional licence either as a joint venture company, or separately; in the case where both operators apply separately to ACMA, the licence is to be allocated via auction. However, as of 2007 all of the licences so far granted under section 38B have been to joint ventures between existing operators. These licences were awarded to Tasmania (Tasmanian Digital Television, owned by WIN and Southern Cross), Mildura (Mildura Digital Television, owned by WIN and Prime), and Darwin (Darwin Digital Television, owned by PBL Media and Southern Cross).
The axing of local news services by Prime7 and Southern Cross Broadcasting in Newcastle, Wollongong, Queensland, Darwin and remote Central & Eastern Australia triggered a review of local content regulations by the Australian Broadcasting Authority. The ABA later ruled, in 2003, that a minimum level of local content should be provided in the four largest regional licence areas. Prime and Southern Cross responded to this by launching two-minute bulletins for all affected regions from areas in which local news was already produced, as well as in Southern Cross Ten's case the current affairs program State Focus, and on Prime, a Saturday morning children's programme Saturday Club.
In December 2003, the first digital-only commercial television station was launched, Tasmanian Digital Television, operating on a supplementary licence owned jointly by WIN Television and Southern Cross. Similarly, Mildura Digital Television (a similar joint venture between WIN and Prime) began broadcasting in 2006 to Mildura, offering exclusive Ten-based programming for the first time in the area. It is a direct feed of Ten Melbourne with local advertising. Darwin Digital Television opened transmission on 28 April 2008.
During April 2007, SP Telemedia announced that it would consider selling NBN Television, and had received at least two bids, one each from WIN (in its second attempt of entering the northern NSW market) and Nine Network's owner PBL Media. On 9 May 2007, PBL Media's (now Nine Entertainment Co.) A$250 million bid became final, winning the sale. However, upon acquiring NBN, PBL continued to operate it as a regional independent station until it was folded into the main Nine Network in July 2016 as a result of the regional affiliation switch between WIN Corporation and Southern Cross Austereo. The purchase also secured permanent status of supplying Nine's content to the station's entire coverage area, sparing any future affiliation switches.
After Nine launched its new online catch-up video on demand and live streaming service 9Now on 27 January 2016, WIN filed a lawsuit against Nine, claiming that live streaming into regional areas breaches their affiliation agreement. Justice Hammerschlag of the NSW Supreme Court dismissed the case on 28 April 2016, citing that "live streaming is not broadcasting within the meaning of the PSA (program supply agreement), and that Nine is under no express or implied obligation not to do it."
Following WIN's defeat in the 9Now lawsuit, Nine announced it had signed a new $500 million affiliation deal with Network Ten affiliate Southern Cross Austereo, switching its primary Nine affiliation to stations currently affiliated with Ten in Southern NSW, ACT, and regional areas in Victoria and Queensland on 1 July 2016. As an affiliation fee to Nine, SCA will pay 50 percent of its revenue to the network. With that announcement, WIN was effectively stripped of its 27-year partnership with Nine. In response, WIN entered affiliation talks with Network Ten, reaching a final agreement on 23 May 2016. Under the new agreement, beginning 1 July 2016, WIN would carry Ten programming into regional Queensland, Southern NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. Deals to supply Nine programming to South Australia, and Griffith were secured on 29 June 2016, a day later Tasmania were secured as well. A supply deal for Western Australia joint venture West Digital Television was not secured before the 1 July 2016 deadline, but a deal was later finalised on 2 July 2016 with programming resuming that night.
In late January 2017, it was announced that Southern Cross had entered into negotiations with WIN Corporation, owners of regional Ten-affiliate WIN Television, over the sale of NRN in exchange for WIN's Wollongong radio station i98FM. This deal would have expanded WIN's television coverage across all regional markets in the eastern states and granted Southern Cross radio coverage in Wollongong. Southern Cross later withdrew from negotiations on 20 February 2017 with no explanation given. However, WIN and Southern Cross later finalised an agreement where they would sell NRN to WIN for a total of $55 million, with the sale taking effect on 31 May 2017. WIN, which had its third attempt for a NNSW outlet successful since 1991, maintained the station as Ten Northern NSW until playout and transmission were transferred to Mediahub on 1 September 2017, at which point the station adopted the WIN branding. Channel numbers were reshuffled to align with WIN's other stations; but as Nine owned NBN Television holds the 8 numbered digital channels, NRN's channels remained on the 5 numbered channels.
The majority of these licence areas are on the more densely populated east coast, in which three commercial stations are each affiliated to the Seven Network, Nine Network and Network Ten from their respective capital cities. In addition to these, digital television channels from ABC Television and SBS Television are also available. The majority of these areas were aggregated in the early 1990s. The following are current affiliates as of 1 July 2021.
These licence areas are not as heavily populated as the main markets listed above. Consequently, only two broadcasters operate in these areas, with a jointly owned supplementary service that provides the services of the remaining network. These supplementary services are italicised. ABC Television and SBS Television services are also available regardless, throughout these areas.
Similarly to the jointly owned supplementary services provided in the above markets, in markets where only one broadcaster operates, the broadcaster will provide two regular network services, with the remaining network provided as a supplementary service.
Each commercial network (both regional and metropolitan) can be seen as being composed of three layers, with some exceptions. The first is the "national feed" - content that is broadcast to the entire country, more-or-less at the same time (accounting for time zones and minor rescheduling). This category is composed of nearly all the non-news programs and sometimes station promotions and branding.
The second is the "state feed", content that is broadcast to the entire state or territory. It comprises mainly state news, as well as current affairs programs and station promotions. This is usually the case in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. The third is the "local feed", content broadcast to a specific market, such as local news and advertising.
In order to fulfil regulations put in place by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the majority of regional networks are required to provide original, locally targeted output such as news, current affairs, or children's programmes.
WIN Television, Australia's largest regional network, produces a number of programs including sports magazine show Fishing Australia, cooking show Alive and Cooking, and travel shows Destinations and Postcards Australia. Southern Cross Television in Tasmania airs Hook, Line and Sinker alongside a range of other regional programs.
Up until its full merger with Channel Seven, Both Prime and GWN produce their own versions of The Saturday Club. Prime also produces country music show A Little Bit of Country as well as an agricultural news program, On the Land. Prime 7/GWN7 currently show just Seven programming.
Imparja Television also produce various local indigenous programs, as well as Yamba's Playtime, a daily show for pre-school children. Most Imparja-produced programming is also shown on National Indigenous Television.
In most cases, newsroom staff including reporters, camera crews and producers are based in newsrooms within the coverage area though the news program itself may be presented and broadcast from studios outside the region. For example, news staff for Seven's Mackay bulletin is based in the city with the program presented from studios in Maroochydore.
The majority of programming in regional areas is shown at the same time as its metropolitan counterpart, with some exceptions, mainly for local news programs. Prior to the 2016 media shakeup, A Current Affair was shown at 7.30pm rather than 7.00pm in most WIN regions via then-HD multichannel GEM (Tasmania and markets without a WIN News bulletin received the programme in its original timeslot on the main channel). NBN had aired the program on delay at 7pm until the expansion of Nine's metropolitan local bulletins in January 2014, allowing the station to air ACA at the same time as in Sydney.
Prime7 had aired Seven News on delay at 6.30pm in markets that receive full local bulletins at 6.00pm until the major expansion of Seven's metropolitan local bulletins in February 2014, allowing the stations to extend both the Prime7 bulletins at the same time as in Sydney and Melbourne. In its current format, full bulletin markets served by stations CBN and NEN receive the Prime7 News hour composed of the usual local news bulletin at 6.00pm, followed by Prime7 News at 6.30, a live statewide bulletin covering national stories that are shown on Seven News in metropolitan markets; AMV transmitters in the Albury and NSW/Victoria border areas receive a delayed shortened first segment of Seven News Melbourne at 6.30pm after Prime7 Local News at 6.00pm, then switches back to the live Melbourne feed for sport and weather.
Prior to the development of digital television broadcasting, many dual-network affiliates, such as WIN WA, broadcast a mix of programming from two networks at differing times of the week. Prior to the full merge with Seven, Prime and GWN choose to replace nearly all Seven Network programs between midnight and 6am with infomercials, along with Southern Cross Ten, which also replaces some morning programs with infomercials.
Prior to 2016, NBN Television opted to air classic programs (The Sullivans), its own Today Extra program until 2007 and infomercials in place of Nine's Morning News.