Long Read - The enduring power of TV for regional Australia

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 11 September 2023
Photo by Josh Withers on Unsplash.

Sit in any café around the metro regions of Australia – be that the capitals of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane or cities such as Newcastle, Geelong and the Gold Coast - and in time, you’ll likely hear much of the same conversations revolving around television.

“I haven’t watched TV in years.”

“I just default to Netflix/Disney+/Amazon Prime Video etc.”

“Who even watches commercial TV anymore?”

While free-to-air television may seem like a bygone relic to the Millennials, Gen Z and emerging Gen Alphas of the world, it plays a critical role to those based in the regional and remote communities spread around Australia.

Whether that’s for the same reasons that television has always remained relevant – the spread of factual and reliable news and current affairs programs, especially in a time of rising misinformation; the dissemination of important information during natural disasters and emergencies; or the broadcasting of sporting moments that often serve as cultural touchstones to bring communities together, such as the recent success of the Matildas in the FIFA Women’s World Cup or the likes of the upcoming AFL and NRL Grand Finals – or for reporting on distinctly local matters at a time when there’s still a notable digital divide in terms of internet access and regional publications are shutting their doors at an alarming rate, one thing remains clear: to those in the regional and remote communities of Australia, commercial TV has never been more important.

The role of regional communities for the broadcasters

From a regional perspective, WIN broadcasts Nine’s programs across regional Australia – a potential viewing audience of approximately 9 million and more than a third of the nation’s population.

As part of WIN’s regional presence, they have 17 newsrooms across regional areas producing 15 half-hour bulletins of local news, sport and weather each weeknight.  

Nathan Patrick, Nine’s commercial director for regional, said regional communities are integral to Nine's strategy, both in terms of content and advertising. 

“With regional audiences representing over 36% of the population and generating 40% of Australia’s economic output WIN, NBN and Nine are committed to delivering content to the communities,” he said.

"From an advertising perspective, regional communities provide an invaluable market for brands to connect with. 

“As they are a diverse mix of people, this provides so much opportunity for marketers to recognise the similarities and differences between regional and metro consumers by connecting with them and in turn, securing long lasting brand affinity and engagement.”

It isn’t just the traditional commercial networks that see success with regional audiences, however – NITV (National Indigenous Television) is part of the SBS network, having joined in 2012, making the Indigenous broadcaster available to all Australians free-to-air. 


Tanya Denning-Orman (pictured right), director of Indigenous content at SBS, said as Australia’s dedicated national broadcaster telling stories by and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples - including providing Australia’s only national Indigenous television news service - reaching, engaging and reflecting regional and remote communities is incredibly important for NITV.   

“No other channel elevates the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across all corners of the continent – whether it’s through current affairs show The Point: Referendum Road Trip this year, which is presenting shows from towns in every state and territory, to Going Places with Ernie Dingo, to sporting events that bring communities together like the Koori Knockout, to ensure these voices are heard, and cultures and stories of Indigenous communities are celebrated,” she said.

“NITV also provides a unique platform in the media landscape for reaching these communities.” 

In 2022, NITV introduced a 12-market split transmission, moving from one national signal to broadcasting across five metro and seven regional markets. The move supported NITV’s ability to deliver targeted programming for the diverse communities it serves, while also presenting new and unique opportunities for brands to connect with these audiences, not previously available in the Australian television landscape.

“What also makes NITV unique in market is the trust of communities – we are a channel that was established as a place where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples could be in control of the way their stories were told – that reason for existing is as crucial today as ever,” said Denning-Orman.

The challenges facing the regional TV landscape today

According toEverybody gets it: Revaluing the economic and social benefits of commercial television’, research carried out by Deloitte Access Economics for Free TV last year, at least 5.6 million (22%) Australians can’t access live streaming and video on demand; in comparison, just 219,000 (0.9%) Australians can’t access commercial TV.

This widespread availability of TV means that despite the changing face of consumption in this country – tracking away from linear, free-to-air and towards streaming services, at least in the metro areas – TV has a crucial role to play for those in regional Australia.

It’s not just local matters where TV plays an invaluable role, however. 

With the looming referendum on The Voice, for example, it’s critical that those in regional and remote Australia – including Indigenous Australians – can be informed of the same important information as their metro counterparts, such as what the referendum is asking, how to vote and more (The Point: Referendum Road Trip Joh Paul Janke and Narelda Jacobs pictured right).

Back in May, Imparja Television welcomed the Albanese government’s commitment in the Budget to provide immediate additional funding to keep broadcasting services on-air for remote television services.

Imparja, the wholly Indigenous-owned not-for-profit broadcaster delivering commercial television services to the most remote areas of the country, has a broadcast area over 3.6 million square kilometres, spanning six states and territories – Northern Territory, South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria with estimated resident viewers of over one million.

The service is also watched by approximately three million tourists who visit outback Australia each year and 200,000 viewers in terrestrial black spots, plus Imparja broadcasts direct to home by satellite to some 200 very remote indigenous communities and 75,000 homes within its license area.

Imparja provides these services on the VAST satellite service, which also provides digital infill for all black spots east of the W.A. border.

Back when that Budget decision was handed down, Imparja CEO Alistair Feehan said that society cannot allow remote indigenous Australians to be disconnected from the basic television services that the rest of the country takes for granted. 

“As the Government has also recognised, further urgent action is needed to address the remote broadcasting crisis which continues to cut off remote Indigenous Australians from national and international news, views and entertainment,” he said.

“Indeed, there has never been a more important time for all Australians, including First Nations people living in remote areas, to be connected and involved in a public policy discussion.”

Free TV said that while local TV networks remain committed to local news services, providing local services is increasingly challenging with pressures on advertising revenue and greater competition for viewing, and more needs to be done to assist broadcasters to maintain a sustainable business.  

“Measures that will be important include removal of the spectrum licence fee that is paid by broadcasters, compared with government subsidisation of local print news services,” it said.

Action on prominence is also critical and maintaining key sports on the anti-siphoning list and preventing them from being acquired by global streaming services is also critical to the ongoing health of the sector. 

“As transmission equipment continues to age, consideration of replacement equipment and the costs of maintain television services in the more marginal areas will need to be seriously considered by Government.”

The industry body said that the challenge for regional and remote Australians, as it is for all Australians, is finding free local TV services on modern TV home screens that are dominated by large international streaming companies.

“Global deals between these streamers and TV manufactures are giving them exclusive access to the prominent positions on TV home screens, squeezing out local TV services,” said Free TV. 

“This is taking choice away from Australians and makes news about their city, updates on their footy team and local entertainment all but invisible. The Albanese Government has committed to fix this by legislating prominence rules that would put free local TV services back within each reach for all Australians.”

The ‘vital importance’ of TV for regional Australians 

Whether it’s news, entertainment or sportsaudiences from regional and remote communities represent 31% of total commercial television viewership, according to the results of ‘Everybody gets it’.

“Regional audiences watch more television daily, especially for certain groups. Specifically, regional viewers above the age of 55 or households earning below $30,000 watch 1.2 times and 1.6 times more television respectively, compared to the daily average regional viewer,” said the report.

Broadcast services are a critical way that local residents receive news and information that is relevant to them. This is particularly the case in areas without reliable broadband, where it is vital that authorities are able to disseminate information to local residents. This underscores the importance of the news and current affairs programming broadcast to regional audiences.”


This highlights a key point that those in regional Australia often make to their counterparts in the capital cities when talking about the importance of TV in their lives – that commercial television is often the first to inform residents about natural disasters or other emergencies affecting local communities (the 7 Tasmania team pictured right).

For those without a reliable or even working internet condition, the TV is a lifeline to accurate, up-to-date information as events are unfolding, often from reporters on the ground who are embedded in their communities.

This doesn’t even begin to touch on the economic impact that commercial TV has on regional and remote areas in terms of employment. According to the Deloitte research, commercial television employed close to 16,200 Australians both directly and indirectly, with 18% of these employees based in regional and remote areas of Australia. 

Free TV said that only commercial TV provides these communities with locally relevant television news services, delivering 23,000 hours of news current affairs programs annually that directly relate to local regional areas, across 40 markets Australia-wide.

Commercial television broadcasters are subject to a Local News Content Quota and points system, that requires licensees to provide material of local significance in 42 separate local areas, which must relate to the licence area and in smaller areas within a particular licence area. 

ACMA reviewed the operation of these local programming requirements in 2021 and published a report that showed high levels of compliance with these requirements.

“Unlike other services that only provide a single state-wide TV news bulletin and/or local radio services, our networks employ journalists and crew that are embedded in and are deeply connected with their local communities and we are proud of our continued commitment to delivering truly local services that regional Australians can rely on,” said the industry body.

“These news services provide up-to-the minute coverage of locally relevant information, such as council or state government decisions, court reporting, local sporting competitions and importantly coverage of emergencies and delivering trusted information to keep communities safe during natural disasters. 

“This is particularly important for the 22% of households who have insufficient internet connections or data caps to stream video on demand content or who cannot afford sufficient broadband packages to be able to stream all content requirements.”

According to an ABC News article from last year, 11% of Australians are "highly excluded" from digital services, meaning they do not have access to affordable internet or don't know how to use it.  

That equates to about 2.8 million people – with many of these people living in regional areas, where internet access is often limited or expensive. 

Joe Frazer

Joe Frazer (pictured right), head of growth at Half Dome, said that’s an “insane” statistic.

“For these people, TV is one of the most reliable ways to stay connected to the world,” he said.

“They watch news, learn about current events, and be entertained by the Matildas – just like the rest of us. That said, the TV still often transcends that role in regional communities, contributing to keeping people connected to their communities.

“Local TV stations, and local news, are amazing at building culture in local towns – playing a central role that is far more powerful than a metro TV station.”

NITV’s Denning-Orman, said that alongside NITV, there are dozens of First Nations media organisations – predominantly delivering essential services across radio and online platforms - operating in over 235 communities across Australia, producing media content in English and in many First Nations languages. 

“These platforms are a community asset that contribute to strengthening culture, community development and the local economy,” she said. 

“In 2021, we launched the Beyond 3% initiative to raise awareness of Indigenous media, and increase understanding of the role and value of these media platforms and the benefits of greater investment by agencies and brands.”

She said that these services present unique opportunities for brands to engage audiences including in regional and remote areas, and provide valuable professional opportunities for people from communities to develop their careers, empowering the next generation of Indigenous talent in the Australian media. 

“As a multiplatform media organisation at NITV, being able to share our stories and connect with audiences via our television news, documentaries, movies, entertainment, kids programming, etc, is such a powerful and important way to deliver on our purpose.”


Mollie Cross (pictured right), trading manager at The Media Store, said TV is the most trusted medium in Australia, with superior production values versus “online” counterparts; partnered with quality content and easy access that attracts consumers, TV is unparalleled as a channel. 

“To regional and rural Australians though, demand for quality and access have deeper meaning which makes TV more in-demand versus metro areas,” she said.

“Over the last few years, consolidation and cost cutting by businesses far and wide has been a requirement for industries to continue to exist and be successful in a PC (post-COVID) world.”

Cross said this is true of media outlets and production houses too, with regional and local newspapers being the hardest hit with a reduction in titles and changes to distribution strategies to cut costs; all of which have impacted community trust and access to the channel.

“For these communities, regional TV is the place they turn to that continues to deliver news, current affairs, sport and entertainment they can rely on, placing quality content in the hands of increasingly disconnected and under-connected Australians,” said Cross.

Nine’s Patrick said TV continues to play a vital role in serving regional communities beyond metropolitan areas, remaining a trusted source of information, entertainment, and connection for these areas.

“WIN, NBN and Nine combine to bring Australians together with a combination of local news, sport and weather, plus the resources of Nine’s news and current affairs and its stellar line-up of programs,” he said. 

“Free to air TV in regional and rural Australia is still the best way to reach the masses in regional areas."

Jenny Webber, Nine’s GM of NBN for Northern NSW agreed, saying being informed on what's happening locally is crucial for regional communities.

“We understand the importance of investing in local bureaus,” said Webber.

“New technology means we can bring news to our viewers from virtually anywhere and cross live to the heart of stories as they break.”

The advantages of advertising and investing in regional Australia

For brands who currently only focus on the major capital cities for their advertising spend, what can they get out of putting more dollars into regional TV markets?


Paul Sinkinson (pictured right), MD of Australia, Analytic Partners, said regional TV markets are significantly cheaper than metro markets, with significantly higher competition in metro markets, while in regional markets, the share of voice is massive.  

“A TV ad in Sydney is the most expensive media to buy - everyone chases it because it has incredible reach. But people forget about the incredible reach available in the regional markets,” he said. 

“For example, Northern NSW is the third largest TV market in the country. From there, every other regional market becomes cheaper. There are an incredible amount of people in these markets who are spending money on household products, and you can reach them for far less. 

“My recommendation for marketers would be for them to spend more in regional markets than metro. Don’t go chasing everyone else. Go with the audience rather than following where everyone else is - look at where the audiences really are.”

Free TV said that regional and rural Australians continue to be highly engaged viewers, with its services reaching 9 out of 10 regional Australians each and every week. 

“Let’s not forget that there are 9.3 million Australians who live and work in regional and remote areas, making it a sizeable market that advertisers must continue to address,” said the industry body.

“Regional Australians watch more television on average than the rest of Australia and local TV services continue to be the most effective way to reach these communities, with studies repeatedly showing that TV is number one for driving brand recognition, sales response and delivering the highest return on campaign investments. 

Free TV also said that local businesses are also highly reliant on their local commercial television services to promote their goods and services, advertising to their local communities. 

“TV remains one of the most effective ways to create product or brand awareness and this is needed on a local and licence area basis as well as on a national basis. Broadcasters also provide locally relevant community service announcements, supporting local charities and local activities, and often fund events and sporting teams in their communities.”


Otto Ablinger (pictured right), the national head of TV sales at SCA, said overall, TV advertising recorded declines year on year across both metropolitan and regional markets, and like metro TV, the most significant contributors of the decline have been both government and political advertising.

Government advertising support during and post-Covid had been significant, particularly across regional markets, with Ablinger saying TV advertising is still the most effective way to reach mass audiences on scale.  

“The proportion of spend allocated by government across regional TV markets is more in line with the population splits of metro/regional or 64%/36% respectively,” he said.

“On average, only 10% of national media budgets are spent regionally, despite 36% of the country’s population living there.”

He said that ultimately, when the government is active in their contribution to regional TV, overall revenue is strong; when it’s not, it tends to impact regional more so than metro markets.

“Interestingly, the total number of advertisers we have active outside of government is more now than the same time last year - it’s just that they are spending less,” said Ablinger.

“We do anticipate local client activity will continue to be resilient and outpace the growth of national clients, particularly leading into Christmas when the populations in regional markets, or Boomtown, lifts significantly with visitations from metropolitan holiday makers.

“We anticipate more than $3.3M+ visitors into Boomtown this summer.”

Ablinger said that regional areas often have unique characteristics and specific demographics, with advertisers increasingly focusing on localised and niche advertising to target these regional markets effectively. 

“By tailoring advertisements to reflect local tastes, culture and interests, our clients can establish more meaningful connections with regional audiences,” he said.

“The benefits of Boomtown TV is reaching 9.3 million Aussies with a higher than average disposable income in some of the fastest growing markets in Australia. It’s an uncluttered market compared to capital cities and requires less investment to deliver a better ROI.

“More than 10% of active national clients are new to regional TV and that is steadily increasing, primarily due to the Boomtown initiatives in market.”


Victoria Budge (pictured right), managing partner at Claxon, said that in recent years, more than 100 regional newspapers have been discontinued primarily due to escalating journalism and production costs. 

While some have transitioned to a digital-only format, often local residents - particularly those living in farming communities - struggle with limited internet access, and consequently, regional TV and radio have become even more critical for maintaining local connections, she said.

“Despite advertisers heavily favouring metro areas in terms of budget allocation, there is a growing awareness of the advantages of advertising across rural regions,” said Budge.

“Regional areas are among Australia's fastest-growing, offering affordability and remote work potential,  providing advertisers access to a growing audience with comparatively high disposable incomes and more leisure time. As a result, advertisers solely focused on major cities will miss the opportunity to reach this growing audience.”

Budge said that regional TV provides a robust platform to reach these emerging markets, often with lower CPMs than even radio. 

“More advertisers are realising the simplicity and scope of regional TV buying, alongside the benefit of premium AV ad placement. This has led some national brands to shift some focus and budget to regional markets, and the launch of the 'Boomtown'' initiative several years ago,” she said.

“We predict a continued rise in regional TV spend, as more advertisers recognise how far their marketing dollars can stretch across regional markets and the ROAS that these markets can deliver from a reach and cut-through perspective.” 

Cross said that the most undervalued channels are often the best opportunity for brands and agencies to win against the competition. 

“While some regional TV markets continue to go gangbusters, such as Northern NSW, many are distinctly undervalued versus the potential ROI they deliver to a campaign,” she said.

“As a result, for every competitor short-sightedly focused on metro alone, those who commit to regional advertising capitalise on the lower competition in these areas and leverage the opportunity to “own the market” at a much lower cost of entry.

Cross said that in many instances, budgets also go far further in regional when compared to metro, as reach against key demographics builds faster and the lack of competition means a greater share of mind. 

“All in all, brands and agencies need to look beyond the scale of metro and ensure that we’re not missing a huge cohort of Australians with messaging while seeking minute incremental gains by fixating on the cluttered metro environment.”

Justin Ladmore

Enigma’s MD of media, Justin Ladmore (pictured right), said that Enigma has a unique agency model with staff located in both metro and regional with close ties to the more remote areas of Australia. As a result, the agency sees first-hand the importance of regional television to these communities to inform, entertain and inspire. 

Despite regional TV ad revenues being under threat from the metro BVOD platforms and other online alternatives, thus putting pressure on the investment into regional TV which he said is “a real concern”, Ladmore said that Enigma is seeing more clients invest in regional-focused campaigns.

“I think it’s on the back of better business tracking and more accurate data, so brands and agencies can see the impact and the efficiencies you get investing in regional media,” he said.  

“There is also a better understanding of how to buy regional media. The audiences are different so you should buy differently. Don't just replicate the metro media schedule.”

Ladmore said most brands launch a brand into the metro market and regional is an afterthought. 

“We have many case studies where we have launched a brand into regional first, grown and gathered learnings and then launched into the metro markets with great success. It can be a more efficient and effective way of launching a new brand.”

Frazer said that the role of media in local towns often transcends merely being a source of attention, with the TV, local news, and local radio station often being the lifeblood of the community – such as sponsoring the local football club, and the presenters knowing everyone as they walk down the main street.

“Tapping into this trust and familiarity is immensely powerful for brands and they should be working with agencies to harness this,” he said. 

“Moreover, regional towns are woefully underrepresented from a spend/population standpoint – in some industries this represents significant value.”

Patrick said that the power of TV lies in its ability to reach diverse audiences, fostering a sense of community and shared experiences and brands that invest in advertising in regional Australia gain several advantages. 

“Firstly, they tap into a less saturated market, allowing their messages to stand out more effectively,” he said. 

“Secondly, they can build a stronger emotional connection with the local audience by addressing their unique concerns and aspirations. 

“Lastly, this cost-effective investment demonstrates a commitment to supporting regional communities, enhancing brand loyalty and reputation.” 


Sue-Ellen OsbornSydney head of investment for Spark Foundry, said getting the balance of investment between metro and regional is important.  

“Whilst metro markets offer higher volumes of consumers, the regional markets generally have a lower cost of entry,” she said.

“An advertiser’s budget in regional markets can be stretched further and, therefore, has the potential to have greater impact or longevity in market. Beyond this, there is the opportunity to connect with regional communities in a more meaningful way by being around more localised environments such as local news on TV, radio, in print or online.”

Osborn said a migration of population into regional areas, exacerbated by COVID, is also occurring, resulting in a lot of the regional areas increasing in wealth. 

“So, that coupled with the lower cost of media offers the potential for increased ROI for clients (obviously dependent on the category).” 

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