The Melbourne and Geelong community broadcaster Channel 31 aims to broaden its viewing demographic when its first digital TV broadcasts begin in May.
C31 general manager Richard McLelland said the upgrade to digital TV meant a commitment to higher production values on all locally produced shows.
He said C31 wanted to attract new TV producers with ideas for shows that would appeal to a female audience and ethnic groups not represented in its programming.
C31 would work with the Victorian Multicultural Commission to identify ethnic communities that had yet to make it to the small screen in Melbourne and Geelong.
C31's most popular shows are often blokey, focusing on fishing, motoring and sport. Mr McLelland said a digital-era C31 would build on its sports pedigree, with plans to broadcast more live weekend sport.
As part of the upgrade, C31 is ripping out legacy equipment from its studio and broadcast centre in the old Ansett building in Swanston Street, some dating back to before it introduced 24-hour broadcasts on an automated playout system six years ago.
From May, C31 will transmit its widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio signal on digital channel 44 on the TV towers managed by TX Australia on Mount Dandenong and the Como Centre, also used by the Seven, Nine and Ten networks. The digital broadcast will be ''letterboxed'' down to the analog 4:3 screen ratio and simulcast on analog channel 31 until the closure of the analog TV broadcasts in 2013.
Mr McLelland said C31 would retain its C31 branding, regardless of whether it is assigned channel 31 or 44 after the vacant radio spectrum is reassigned by the federal government beyond 2013.
TX Australia is a joint venture formed by the three commercial TV broadcasters a decade ago to help with their own migration to digital TV.
C31 secured a fibre-optic communications link from the studio to the TV towers through Telstra, allowing it to decommission its microwave link to Mount Dandenong. C31 said this was a more resilient method to send out the TV signal because it did not have to be compressed for the microwave transmission and was less likely to receive interference.
After the upgrade, C31 will have the capacity to broadcast high-definition pictures, but under its current licensing system it is only permitted to broadcast a standard-definition signal.
Mr McLelland said all independent producers would be expected to upgrade their shows to widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9, complete with stereo sound.
The non-profit station, which began with only a few hours of daily programming in 1994, is spending about $1.3 million upgrading its equipment and communications.