Free to air digital TV switched on in New Zealand

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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

New Zealand's new digital free to air television platform, Freeview was 'switched on' today at the Auckland Museum by the Government. This is the beginning of digital, and within 10 years, analogue transmission will be switched off for good.

Broadcasting minister, Steve Maharey said that it may take time for people to be persuaded to change to Freeview, but says changing to it is necessary. He describes Freeview as the path to a digital nirvana.

Broadcasting spokesperson for National Dr Jonathan Coleman says that the Government was told that, for Freeview to work, quality content was needed, otherwise people wouldn't see a need to change.

Before the launch of Freeview, the only way New Zealanders could watch digital TV was to subscribe to the only pay TV operator, SKY Network Television.

Viewers who have bought the required NZ$300 set top box can only watch TV ONE, TV2, TV3, C4, and Māori Television. Radio New Zealand National and Radio New Zealand Concert are also available on Freeview to listen to. The most notable exception from the current line up of channels is SKY's free to air channel, Prime.

There is a possibility for an extra 13 channels to be added at a later date.

State broadcaster, Television New Zealand (TVNZ), who owns TV One and TV2, announced earlier that they will be launching two new channels. One will carry family, arts and entertainment type programmes and the other will be a news and current affairs channel. The former will be launched later this year, and the latter being launched next year. As well as the $25 million the Government has already contributed to Freeview, TVNZ's new channels will be given $79 million over five years.

Various local broadcasters are also worried how they will survive when the analouge transmission is turned off. The Regional TV Broadcasters Association Chairman Jim Blackman has estimated the cost for regional broadcasters to be up to $1 million annually. He says the Government needs to help these broadcasters for them survive.

"Every New Zealander can now receive digital television with no monthly fees and no contracts. They simply purchase a Freeview satellite set top box, and if they need one, install a dish, and their favourite television programmes are free," Freeview General Manager, Steve Browning said. Freeview terrestrial transmission will start sometime next year.

Controversy has been thrown up recently that Sky has told its contractors not to help install set top boxes for Freeview. SKY refused to comment to Radio New Zealand about this.

Mr Browning said that the launch is as significant as the launch of colour television was 30 years ago.

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