Talk:Exclusive report on New Zealand's digital TV service/Sue Kedgley

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8th August 2007

Freeview Media Questions Gabriel Pollard

1.Was Freeview a good idea to replace analogue transmission of television?

Freeview is not replacing analogue television. Freeview is one small part of the global transition from analogue to digital television. It is competing here with an entrenched digital fee-for-service provider in Sky. Freeview is a belated and inadequate response to the digital challenge, as state broadcasting seeks to generate business within a fragmenting broadcasting environment. It is this Government’s belated attempt to play ‘catch up’ - years after it torpedoed the far more ambitious TVNZ digital plan that the Government inherited when it came into office in 1999. That said, and despite Freeview’s dubious commercial prospects and low take-up rates so far, we welcome TVNZ’s plans for commercial free news/current affairs and family programming on the Freeview platform. The whole exercise however, smacks of too little, too late.

2.Has the government done a good job with Freeview, in regards to the new television channels, etc?

Some of the content is promising – but the funding announced to date is not sufficient to create enough quality local content to make the channels sufficiently compelling to pose a serious threat to the stranglehold Sky has on digital television in New Zealand.

3.If National had set-up Freeview, would you have done anything different?

No. Our bouquets and brickbats to Freeview have nothing to do with whether Labour or National is leading the Government. The main difference such a change of Government would have on the broadcasting environment is that National would be more inclined, on past pronouncements, to sell TV2. We believe the retention of TV2 is a necessary part of the critical mass needed for state broadcasting to fulfil its potential.

4.Have you, or anyone you know, subscribed to Freeview yet or are thinking of in the future?

I haven’t and don’t know anyone who has yet.

5.Now to television in general. How would you operate TVNZ differently to the Labour Government (regarding the TVNZ charter as well)?

If state broadcasting is to be a meaningful vehicle for entertainment and the expression of national identity it has to be (a) independent (b) properly funded (c) have a clear mandate.

At present it has a confusing and conflicting mandate –to provide public service television at the same time as maximising its profits. In our view they are conflicting.

This mixed model of broadcasting in NZ breeds confusion – among broadcasters and the general public – and leaves the organisation prone to government meddling. TVNZ is now in crisis. The Greens would begin by foregoing the annual dividend and allowing TVNZ to re-invest in programming in order to shore up its market position. At the same time, we would end the mixed model – TVNZ would no longer be driven primarily by the requirement to deliver a dividend.

It would also be funded – still through NZOnAir - to purchase and generate quality local content to enable TVNZ to perform its sole function of being the state broadcaster, screening quality programmes expressive of facets of national identity and values. There would be costs involved – but we believe these would be transitional, and that quality programming would find a commercial audience. We would also support the current trends towards packaging and marketing of existing TVNZ content on the emerging digital platforms, including but not restricted to Freeview.

6.What does the Green Party see as the future of television in New Zealand?

The Greens see free to air television retaining a significant presence, but digital platforms and content packaging – which also hold out the promise of genuine interactivity – are the growth area. The Greens also support the creation of a single industry regulatory body to make funding decisions, to maintain broadcasting standards and to issue rulings on structural issues such as access to content.

7.A review of the TVNZ charter is coming up, can we expect major changes to this, especially considering the Greens views on television?

It is highly unlikely the charter review will end the confusions inherent in the mixed model of broadcasting, which will leave state broadcasting prone to extreme commercial pressures. We would hope, however, that the review would result in charter targets that are clear and measurable. At the moment they are just waffle.

8.What sort of changes do you expect television will now undergo with Freeview launched digitally?

Very little. The test will be whether Freeview can deliver – or afford to buy and/or create – content compelling enough for sufficient viewers to make the considerable investment needed to receive the service. One unwanted impact could be that Freeview will cannibalise TVNZ’s existing free to air audience.