Exclusive report on New Zealand's digital TV service

Friday, August 17, 2007

Wikinews has compiled the views from various politicians on New Zealand's latest digital television service, Freeview. Those interviewed were Sue Kedgley, Jonathan Coleman, and Steve Maharey, the broadcasting spokespeople for their respective parties; the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, the New Zealand National Party, and the New Zealand Labour Party.

Freeview, modelled after the United Kingdom's Freeview, is competing directly with New Zealand's only other digital pay TV provider, Sky Network Television. Sky reaches around 44.5% of New Zealand households. However, unlike Sky, Freeview has no on-going subscription fees, and only has a one-off fee for a set-top box and, if needed, a satellite dish.

The Labour-led Government has provided Freeview with around NZ$25 million over a five-year period to help New Zealand change from the old analogue technology and align itself "as the rest of the world moves to digital television broadcasting," Mr Maharey said. The funding use is monitored by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Dr Coleman also described the same reasons why Freeview was necessary for New Zealand and is supported by the National Party.

However, Ms Kedgley takes a different approach and describes the Freeview service as "a belated and inadequate response to the digital challenge", but does state that digital TV is the "growth area." She also said that the Government is now trying to catch up after they scrapped TVNZ's (Television New Zealand) digital plan, which she describes as far more ambitious.

National, despite being supportive of Freeview, think that the Government has not done a good job with Freeview, describing it as a "white elephant". Firstly because Dr Coleman says there isn't enough good programming currently available to get people interested in switching, and, secondly, there hasn't been a definite date when analogue transmission will be cut off.

Mr Maharey said that the Government is engaging various broadcasters and interested parties to get a definite analogue switch off date, and talk about other various regulatory factors. He expects the date to be within the next six to ten years.

While the Greens do welcome the new government-funded TVNZ channels, a news and current affairs channel and a family-related channel (TVNZ 7 and TVNZ 6 respectively), "The whole exercise however, smacks of too little, too late." They also say that the amount of funding allocated to new programming cannot pose a threat to Sky. But do support "packaging and marketing [...] existing TVNZ content on the emerging digital platforms." MediaWorks, which runs TV3 and C4, will announce their two new channels in around 18-months. And Triangle TV will add their own channel, Stratos TV, in October, 2007.

National are questioning Mr Maharey why he hadn't released the viewer number figures. Dr Coleman said that Mr Maharey was trying to distance himself away from the "reality" of what was going on. So Wikinews requested, under the Official Information Act, the amount of set-top boxes sold. The request was denied as Freeview was to release the information themselves in a months time. On August 13 the figures were released, with a total over 21,000. General Manager Steve Browning said that “we're tracking well ahead of forecast”. Mr Maharey concurred with what Mr Browning said, saying it exceeds their first year expectations.

Ms Kedgley, Dr Coleman, and Mr Maharey all say that they don't have Freeview, nor know anyone who has the service. Though, Mr Maharey will consider getting it when more channels and the 2008 terrestrial service is launched in eight major New Zealand cities.

This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.