Talk:Exclusive report on New Zealand's digital TV service/Steve Maharey

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

Replacing analogue television with digital has to happen because analogue transmission equipment is becoming redundant as the rest of the world moves to digital television broadcasting.

Freeview is an initiative of the free-to-air broadcasters which government has agreed to support by providing access to spectrum, and funding of $25 million over a 5 year period.

Freeview in New Zealand is based on the UK model, which has had considerable success. The uptake figures released yesterday of 21,000 set top boxes sold in the first quarter show Freeview has made a good start here.

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

Freeview, is a stand alone organisation that is mostly funded by the broadcasters themselves. As outlined above, government has agreed to contribute $25 million in funding over 5 years, the use of this funding is monitored by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

It is not appropriate for government to provide new channels, this is a matter for the broadcasters. Having said that, TVNZ will be launching two new channels (TVNZ 6 in September and TVNZ 7 in March) and these two channels are government funded. In addition Triangle TV will be launching a new channel in October and TV3 are expected to add to their existing channels within 18 months.

The initial phase of Freeview was targeted at viewers who do not get good reception from analogue signals. There is no expectation that Freeview should get high uptake in the general market until new content is available. Yesterday Freeview announced that in the three months it has been available, 21,000 set top boxes have been sold. This exceeds their expectations (in fact exceeds their expectations for the first year) and is evidence that they are doing well in this initial phase of digital television.

3.Is it now up to Freeview management, or will the Government offer help over time?

It is primarily up to Freeview and the free to air broadcasters but government is and will continue to help. As outlined above we have committed funding and spectrum continuing over a five year period. We are also engaging with the broadcasters and interested parties with respect to analogue switch-off conditions and regulatory factors. Details of this work including terms of references and progress can be found on the Ministry for Culture and Heritage website

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

I am fortunate to live in an area that has good analogue coverage and I have not yet changed to digital. I intend to consider this when the new channels are operating and the terrestrial (land based) services are available. The terrestrial digital network will be rolled out through the eight largest cities in 2008.

5.What else does Labour see for the future of television?

Television viewership is becoming more and more fragmented. There is a large amount of content available on a variety of platforms. With this fragmentation, it is important that New Zealanders have New Zealand content, stories, images and viewpoints available to them. New Zealanders needs to retain access to their culture through broadcasting and through availability of New Zealand broadcasting.

There are two views I can see of the future of television in New Zealand.

The first is what I believe should happen. If the transition to digital is managed well, the branding and leadership position of New Zealand broadcasters preserved in the market and if public broadcasting and local content has secured a place in the hearts of New Zealanders’, then broadcasting will thrive and bring us the best viewing from New Zealand and around the world – irrespective of the platform for delivery or the device it is received on.

The second is much less appealing. If public broadcasting is not strengthened and TVNZ reverts to a fully commercial model with no public mandate, then I can see a future of hundreds of channels of overseas content, choice of only other countries’ content, branding, news, stories, accents, faces and issues and a New Zealand that increasingly loses touch with its own culture and identity.

6.A review of the TVNZ charter is coming up, can we expect major changes to this, especially considering the classification of Maori content?

The first step in the review of the Charter has been the public consultation undertaken by TVNZ. Feedback from this consultation will be analysed by representatives from TVNZ, policy advisors and an independent academic advisor. Until I have seen the result of this process I am unwilling to speculate on the likely extent of any changes.

It is important that TVNZ retain the obligation both to show Maori programming and to reflect Maori culture, stories and issues within its mainstream programming.

7.What sort of changes will television now undergo with Freeview launched digitally?

As far as this is able to be anticipated, I expect that free to air television will move to digital over the next 6-10 years there will be more choice of channels individual programmes will be available to more people through time shifting (e.g., programmes currently available only in off peak hours may be available on a different channel in peak hours) broadcasting content will be used in more ways through a variety of platforms and will be more available for education and informative purposes user generated content and interaction will become more integrated with traditional broadcasting programmes broadcasters will need to move to different business models, probably a hybrid model, to ensure their ongoing relevance and financial viability.

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