Friday, February 24, 2006

Compulsory pay digital TV?

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Well it is what Steve Maharey reportedly means. This is about how TVNZ moves from analogue to digital broadcasting, as is happening in the UK and Australia. The UK is successful because the BBC and umpteen commercial broadcasters are using digital to launch a whole host of channels, many of which were not originally available on Sky - and the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 etc have got the programmes to do this! I bought this digital freeview box a few months ago for £70, and get around 30 channels, can pay for another 10 more if I wanted to, and get around 20 radio stations as well. Of course in the UK, being high density and relatively flat, it is pretty cheap to provide digital terrestrial TV.
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The NZ Herald says the NZ government is keen on a BBC approach – which, of course, is utter bollocks, because it is not going to set up a commercial free TV broadcaster with a mammoth TV licensing fee. What it means is that two commercial free digital TV channels could be set up, with the intention that they be free to air and broadcast. The Herald suggests that:
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“A factual channel could show high-end international documentaries, re-runs of One News and minority programmes with a high local content. A second channel primarily for children could screen serious drama and arts at night.”
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Now setting aside the merits of the programming, much of which you can get on various Sky channels (although TVNZ has an enormous library of local programmes, of mixed quality), you have to ask a number of questions:
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1. Is TVNZ digital TV just about supplementing the existing channels or is it also about broadcasting the existing channels in a digital format (which allows a degree of interactivity)? Elsewhere (UK, Australia) this is about phasing out analogue television, which ultimately makes sense, but for which there is no real hurry in New Zealand.
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2. What is the platform? Is TVNZ seriously going to set up its own network of terrestrial digital TV transmitters across the countryside parallel to the current analogue network, just for two minority interest channels? Or is it going to piggyback off of Sky, or at least the Optus (or other?) satellites? Terrestrial digital TV isn’t cheap.
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3. When it chooses its platform and standards, what will Canwest and other terrestrial broadcasters do? Is it appropriate for the state broadcaster to do this unilaterally?
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4. Why should we be forced to pay for it? We’re not! I hear you cry – well you are. TVNZ is owned by you and pays dividends to the government that reduce its need to take so much tax. If these TV channels are going to be wholly subsidised by the commercial TVNZ channels, you’re propping them up by the loss of dividend. If they were commercial channels, then it would be different.
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Of course NZ already has two digital TV platforms in commercial operation now - Sky digital nationwide and the Telstra Clear recently converted to digital, cable TV system in Kapiti, Wellington and Christchurch. You didn't have to pay for either of those. If TVNZ was privatised you wouldn't have to pay for this either.

1 comment:

Seamonkey Madness said...

I don't know why TVNZ are looking at the BBC for a prime example. Why can't they look at Channel 4 and all of its highly successful spin-offs (E4, More 4 and the +1 channels) as an example of how its supposed to be done? It would be just like what NZ has now (adverts etc) but DIGITAL. Why rip out the major source of commercial revenue that it has?!

And I'd never actually thought about the whole UK = flat = inexpensive vs NZ = hilly = expensive argument. =)