Kiwis get more for their money

Gov't coin adds two channels to Freeview digital platform

AUCKLAND — The New Zealand government is hoping to lure viewers to the Freeview digital platform by bankrolling two new channels.

It has committed NZ$79 million ($52.4 million) over the next six years for the channels, which will be operated by pubcaster Television New Zealand (TVNZ).

The coin is on top of the $16.6 million it has already kicked in to set up the free-to-air digital platform, based on Blighty’s successful Freeview, which will be used by all New Zealand’s broadcasters.

Freeview is funded by a consortium including TVNZ, CanWest Mediaworks, Maori TV and Radio NZ.

The government intends to turn off the analog signal by 2015 and hopes the extra channels will help persuade viewers to pay the one-off $132 to buy a Freeview set-top box to access the digital signal.

TVNZ News 24 will bow at the end of 2007, while TVNZ Home is planned for early 2008. It will broadcast to kids from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., to families until 8.30 p.m. It will then showcase arts, drama, comedy and documentaries until midnight.

TVNZ CEO Rick Ellis said TVNZ needed assistance to launch high-caliber, commercial-free channels, while at the same time maintaining the performance of its core channels, TV One and TV2.

“Between 60% to 80% of the operating budget will end up where it should be — on screen,” he says.

Broadcasting minister Steve Maharey says the money is for the start-up phase, and expects the channels to become self-sustaining over time.

But CanWest Mediaworks, the Canuck owner of rival webs TV3 and C4, which has been allocated capacity for some six channels on Freeview, criticizes the handout. CanWest spokesman Roger Beaumont said the government was propping up a failing TVNZ at taxpayer expense.

TVNZ recently paid the government a special one-off dividend of $44 million million following restructuring so, in a sense, the government has just given the pubcaster its money back.

But the grant will add to the persistent controversy at the pubcaster; it faced a management crisis last year and is getting extra government coin while losing market share.

Freeview, when it launches early next year, will have a dual delivery system of digital terrestrial television or satellite service for households too remote to use antennas.

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