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New Zealand facing digital dilemma

Gov't to report on public TV options by mid-June

AUCKLAND — The future of digital TV in New Zealand came into sharp focus last week.

The government announced Feb. 17 that it is probing digital options to deliver public television, just a day before satcaster Sky TV revealed it has signed up 520,541 subscribers — 37% of Kiwi homes — and 75% of the figure have opted for digital satellite.

Government ministers have asked officials to report back before mid-June.

Terrestrial nets, including pubcaster Television New Zealand, favor digital terrestrial television. Sky and minor pay player TelstraClear oppose government intervention in digital TV technology.

Unlike the other terrestrial nets, TVNZ’s two channels are carried unencrypted by Sky under a deal that expires in 2-3 years.

The pubcaster is nervous about what happens after that.

”Basically, all bets are off,” says an insider. ”Will Sky then charge TVNZ truckloads of money to stay on air?”

Broadcasting minister Steve Maharey and communications minister Paul Swain say it is premature to set a switch-off date for analog, adding: ”The starting point is that broadcasters and viewers should be free to choose the platform by which digital television is provided, based on cost, content and reliability.”

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