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Freeview enters market, aims at Sky

New digital platform sets sights on paybox

New Zealand has created its own version of Blighty’s Freeview digital terrestrial TV platform — a partnership of pubcaster TVNZ, MediaWorks (which owns, with commercial webs TV3 and C4, a group of small public service channels) and government transmission company Transmission Holdings.

But the new digital platform — whose direct-to-home satellite delivery is due to be expanded into a digital terrestrial service in March — has set it on a war footing against News Corp.-controlled paybox Sky TV.

Testy relations will get worse before they get better, according to TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis.

He says that with New Zealand’s Freeview, confrontations about issues like copyright and rebroadcasting fees for Sky will escalate in the new year.

Compounding the tension in the small market of just 4 million is the fact that, like many other countries, New Zealanders are watching less TV. AGB Nielsen estimates August auds were down 8% on August 2006.

The government is additionally looking at the almost wholly unregulated pay TV market as part of a regular review process.

Copyright laws are also under review, and MediaWorks is calling for antisiphoning rules to set aside sports events so they can only play on free-to-air channels.

While many think antisiphoning legislation would be unlikely, the stakes are high for Sky, which has exclusive rights to New Zealand’s national game — rugby.

Freeview proponents are still up in arms over Sky’s February 2006 purchase of struggling free-to-air web Prime.

The deal meant Sky was competing for free-to-air programming rights.

Now the question is when Prime will join Freeview. There is concern that because Freeview doesn’t have all free-to-air channels, its uptake will be slow.

Unlike in the U.K., where Freeview is a hit, the Kiwi Freeview — with just 10 channels — is not an immediate threat.

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