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Digital Daze Ahead?

23 May 2005

Digital Daze Ahead?

Consumers will be the winners in a digital broadcasting future that offers almost endless choice to television and radio users, according to a new report released today by NZ On Air. The report has been prepared by Paul Norris and Brian Pauling of the NZ Broadcasting School, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology.

“This report, Public Broadcasting in the Digital Age: Issues for New Zealand updates a study we published in 2001,” said NZ On Air Chief Executive Jo Tyndall.

The 2005 version shows how far digital communications technology has come in that time, and how it is pervading people’s lives all over the world. It examines developments in OECD countries, with particular emphasis on Australia, Canada and the UK. It suggests that New Zealand has some way to go by comparison.

In the UK, for example, 59% of homes were receiving digital television by the end of 2004, and more than half of them subscribe to the pay TV satellite provider BskyB. UK digital receivers also have access to Freeview, a digital terrestrial service offering 35 channels with no subscription fee.

“Public broadcasting is the area of key interest to us,” Ms Tyndall said. “The UK is leading the way, with a diverse range of content available over a variety of digital TV and radio channels. The audience is growing and their response is positive.”

Digital broadcasting technology offers numerous advantages over analogue (what our free-to-air channels offer now), with digital broadcasters able to screen high-definition images with peerless picture quality, many channel choices within one transmission platform, audience interactive elements, and new recording and replay options.

“With so much on offer, viewers will more-or-less be able to tailor their viewing to their lifestyle, where and when they want it. The days of waiting for your favourite programme to screen are numbered.

“And the means by which you can access your radio or TV are changing too. In New Zealand we are already using mobile phones that can take and send still and moving pictures, and play your favourite radio station. Compared to the developments in some parts of the world, that’s just the beginning,” said Ms Tyndall.

“We want this report to add to the debate that will shape our digital future, especially in public broadcasting.

“It gives us a lot to think about as we consider the best options for New Zealand’s needs, and NZ On Air’s obligations to fund locally-produced programmes that are available to increasingly fragmented audiences who will be using different means to access them, be they television, the Internet or their mobile phones,” she said.

According to the NZ On Air report, the pace of change is still uncertain, with a number of factors impacting on how quickly, or slowly, all this will happen.

“We may be talking five years, ten years, or even more depending on such things as the enthusiasm of commercial broadcasters to move, the costs involved, and how much the Government is able to invest in digital developments,” said Ms Tyndall.

“When the Minister of Information Technology, Hon David Cunliffe launched the Digital Strategy for New Zealand on Monday, he told us that the strategy is about people and their ability to connect to the things that matter to them.

“NZ On Air believes public broadcasting is an important one of those things, and we see this report as an invaluable resource to contribute to the continuing development of New Zealand’s digital tomorrow,” she said.


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