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Free-to-air digital TV to begin roll-out

15 June 2006 Media Statement

Free-to-air digital TV to begin roll-out next year

Broadcasting Minister Steve Maharey announces the roll out of free-to-air digital television in the Beehive Theatrette – Scoop Image

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Government decisions announced today pave the way for free-to-air digital television to begin transmission during 2007, says Broadcasting Minister Steve Maharey.

Plans for the new service have been developed by Freeview, a consortium of New Zealand's free to air broadcasters, including Television New Zealand, CanWest, Maori TV, Trackside and Radio New Zealand.

New Zealanders will be able to access FreeView digital TV through a set-top box, with programmes broadcast through a combination of terrestrial (land-based) and satellite services (requiring a satellite dish). Terrestrial will provide around 75 percent of coverage once the first phase of the service is fully rolled out. Set-top boxes are expected to retail at $200 initially.
Satellite is expected to begin early next year, with progressive rollout of terrestrial services to follow, and eventual switch-off of analogue anticipated in 6-10 years.

Steve Maharey says the move to digital television is essential to securing the future viability of free-to-air broadcasting in New Zealand. "The Labour-led government wants to ensure all New Zealanders are able to enjoy the benefits of digital television, and that public broadcasting remains a strong part of the free-to-air mix.

"Now that we have established a way forward, the government is keen to see the industry roll out digital as rapidly as possible.

"Digital TV will mean better pictures and sound, more content to choose from, crystal clear reception, and the scarcely tapped potential of interactive TV. Programmes available on analogue will be broadcast on digital, along with the progressive introduction of new content and services as broadcasters develop them.

"Switching to digital will also benefit our economy and ensure New Zealand is not left behind in the worldwide shift to this technology."

Steve Maharey said the findings of an independent study reinforced the need to move ahead now with the shift to digital. "As well as highlighting the considerable benefits to New Zealand, including a net financial benefit of around $230 million, the study reinforces the risks of delaying the switch to digital. The issue now is not whether to go digital, but whether we are getting there soon enough.

Steve Maharey said the government is prepared to provide up to $25 million over five years to assist with establishment of Freeview, with the bulk of costs to be met by broadcasters.

Broadcasters will also have free access to digital frequencies during the transition to digital, estimated to be worth up to $10 million. Freeview will operate on a non-profit basis during this period, with open access for new services.

ENDS

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