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Flying the kiwi in a digital broadcasting future

Hon Trevor Mallard
Minister of Broadcasting

29 November 2007 Speech Notes

Embargoed until:12.30pm

Flying the kiwi in a digital broadcasting future
Broadcasting Minister Trevor Mallard speech to the Digital Future Summit, Hyatt Regency Auckland

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today about New Zealand's broadcasting strategy.

Can I start by stating the obvious - no discussion on broadcasting can be complete without focussing on the impact of technological change which is seeing telecommunications and broadcast media intersect and converge on many levels.

These are exciting times for consumers, individuals and communities as we adapt and try to keep up with the pace of change. At my age, I'm blackberry savvy and in other IT respects I'm probably going at snails pace. But there are generations behind me and some of you who cannot grasp there was a world without internet downloads or texting. Or YouTube.

Hard-drive video recorders, IPods and video-capable cell phones, along with faster Internet mean that consumers are more in control of when and where they, watch, manipulate and create audio-visual content.

And we are not just talking about entertainment or infotainment or news – these new digital platforms and interconnections have huge potential for education, for business, for enabling people to access government services and information and they also play an essential and valuable role in underlining and strengthening our national identity.

In an effort to retain links to audiences and respond to what audiences demand, different media types are also expanding into each other’s traditional territories.

Newspapers have gone on-line and now they are enhancing their on-line stories with audio and video-clips, and television and radio broadcasters now offer replays and catch-ups for news and local programming on the internet and via cellphone.

Broadcasters are changing the way they interact with viewers, advertisers, competitors and content providers.

This summit is a timely chance to look at the challenges and opportunities of all these changes.

Today I’m going to outline what has been achieved so far with digital broadcasting and talk about what is still to be done.

Everyone I know can remember where they were when they first heard about 9/11. Most people heard about it on the radio or television. For those who were alerted to it by friends or family, their immediate reaction was to turn on the radio or television.

The same was true for the death of Princess Diana, the war in Iraq, and on a more local front, the unmentionable loss in the Rugby World Cup last month.

They are all examples of how broadcasters enabled us to experience at close hand big events, and to share them with one another – just as our broadcast dramas, documentaries and comedies provide us with our "water-cooler" conversations.

But what is changing – and digital broadcasting has allowed this – is that on top of the television coverage, we can now download and share videoclips of key moments in those big events at any time of the day, we can have video or internet discussions on news events, we can recreate them or spoof them, or immortalise them on Youtube.

Even television news is from time to time breaking its own mould to post footage of a key event on the internet as soon as it happens – rather than at 6pm. Timelines are realtime and immediacy and accessibility is often everything.

The technology means we can easily access material produced anywhere offshore. In effect, it brings the world closer to New Zealand – and New Zealand closer to the world.

All of this shows how the convergence of broadcasting and telecommunications provides an impact unmatched by other media on their own.

Amidst all of this the Labour-led government understands that it’s more important than ever to make sure local and public service content is visible and accessible and makes its mark – and is not drowned out or overshadowed by all these other choices on offer.

The availability of compelling content and information that is meaningful to New Zealanders’ lives, will in turn help drive demand for new digital platforms and at the same time strengthen our national identity.

The transition from analogue to free-to-air digital television is the necessary first step towards ensuring that New Zealand public broadcasting and local content continues to feature and thrive in the future environment – put another way, we are committed to seeing the kiwi fly in our digital broadcasting future, rather than just saying "goodnight" as it did in the past.

Freeview – a consortium of free-to-air broadcasters including Television New Zealand, Mediaworks, Māori Television and Radio New Zealand – launched a satellite digital service in May.

A companion digital terrestrial service to three quarters of the population is expected to launch in March next year.

Television New Zealand has taken a leading role in planning for the transition to digital. TVNZ6, with its Kidzone, Family and Showcase brands, was launched on Freeview two months ago, and TVNZ7, a news and factual channel, is planned for next year.

Already, Triangle Stratos and Parliament TV have joined the Freeview platform, and a new Māori Television te reo channel is on its way.

Freeview is proving to be a promising vehicle to move public broadcasting into the digital era. After just six months of transmission, an estimated 62,000 households now have satellite set-top boxes.

Fragmenting audiences and a fast growing number of services, however, threaten the viability of local and public service content – unless content funding mechanisms are extended to support new platforms.

Hence the Broadcasting Amendment Bill. The bill is currently before Parliament, and once it's passed, it will give funding agencies New Zealand On Air and Te Māngai Pāho the ability to fund content on digital platforms like the internet, mobile phones, and other mobile devices.

Today’s youth are not passive consumers of television. They are very comfortable snacking and multi-tasking, time-shifting so they can watch programmes when they want to, and also interacting.

Local content must adapt to these changes and be available, when and where they want it, rather than being tied to the constraints of a broadcast schedule.

Another key challenge for government is to ensure regulation remains appropriate in the digital environment.

You will be aware the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and the Ministry of Economic Development are leading a review of regulation around broadcasting and telecommunications.

The digital broadcasting review addresses issues relating to competition law, standards and copyright within the broad areas of content, distribution and networks.

Research and analysis is currently being undertaken. This will be followed by the release of a discussion paper and public consultation in the new year.

The review is not happening in isolation. It is aligned with the Digital Strategy, the E-Government Strategy and the public broadcasting Programme of Action.

This programme of action, announced in 2005, sets out a six-year plan for strengthening public broadcasting in New Zealand. In undertaking the transition to digital television we recognise we must ensure a strong public broadcasting component.

Another challenge for broadcasting is the storage of archived content and New Zealanders’ access to it.

NZ On Air is working to develop an online portal that will exhibit video clips of a range of funded local content, both old and new, from right across the screen sector.

The intention is to ensure all New Zealanders will have ongoing access to this country’s audiovisual heritage.

So, having switched on digital TV, we now need to make the transition complete.

I’d like to take a moment to announce and outline the decisions we have made to manage the end of analogue television.

A firm date for analogue switch-off will be set in 2012, or when take-up of digital TV reaches 75 percent, whichever is first, and I expect the full transition to be six to ten years.

Of course take-up is a crucial factor. New Zealand householders will set the pace by making their own decisions about digital TV – whether they opt for Freeview or pay TV. Already, about 45 percent of households have digital television, so we are off to a good start.

A steering group made up of government and industry representatives will manage the progression through to analogue switch-off. The group will be responsible for a public education programme and addressing issues of consumer interest, including establishing what assistance is required for sections of the community that have special needs.

Digital technology creates particular challenges and opportunities for free-to-air broadcasting, and also for the production and promotion of New Zealand programmes that reflect our culture, identity and interests.

Free-to-air broadcasters have no choice but to become multi-channel operators and provide their content in multiple ways in order to keep reaching their audience.

Digital television is not an end in itself. It opens the door for content to be reformatted, distributed and exploited across other platforms – broadband and mobile, for example – and on interactive sites like ‘YouTube’.

There will be a synergy between broadcasting and broadband: broadcasting will create and deliver content that’s relevant to New Zealanders and that in turn will contribute to the demands and incentive for better broadband connections.

In the future we want to see substantial diversity of both content and services across a range of platforms by a mix of content providers and platform owners.

We want local content that is searchable, highly visible and in demand.

And we also want to see that the benefits of free-to-air public broadcasting remain universally available to New Zealand's diverse population.

I think with your help, we are well on the way to making those aspirations a reality.


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