1/08/2006

DIGITAL TV STALKED BY IPTV

I've just looked back at the column I wrote following the Government's anouncement and seen the ludicrous intro the subs put on the top of my story. Originally, I'd made some comment about Steve Maharey referring to digital TV as being the biggest thing in the TV industry that he could remember since the switch from black and white to colour TV. All of that disappeared. Instead you get the below into which suggests I was around at the time to compare the two events. I certainly wasn't around for the switch to colour in 1973. I wasn't even born...


Peter Griffin: Digital TV just in time to provide content for the net
Friday June 23, 2006
The public's response to the unveiling of the Government's plans for digital television last week was muted compared with the introduction of colour television.
It did not help that the Government, TVNZ and CanWest were not able to reveal what will be on the new digital channels. Surely there could have been one channel announcement to whet our appetites, like the unveiling of Parliament TV or a 24-hour news channel - something to make this revolutionary change tangible.
Instead the focus was on how much digital TV will cost - about $75 million shared between the Government and broadcasters before programming costs are built in.
The set-top box to receive the service will cost $200 a household. It is peanuts - the Ministry of Justice is about to embark on a couple of IT projects that could cost up to $500 million over the seven years.
But because of the big question-mark over what content digital TV will serve up on all these new channels, the country barely blinked at the announcement.
It came just weeks after the more significant news that Telecom's network will be opened to competitors.
It's a shame about the public indifference because the Government's Freeview model has been a screaming success in the United Kingdom.
It has delivered to the Brits everything digital TV can - better picture and sound quality, widescreen programming, interactive services and a bundle of new channels.
But more importantly, the Freeview model has given viewers a compelling alternative to pay TV operator BSkyB, which also provides some of its content on Freeview.
Digital TV was launched in Britain in 1998 with the help of a €6.5 million grant from the European Union, but Freeview did not start until 2002, rising from the ashes of the defunct ONDigital TV network.
Since then Freeview has been one of the most successful technology stories in Britain, the Apple iPod of the TV world.
Freeview, with 7.1 million household viewers, is more popular than analog television which has 6.4 million viewers.
Sky has 8.1 million subscribers but will be overtaken by Freeview as Britain's largest digital TV platform by the end of the year if its rival's present rate of growth continues.
Some TVs have Freeview digital TV tuners built into them so you don't have to buy a digital set-top box. The same sets are available here from makers such as Loewe, which hopefully will be compatible with New Zealand Freeview.
Freeview has no monthly subscription, as the name implies. The BBC's content is subsidised by the TV licence fee household viewers pay in Britain.
Advertising props up the business models of the other broadcasters, such as ITV.
Kiwis will pay no licence fee for Freeview so the whole venture will be funded purely through advertising, with a little money no doubt thrown in by the Government for local programming.
Digital TV will have no local content quota, which will probably sit well with viewers who mainly just want to stop having to shell out for a Sky subscription.
Most people will probably be happy to buy a digital set-top box for $200 in order to get a 24-hour news channel, some local and regional programming and a couple of channels running foreign drama, documentaries and sitcoms.
The problem is that Sky has been making hay while the politicians and free-to-air broadcasters have dithered.
Sky have entrenched subscribers, and some have upgraded to the My Sky personal video recorder and and thus set themselves up for the long term. It is a travesty that digital TV has taken so long to be taken seriously in this country, but a positive side-effect of the late adoption is that digital TV will develop alongside internet TV.
Digital and internet TV go hand in hand because programming converted into the digital format can be easily broadcast at high quality over the internet.
Telecom is now talking about having 24 megabit per second internet services available in some areas of the country by the end of the year.
But even lower-speed connections are capable of delivering TV over the phone network. The planned Government unbundling of Telecom's network will only hasten the development of such services.
Before the transmission towers have been converted to digital and the satellite has been readied to broadcast digital free-to-air we could have a much more efficient delivery model at our disposal - the Telecom network. But digital TV won't be a white elephant. The Government will eventually turn off the ageing analog network, thus forcing everyone along the logical upgrade path. Now it's time for the broadcasters to offer some compelling content.

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