Web TV game still up for grabs

The relatively slight impact of the digital TV postponement on the Internet side of TVNZ's new media business suggests the Web and digital broadcasting are not as entwined as some people would have you believe.

For an SOE whose new media ambitions have allegedly been kneecapped by a new government, Television New Zealand is setting a brisk pace.

By the end of the month, the state broadcaster will have launched nzoom.com, a site which aims to consolidate its already robust online brands into nothing less than "New Zealand's home page", filling out its own offerings with content and services from the major-league portal Snap.com.

Getting there has not been easy. Like Xtra before it, TVNZ has discovered that designing and building a large-scale Website is a singular challenge. Apart from the technical challenges, there is the trick of balancing the creative ambitions of a mainly young staff against practicality, of finding the right management mix.

But unlike Xtra, TVNZ has been able to pursue an unabashed media model with its content offerings - including broadband streaming video, which is, you might say, digital TV via the Internet. The good thing about having a content strategy is that, unlike, technology, content doesn't become obsolete in six months, and TVNZ has as good a chance as anyone of making it work.

Where it has, for the moment, been constrained, is in distribution - which is somewhat ironic, given that it owns a rather fine national wireless network in the shape of BCL. But the relatively slight impact of the digital TV postponement on the Internet side of TVNZ's new media business suggests the Web and digital broadcasting are not as entwined as some people would have you believe.

Ironically, Sky Television's first venture into interactivity suggests precisely the same thing. Sky is using Open TV, a relatively mature, proprietary platform which is not - repeat, not - the Internet.

The theory on which Sky and its Murdoch siblings have been sold by Open TV's creator, Sun Microsystems, is that TV and the Internet are different, and ne'er the twin shall meet. Given that the Internet is being regarded as the dominant infrastructure in the development of mobile data applications it will be interesting to see the theory tested in Europe.

We may still, of course, get to see for ourselves. TVNZ's proposed joint venture with NTL had substantial merit, and it could yet resurface in more modest fashion. But for now, only Ihug is combining wireless Internet delivery and digital TV.

We have a beyond-TV market in which nobody holds all the cards. Sky has a head start, 100,000 digital customers, a working, if limited platform and no government shareholder to worry about.

Ihug has plenty of ideas, Internet expertise, a working technology, but very few TV customers.

TVNZ has a rich package of online content, but for the moment is depending on others to deliver it.

And Telstra Saturn potentially has the best delivery means of all - cable - but needs to spend the money to build its network; and to decide whether its future lies with Open TV (to which Saturn has licensing access) or with the Internet proper.

For all the talk of set-top boxes and Web TV, it will be the end of the year before the third generation of decoders can be used. This is not a game anyone is going to win in the next six months.

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