TVNZ's new media projects look to roll on without NTL deal

The government's scotching of TVNZ's proposed digital TV joint venture with the European cable giant NTL appears not to immediately affect a number of the broadcaster's other new media initiatives.

The government's scotching of TVNZ's proposed digital TV joint venture with the European cable giant NTL appears not to immediately affect a number of the broadcaster's other new media initiatives.

Prime Minister Helen Clark and broadcasting minister Marian Hobbs said in a statement yesterday that Cabinet had declined to approve TVNZ's $200 million digital TV proposal because "it is necessary for the government to establish a wider public policy framework within which to consider the expansion of digital television services. It believes that there needs to be broader public policy debate about how these new services might be introduced."

Agreeing to the Television New Zealand proposal now would "pre-empt that broader debate," they said. Among the problems for the government is devising a means to apply its plans for local content quotas in the multi-channel environment of digital TV.

While the decision has implications for TVNZ'sNew Media division - which was recently divided into a new component dedicated to Internet development and based offsite, and an in-house unit for comptencies relevant to digital TV service, such as captioning - it does not appear to affect TVNZ's content partnership with NBC Internet's Snap.com, which the state broadcaster confirmed last week.

And it will not stop a digital TV pilot project that kicks off this week in conjunction with Sun Microsystems. The Village Channel provides a dedicated TV service to Auckland's America's Cup village, which will use dozens of digital set-top boxes.

Sun is providing TVNZ with a digital media platform free of charge as one of six pilot programmes around the world to demonstrate its television broadcasting capabilities to an international audience. Both parties describe the pilot as a demonstration of "some of the most advanced digital television technology in the world".

Sun has loaned TVNZ a Sun Enterprise 250, with four StorEdge A1000 storage arrays, Media Central software and encoders/decoders. Software is built using standard Java APIs, so third party products can be plugged in to the open environment

The new technology will allow the TVNZ-run Village TV station to be operated remotely, with no need for video tapes. The equipment is portable and integrates with all the existing analogue television equipment currently used by television broadcasters. It can also receive multiple inputs from cameras, tapes and other sources, while continuing to broadcast.

TVNZ's New Media Division already had its own system for the low-cost establishment of dedicated television channels, developed in the course of the community TV initiative LocalLink and other initiatives. Under the pilot system, TVNZ's software provides graphics and editing capabilities and the Sun platform stores schedules and plays out programmes.

"By marrying our technology with Sun's, Television New Zealand can now deliver world-class digital service at extremely low cost," says Reg Russ, TVNZ's general manager of New Media. "It's effectively a full television channel in a box."

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