Ihug launches its digital TV service

Ihug has begun the soft rollout of its digital TV service, offering customers in Auckland either a straight TV and pay-per-view movie service or a package including high speed Internet. A music radio service and an adult video channel are both on the way.

Ihug has begun the soft rollout of its digital TV service, offering customers in Auckland either a straight TV and pay-per-view movie service or a package including high speed Internet.

One of the first commercial installations has been at the new Jet Inn hotel near Auckland aiport, and Ihug Digital TV manager Ron Theaker says hotel business will be pursued, potentially stepping on the toes of prospective Ihug shareholder, Sky TV.

Theaker says IDTV's per-room charge is "a little bit less than Sky". The company will also look to sell high-speed Internet access into the hotel trade on the back of the TV service.

Music programming will also be a key component of IDTV's offerings. The company confirmed rights to Country Music TV last week, adding it to the Canadian MCM music video channel.

Theaker says the company is about a month away from offering digital radio: eight channels of stereo, copyright-compliant music arranged by genre. The radio project is being handled by a third-party company, which has made arrangements with rights bodies. Like the pictures, IDTV audio goes out in MPEG2 format.

Some content offerings have taken longer than expected to tie up, and the Cartoon Network and TNT channels will probably not be available to subscribers until next month. CNN, which is thought to have briefly been the subject of a rights dispute with Sky, is available, as is marketwatch channel CNBC Asia. Customers can order pay per view movies by phone or over the Internet.

At least one adult channel is also likely to be launched soon, as a result of strong demand.

Pricing for the 'IDTV Basic' package is $29.95 per month. Installation is $79.95 and the Korean-made Ihug-branded set-top box costs $599.95, with a $200 rebate for a 12-month commitment and a $300 rebate for 24-months' commitment.

Although the company has Internet-capable set-top boxes available to it, its present 'Combo' Internet-TV package consists of a standard set-top box and a Satnet-style PCI card. Service costs range from $59.95 per month to $89.95 per month, installation fee is $99.95. Setup costs are lower for current Satnet customers.

Hardware fees are $899, with a $200 rebate for 12 months' commitment and $400 for 24 onths.

IDTV, which is broadcast from the Sky Tower, will only be available in Auckland in the near future, but Ihug has licensed frequencies in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

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