Look not to the skies for digital television, but the Web. So says TVNZ’s New Media chief — and he already has an eye on the box to deliver it.
Reg Russ cites the Web site version of TVNZ’s Telstra Business “where you can read the latest news as text or you can see the actual video” as an example of the broadcaster’s intentions for digital TV.
“That’s created a really good buzz around the place. And as streaming becomes more affordable, you’ll see a lot more of what we’re doing distributed on the Web, rather than going to the trouble of putting UHF transmitters on mountaintops, which seems to me to be a bit of an outdated idea.
" I’m thinking now that within a year streaming video will be quite common, it will be acceptable quality through a Web TV-type device on your TV set. And in two years time some specialist products will be delivered that way. You’ll be able to watch Telstra Business on demand on your telly, which I think people didn’t think was ever going to happen.”
Russ says his group has examined several set-top boxes, and the current favourite is the Acorn NetStation - in part because the UK-based company is the only one with a PAL TV version of its product, but also because Acorn’s founder, Dr Hermann Hauser, keeps in regular touch with the broadcaster and even “pops in for a cup of cofee every now and then.”
Russ says TVNZ does have one of the boxes made by the Microsoft-owned WebTV “but you’ve got to dial the States to log on, and hook it up to an NTSC set, so it’s a bit of a pain.”
New television products will probably demand new funding models, says Russ.
“TVNZ certainly doesn’t want to shoot itself in the foot and affect its existing revenue. So I think subscriptions will catch on in New Zealand - they’ll have to. You’re starting to see glimpses of what might happen overseas.”
While TVNZ’s LocalLink service, which picked up a Computerworld Excellence Award recently, won’t itself feature in future offerings, because its branding is licensed to Telecom, Russ says “we can use the same content and brand it in different ways, and we’re certainly having a look at that. We’d like for instance as a commercial operation to explore the possibility of streaming video and text in a LocalLink-style application for either central or local government.”
The vertical blanking interval (VBI) on TVNZ’s frequencies, which may already have been eyed up as a delivery channel for Web content, will remain home to conventional Teletext for “a fairly lengthy period, maybe 15 or 20 years,” says Russ. “But its parallel in the digital bitsream will be much smarter will be much more like the Web - and in many ways it will be the Web.
“Teletext UK on the Web looks very much like a Website. If you want to see where I’m going, Teletext UK is about as good as you’ll get. But they haven’t quite gone to the exploitation stage - which is using that lovely data and presenting it in other ways for other clients.”