Telecom to launch cable TV service next month

Telecom's FirstMedia cable television network, which looks set to be launched commercially next month, plans to be piloting a near video-on-demand service by November.

Telecom’s FirstMedia cable television network, which looks set to be launched commercially next month, plans to be piloting a near video-on-demand service by November.

Subscribing customers in Wellington’s Hutt Valley and Auckland’s East Tamaki number in the hundreds at the moment but the company expects to sign more once the service has been launched officially.

By March First Media expects to have run cable past 70,000 homes. In Auckland it is looking at expanding to the North Shore.

The initial offering includes both TVNZ channels, ATV and Capital City; Kids TV; community news (Local Link); CNN International; news and current affairs (CNBC); education and documentaries (iTV); Weather Watch; US and British entertainment (First Entertainment); and a Mandarin news and entertainment channel (TCSI). Also coming are classic movies and cartoon channels and negotiations are underway with TV3.

First Media marketing director Ken Rayward says once programming is complete there will be 50 channels offering TV and near-video-on-demand.

The video offering, First Movies, will have a block of channels dedicated to it and nine movies offered, starting every half hour. First Media has signed a deal for movie rights with 20th Century Fox studios and is negotiating with other studios.

Later a 24-hour interactive music channel--The Box--will be available, through which customers can order video clips using an 0900 number.

These services will sit on two nCube video servers in Wellington and Auckland. nCube is being used overseas by Telstra and British Telecom in their cable trials. The massively parallel servers compress video so that it can be stored and retrieved in real-time.

Rayward says that further into the future First Media will offer high-speed Internet access and online shopping.

With an upgrade from analogue to digital expected some time in the next three years, transmission will increase to more than 100 channels.

First Media has an introductory offer of $19.95 a month, and when First Movies starts up, monthly subscriptions will cost $39.95. The video channel alone will be $14.99 a month, with the added cost of chosen movies comparable to normal video rentals.

Rayward says the differentiating point between First Media and Kapiti Coast-based Saturn’s cable TV offering will be programming and quality of service.

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