New Zealand sets digital switchover date

Rose Major ©RapidTVNews | 16-09-2010

Freeview New Zealand has welcomed the government’s announcement that digital switchover will take place in just over three years’ time.

NZ Broadcasting Minister Jonathon Coleman today revealed that it would meet its election promise of switchover by 2015 at the latest, bringing the date forward after research showing 70% of homes were already watching digital TV.

Coleman said: "In achieving DSO by the end of 2013, all of New Zealand will receive the benefit of enhanced reception, better picture quality and more channels. There will be a substantial wider economic benefit generated by the use of freed up spectrum for new technology.

"Achieving DSO earlier brings forward the total economic benefits which are estimated to be in the range of NZ$1.1 billion to NZ$2.4 billion over 20 years.”

Freeview is currently available in 26.1% of New Zealand homes, with 9% taking both Freeview and a digital pay-TV service from either Sky or Telstra Clear.

Sam Irvine, General Manager of New Zealand’s free-to-air digital TV consortium Freeview said: “Today’s announcement also means a further year of funding for Freeview, more efficient use of spectrum and the availability of new technologies, all of which will enable us to continue providing the Kiwi viewing public with a compelling free-to-air offer.”

Digital switchover will be phased starting with Hawke's Bay and the West Coast in September 2012. The rest of the country will switch over in three stages with an end date of November 2013.

Many homes in New Zealand’s mountainous terrain are unable to receive digital-terrestrial signals, with DTT currently covering just 75% of the population. The government is in discussions with the broadcasting industry about extending DTT, with areas to be covered by the extension likely to include minor towns Invercargill, Timaru, Nelson, Wairarapa, Gisborne, Wanganui, Taranaki, Taupo, Rotorua and Whangarei. That will increase Freeview’s DTT coverage to about 87%.

But Freeview also offers a satellite version of the platform, which launched prior to the high-definition Freeview HD DTT platform.

The NZ government expects the terrestrial spectrum freed up by the switch to be used for 4G mobile technologies.

Assistance for those NZ homes which “genuinely do not have the resources to make the switch” may be necessary, but the government does not intend to make plans for this for another year.