Platform Wars?

Sky TVFreeview

There has been a lot of reporting in the New Zealand press over the last week over calls by a number of our local broadcasters for additional controls on Sky TV, including some calls for the break up of Sky TV.

Most of this media interest has been driven by the recent submissions to the review of Digital Broadcasting Regulation, and in particular the submissions from local broadcasters TVNZ and MediaWorks. A great many of the articles and submissions make interesting reading, but still don’t adequately cover the different positions in the market held by Sky TV, freeview, TVNZ and MediaWorks.

Sky is in a unique position as both a broadcaster and a platform. They have their own platform transmitting subscription digital television from Optus D1 on behalf of other broadcasters, as well as being a broadcaster in their own right, with the rights to a great deal of content.

TVNZ and MediaWorks are broadcasters who currently utilise three platforms

  • Analogue UHF and VHF
  • Sky TV’s digital pay platform
  • freeview’s digital FTA platform

On the other hand freeview exists purely as a platform for FTA (free to air) content, and are not a broadcaster or content owner.

In many respects Sky is a competitor to both the broadcasters and freeview. They compete with other broadcasters for advertising revenue, and also provide a platform for delivery. This gives them incredible power in the market, and is one of the drivers for the creation of freeview. In the digital market NZ needs a viable platform for free to air content delivery. All of this discussion has prompted the following response from freeview -

It is our position that for a vibrant and dynamic market we need competition between in both sectors. We need a diverse range of broadcasters and platforms, otherwise Sky’s power will continue to grow to the detriment of the New Zealand consumer. Care should be taken to not ignore the two additional and rapidly growing delivery platforms

  • Mobile phones/devices
  • Internet

Due to Sky’s currently position as our dominant pay tv platform and digital platform we do need to take some steps encourage the growth of freeview, and promote FTA television. Whilst placing some controls on Sky’s access to selected sports events has been discussed, rules around NZ On Air funding might be another avenue.

OpenMedia proposes that NZ On Air funding should be restricted to free to air broadcasters that make their content available on both analogue (UHF/VHF) and digital (freeview) platforms. This would immediately exclude Prime from NZ On Air funding, as well as block Sky’s recent requests to NZ On Air to fund local programs for their children’s pay tv services.

A second proposal is that any sports that are provided with considerable government funding, for example via Sparc, should also have a provision for availability to FTA TV broadcasters that are available on both analogue and digital platforms.

The combined affect of these proposals might see Prime joining freeview as then Sky’s channel would qualify on both levels.

Our wish is for there to be an increased level of content on the freeview platform, and a growing diverse range of FTA programming that is available to all New Zealanders, plus a appropriate reduction of Sky’s stranglehold on sports content.