Prime on Freeview? No hope.

One of the greatest enigmas surrounding Freeview is that it misses one of New Zealand’s key free-to-air channels – Prime.

Sadly, without government regulation, this situation is unlikely to change.

Sky bought Prime in 2006 for $30.26 million, squeaking the sale past the Commerce Commission.

To many analysts, commentators and even TV stations themselves, Prime has long been considered Sky’s Trojan horse. The purchase was positioned as little more than window dressing used to skirt around the edge of regulatory issues, and also to assist in the bidding process for lucrative events like the Olympics and world cups. These events are increasingly inserting “common good” clauses demanding free to air coverage of major events.

Sky chief executive officer John Fellet told NBR Prime would join Freeview when it “makes business sense.” Although this is open to interpretation, it assumes Sky is referring to a decent return on its investment.

Currently, the completely ad revenue-driven Prime has done little more than break even – any attempt to expand its market share and thus revenues should be welcomed.

Freeview would appear to be a logical expansion.

Mr Fellet placed Prime’s transition costs if it moved onto the Freeview platform at approximately $3.3 million. This includes $200,000 annual service fee, $1.62 million on HD transmission and linking costs through Kordia, and another $1.5 million on upgrading infrastructure.

But Prime doesn’t have to go to HD to get on Freeview; it’s already transmitted as a digital signal. The annual service fee of $200,000 dollars, plus Kordia's linking and other distribution costs, would hardly trouble Sky’s books.

"If we got government assisted funding to set it up, like TV Works and TVNZ did, then we'd be on there now," Tony O'Brien of Sky TV said.

Mr Fellet also claimed that there were licensing issues; that because the satellite signal can be picked up by anyone this will affect contract negotiations in buying content. The example he used was a delayed broadcast of the Warriors playing on Prime being available to boffins around the Pacific/Australia – if they had 6m satellite dishes in their back yard.

“A delayed sportscast is worth next to nothing to the rights holders, I’m sure if the issue came up they would be happy for you to say ‘we’re getting this out to 120,000 extra viewers through the free service’ – can we renegotiate please?” Freeview’s Steve Browning said.

Somewhat ironically, if Prime was transmitted in HD, as Mr Fellet mentioned earlier, it would only be available terrestrially through Freeview’s UHF HD service.

Prime is currently broadcasted free-to-air through UHF (with limited reception) and encrypted through Sky’s satellite service. In other words, it’s out there in the ether but blocked from Freeview boxes.

TVNZ 6 and 7 are the same – they are being transmitted unencrypted and Sky has been forced by regulation to block the channels.

Neither party wants to give up its property to the competition, and fair enough. Unfortunately, Sky claims Freeview isn’t competition when referring to their annual report’s churn figures.
“It doesn’t even feature on our top reasons for customers leaving Sky,” Mr Fellet said.

It is all too easy to ascribe underdog status to Freeview, but it is important to remember it is there to make money too, and have performance targets to reach – namely a user base. Prime, and its added sports coverage, would boost numbers, and ruin the Prime to Sky upgrade path it’s building ahead of Sky’s UHF switchoff.

When TVNZ 6 and 7 were announced, Sky no doubt expected that they would be freely available. Opponents determined that the taxpayer-funded channels were effectively giving free content to Sky.

Many pundits have screamed, “I paid my taxes, I should get TVNZ6 and 7 however I like!”

And so you should. The issue could easily be resolved by following the UK model. Effectively, pay TV broadcasters were ordered to make free to air content available over their decoders. This simply meant that anyone could buy a decoder and get all the free channels they wanted, then BSkyB simply sold a card that decrypted their private pay channels.

If customers pull out their Sky cards at home now, they get nothing but dead air.

Freeview is hardly a saint and has a similar problem. Zinwell (the main decoder brand sold here) doesn’t have a card slot – even if Sky’s encryption data was made available through regulation.

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13 Comments & Questions

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There is a answer to the problem. Allow Sky to access all the free to view channels but in return they must make available as many channels as required to equal the value of the channels they have access to.
The 2012 Olympic Games will be on Sky. They are required by there contract to show the games on FTA TV. Prime with it's restricted access policy as it stands now will not meet the Olympic Games Committee requirements. Put pen to paper and complain to the Olympic Games TV rights committee. If enough of us complain perhaps they will listen. There are many parts of NZ where prime FTA is not available and going freeview satellite you don't get Prime sothe people who will be able to watch the Olympics in 2012 is slowly decreasing. Sky on the other hand is betting on that with restricted access to Prime this will force a lot of People to take up out a Sky subscription to watch the games in 2012.

If the government had a bit more spine they could have forced Prime to join freeview

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Where we live (Mt Pleasant, Chch) Prime (UHF analog) reception is dodgy yet the FreeView UHF digital decoder provides perfect reception - there's enough bandwidth there. Surely Sky wants Prime coverage extended?

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I am interested in reception in Mt Pleasant.

I want to get Freeview HD, but the Freeview site give "very unlikely" as the reception indication for terrestrial.

We are at the top of Maffey's Road.

Where are you, and are you able to get Freeview via UHF.

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Have the spine to turn off all terrestrial TV broadcasts so everyone has to go satellite then it is easy to compare apples with apples. Freeview is by far the best way to go and we shouldnt have to pay to watch TV - we already pay enough through the advertising $$ added to the products we buy. Its called double dipping. Freeview would also remove all the unsightly arrays of aluminium tube we see around the country and it would avoid short sighted property developers from building new home with TV aerials on instead of a 90cm dish that can receive either sky or freeview. Why do folk still insist on using terrestrial TV with questionable picture quality when Freeview is noise free. It beggars belief.
Grumpy old man who is considering only watching IPTV - ie what I want, when I want, with no adverts or subscriptions.

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Freeview hd is uhf only and I've heard of no plans to add it to their satellite line up.

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I emailed FreeView TV directly today to ask why us Southerners cant get FVTV in HD or on a uhf. They said it doesnt make business sense to install what is necessary to give uhf freeview down this way. So im stuck with the only option...pay $90 a month for HD sky or suffer with a satellite dish on "normal" tv. It would make perfect sense to move to one of the nine locations around the country that can receive UHF HD though...

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Along with everything,consider the Rural area's.VHF,let alone UHF is scratchy(if not intolerable) in most area's and the only option until FreeView,was SKY Satellite.
Funny enough,were seeing the rural community switch readily from their subscription based SKY to FreeView.
Now,the take up rate for freeView is stunning even the most optimistic opponents,2012 for turn-off analog may well start 2yrs ahead of time.We have SKY,Why? still on fixed term install rental for 12mths,but $50/month for FTA and a bunch of steadily increasing rubbish on the other Start-Up package channels will see us change to FreeView asap.
BTW,you can get SKY decoder with Prime Only service installed for $149.No Rental. Enjoy.

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There is some hope that regulation will adress the problem of Sky encrypting Prime for no reason, the REGULATORY REVIEW OF DIGITAL BROADCASTING: REPORT-BACK ON OPTIONS FOLLOWING PUBLIC CONSULTATION details this, it is explained in freeviewshop's forum here:
http://www.freeviewshop.co.nz/forum/index.php/topic,782.0.html

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Here's a thought. Sky have had no problems in the past switching from unencrypted programming (such as Track Side) and back to encrypted (for Discovery) on the same UHF broadcast channel.

So I don't completely buy this 'more people watching the more it effects contracts to air programming' response. Surely it can not effect every single programming arragement? There must be a few programmes that they could not impose encryption on their satellite feed for at certain times of day?

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I dislike sky as a company, they keep trying to rule all the other <a rel="follow" href="http://www.satellitetvsales.com/DISH-network.asp">Satellite TV Services</a> by simply buying them or their channels/programs which they need to survive. As soon as something becomes popular that sky doesn’t have they steal it. They have gone too far taking away Prime, I hope the government will eventually step in if sky doesn’t stop and make sure we have free access to what we are basically pay for with our taxes.

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Sky is just an overpriced greedy company,
i got a sat freeview when first available to recieve prime as it was said prime was going to be available on it.
what a joke.
tv nz should pull the pin on sky and not allow them to have nz content on their sevice until they play fair.
SKY TV you need a wakeup call we have had eneough of your overpriced cr#@p.
bring on some competition

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i'd gladly pay $50 a month solely to get my Wrestling.. if Freeview had WWE then i'd get Freeview.

Also Freeview has only that crap Maori stuff anyways.. nothin you cant get for better on Sky.. even Sky has a Sky only Maori Channel LOL FTW NOOBS

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