New Zealand’s main pay TV provider, Sky Television, switched over to Optus’s new $200m D1 satellite as planned last night. While viewers in New Zealand reported stronger, clearer signals than from the 15-year-old satellite it replaces, Australians were surprised to discover a dozen Kiwi direct-to-home pay TV channels broadcasting as far as Perth.

Prior to Optus D1’s launch, New Zealand’s TV services were to be broadcast on eight transponders exclusive to the shaky isles. As of this morning only three transponders are broadcasting to New Zealand while another is also broadcast across Australia. TVNZ’s free-to-air services were not transferred last night and several new service offerings from Sky NZ and the free-to-air digital Freeview are yet to begin operation.

Despite increasing media interest in New Zealand, Optus was still offering no details on the nature of the “configuration problems” saying only that “continuity of service will be maintained.” Optus would not comment on predictions that the problems will mean lost capacity and foregone revenue or that the telco or the satellite’s manufacturer Orbital Sciences Corporation may be exposed to any liability. Optus would only state that these matters are between the company and its clients.

One of those clients, TVNZ, has confirmed Crikey’s Monday story that the new satellite is suffering from technical problems. In last night’s television news bulletin, TVNZ reported that the satellite is suffering what they described as “a manufacturing mistake” and that “New Zealand’s co-ordinates are set to Australia’s specifications.” This morning, several New Zealand newspapers including The Dominion Post are reporting that the problems may threaten the planned launch of the New Zealand’s free-to-air digital TV service Freeview next year. Freeview is a consortium including TVNZ, CanWest, Radio New Zealand, Maori Television Service, and the New Zealand Racing Board.

While Sky TV’s pay channels can’t be viewed without a subscription and therefore pose no major problems if broadcast to Australia, the situation is much more complicated for TVNZ and Freeview. For New Zealand audiences their channels are to be broadcast unencrypted and much of their content is material for which Australian networks hold conflicting free to air rights.

Peter Fray

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