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Sky TV could face competition with new free-to-air channel

Published: 6:31AM Sunday July 08, 2012 Source: Fairfax

  • Freeview (Source: ONE News)
    Freeview - Source: ONE News

Sports broadcasting is on the brink of revolution in New Zealand, as the Oceania Football Confederation considers the launch of a new free-to-air TV channel.

The OFC, which is backed by the wealth of world football body Fifa, has already initiated talks with free-to-air television provider Freeview, at least 15 national sports organisations and Crown entity Sport New Zealand.

It is understood the Oceania plan is for 24-hour broadcasting, including live events, built around football but also encompassing other sports - many of which struggle to meet the financial demands of subscription satellite provider Sky TV.

If successful, the plan could beam significantly more domestic sport into New Zealand homes free-of-charge and, potentially, the competition could drive Sky's prices down.

Sky currently dominates New Zealand's sports television market. Free-to-air networks Television New Zealand and TV3 owners MediaWorks screen only a handful of high-interest events between them.

The lure for taxpayer-funded organisations such as New Zealand Football, Netball New Zealand and New Zealand Cricket is significantly lower prices for televised content than those set by Sky.

For the codes, the new option could mean daily price-tags as low as around $6000 instead of five-figure sums for satellite services - though production crews would be small, possibly as few as two or three people.

It's also understood Oceania plans to engage with New Zealand On Air - the Government agency that dispenses discretionary funding for diverse, locally produced content.

Oceania secretary general Tai Nicholas, who was charged with contempt of court by the Fijian Government last year, is heading the provisional stages of the ambitious proposal.

In an attempt to gauge the level of external interest, he hosted a meeting in Auckland three days ago with many senior New Zealand sports administrators and communication officials. It is understood an employee of MediaWorks' sport department was also present.

The project could yield Oceania $2 million-$3 million profit a year and lead to an expansion of the recently launched TV web-streaming service ahead of the 2015 Fifa under-20 World Cup in New Zealand.

Global audiences for the event will almost certainly be larger than those of last year's Rugby World Cup.

The top Fifa youth event is second only in size to the senior men's World Cup.

However, it is yet to become clear what a successful launch would mean for Freeview's shareholders - the four free-to-air broadcasters TVNZ, TVWorks (a subsidiary of MediaWorks), Maori Television and Radio New Zealand.

Nicholas did not return calls or emails yesterday.