The platform war between Freeview and Sky Television looks set to hot up with Freeview planning to have its own version of the MySky Personal Video Recorder (PVR) in the third quarter of 2008. The PVR - which will be configured to Freeview and its electronic programming guide, and carry its brand - will help redress Sky's advantage with 25,000 MySky machines.
Freeview has been talking with "several" electronics manufacturers to licence a PVR which allows viewers to time-shift programmes without the rigmarole of programming standard recorders. The Freeview platform for free-to-air digital television currently has 10 channels, but will expand in early April when TVNZ 7 is due to launch. Freeview will eventually be the main source for free-to-air television when analogue signals are eventually switched off
Freeview - which is run by TVNZ, MediaWorks and the government transmission company Kordia - estimates it has around 50,000 set-top boxes in circulation, compared to around 700,000 subscribers for Sky.
And new LCD and plasma TV sets in New Zealand will start including Freeview tuners inside the sets.
We wonder how the Freeview PVR will deal with TV commercials. Some PVRs allow users to flash straight past advertising breaks - which let's face it - is one of the big benefits.
MySky allows people to fast-forward through ad breaks but not skip past the entire break with one click. But the free-to-air channels are more dependent on ad revenue than Sky.
How will advertisers feel about the new world of free-to-air allowing fast-forwarding through breaks?
Sunday gets a helping handout
Television New Zealand has placed itself between the devil and the deep blue sea, taking $2.77 million of charter funding for the current affairs show Sunday.
The grant makes up around half of the show's budget and has broken a long-held expectation that TV news and current affairs stand on their own feet and do not take government subsidies. TVNZ offers a bizarre justification, saying the handout is because financially it did badly last year.
Spokeswoman Megan Richards said funding won't be repeated next year.
Clearly, TVNZ allows that current affairs should not normally get charter money. But when push comes to shove, independence no longer matters if you can use charter money to prop up profits.
The Paul Holmes show Whatever Happened to ... showed you can use the charter for commercial shows. Sunday shows can use it for commercial current affairs, but only when you are failing commercially. Something is wrong here.
TVNZ notes that Sunday is not the first case of subsidised current affairs. The lines have been blurred in the past with Agenda and Eye to Eye with Willie Jackson.
TVNZ head of television Jeff Latch said that funding processes and programme making were not connected. He said "long form" current affairs like Sunday were a "very good" use of charter money. Asked if it was a good idea in an election year given past interference from the Government-appointed board, he said there had been no interference from the current board at TVNZ.
The new Ahmed Zaoui
Public relations people pay thousands of dollars to smuggle a brief mention of their brand on to the news. But TVNZ paid for political activist Tame Iti and his whanau to take part in Close Up.
TVNZ director of news and current affairs Anthony Flannery insists it paid only about $200 to pay for accommodation and petrol vouchers for Iti and co to get to the Waitangi Day commemorations.
He defended the allocation, which he said was "normal practice" to cover the extra time that Iti and his family spent to take part in an item. He said that negative publicity about the subsidy was sour grapes from TV3 missing out on a similar story, and that TV3 had been "mischievous" in putting it about.
Asked whether it was an issue that Iti faces firearms charges for his part in the Ruatoki training camp, Flannery said, "He has not been convicted. We do not pay for people who have been convicted."
But do we really need to pay for political groups to get prime-time TV coverage? Would Iti and family have turned down a soft profile in prime time over $200? Iti is an excellent promoter and turned up in an item on the death of poet Hone Tuwhare.
He is also 3 News' favourite activist now Ahmed Zaoui is home and free.
The fact is, Iti is good talent, and the networks are happy to pay for that. Maybe he should try for sponsorship?
Eyebrows were raised in the newspaper world when it was revealed Fairfax Suburban Newspapers boss Barry Leitch is to run the rival Aucklander Group, owned by APN News and Media.
He had indicated he was leaving to take up a new private business venture but has wound up at the competition with a good grounding on Suburban's business plans.
Leitch had run Suburban since the late 80s - it was a part of the old INL - and had a reputation as a no-nonsense boss who delivered profits through increasing revenue or driving down costs.
Leitch would no doubt know APN deputy CEO Rick Neville, who had formerly been deputy chief executive at INL.
Anyway, hearing the news, Fairfax CEO Joan Withers issued a memo titled "CEO alert" to say Leitch had flagged 18 months ago that he would be leaving at Christmas 2007.
Leitch has been replaced at Suburban by his old protege, David Penny.
Withers said in her memo: "We are confident our Auckland Suburban Newspapers will continue to retain their position as market leaders in this very important newspaper sector."
Television New Zealand is about to announce two new shows for the TVNZ 7 digital channel on Freeview. The most advanced is a media programme called Media 7 with a studio format to be made by Wellington company Top Shelf Productions. It will be presented by veteran commentator Russell Brown, whose Hard News blog on the Public Address website frequently defends the Government and is a counter to David Farrar's National-friendly Kiwiblog.
In particular, Hard News has been a strong supporter of the Government approach to the Electoral Finance Act. But it is understood that the new Media 7 show will have a number of participants. The series has been given funding for 34 episodes.
Meantime, TVNZ has decided to keep a new political show for TVNZ 7 in-house. Several production companies had been asked to pitch, but TVNZ opted not to outsource.
Both shows are ad-free and paid for by government funding.
TVNZ 7 is expected to start screening in early April.By John Drinnan @Zagzigger Email John