Switch to digital expected to push viewers over the two million mark

As New Zealand television goes digital, independent TV channels throughout the country are recording big increases in audience numbers - which can then translate into advertising dollars.

From today, people in the upper North Island must have Sky TV or a system such as Igloo or Freeview if they want to continue to watch television.

Choice TV managing director Alex Breingan said the digital switchover was a huge boost to his channel.

"From today, Choice TV will be available in every TV-watching home, which puts it on the same playing field as TV One, TV2, TV3 and Prime."


The channel is owned by four shareholders: Breingan, Julia Baylis, Vincent Burke and Laurie Clarke. Burke and Clarke are also directors of TV production firm Top Shelf Productions. The channel has 12 full-time staff plus contractors.

Breingan said its success was a matter of being careful with money - it is backed by a bank loan - and offering content that people want to watch. "TV audiences aren't channel-loyal, they are content-loyal," Breingan said.

"There was a gap in the market for Freeview that all of us saw and we were in the right place at the right time with the digital switchover, which has been key."

He said the channel noticed its first jump in viewers when the South Island and Hawke's Bay changed to digital in the middle of last year.

It now has almost two million viewers, compared with the major channels' three million. The switchover this weekend is expected to take Choice TV over the two million mark.

People who use Freeview can either have terrestrial access, which comes with TVs that have Freeview built in, or satellite access, which requires a set-top box. Terrestrial access has been the minority but is growing faster than satellite as people buy new TVs.

Breingan said Choice TV survived purely on advertising revenue. Businesses that had traditionally not been able to afford television advertising had success with Choice TV.

Other independent channels are also operating, including Channel North in Northland and TV Rotorua. They operate on terrestrial channels rather than satellite.

Gareth Mauchline, of Channel North, was also expecting an audience boost to improve on the 20,000 who tune into the Whangarei station. At present, viewers make up about a third of the people in the coverage area.