The Government has given free-to-air television a boost by ensuring its digital switchover package for pensioners will not be available for the new pay TV Igloo set-top box.

Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss yesterday unveiled a scheme to supply pensioners with free digital set-top boxes when analogue television signals are switched off.

The scheme will have $12 million to $18 million to spend on about 58,000 pensioners.

It was thought the Government might extend the scheme to Igloo, owned 51 per cent by Sky TV and 49 per cent by TVNZ, which is due to launch in the second half of the year.


But the packages will be limited to Freeview-approved set-top boxes.

The switch-off for analogue signals will begin on the West Coast and Hawkes Bay in June with Auckland the last region to switch over in September next year.

To keep watching TV, everyone will need to go digital by getting Freeview, Sky or TelstraClear. Virtually all TV sets on sale now include a Freeview digital tuner.

The Government expects nearly 90 per cent of viewers will have gone digital by May next year.

Sky TV chief executive John Fellet said the targeting of the free scheme towards elderly people meant it would not have much impact.

To be eligible for the deal, people must be watching only analogue television and be either:

75 or over with a community services card; or

Receiving an invalid's benefit or a veteran's pension.

Or be former recipients of an invalid's benefit or veteran's pension who have converted to NZ Super.

The package will provide a set-top box, an aerial or satellite dish if necessary, installation, training and access to a technical support line.

The scheme will be administered by Hills Signal Masters.

Digital and related assistance packages have occurred around the world as part of a global shift to digital technology.

The change will free up radio spectrum that may be sold on to telecommunications companies.