TVNZ makes broadband leap

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Kiwi pubcaster TVNZ will offer programs for streaming and downloading beginning in March, chief executive Rick Ellis said Monday.

"With New Zealand's broadband penetration and capability now growing, this is the time for TVNZ to demonstrate leadership in the video content online space," he said.

Last week, there were more than 13,000 downloads of TVNZ's new family drama "Karaoke High," which the pubcaster streamed a week before its broadcast to test online interest.

Ellis said he was "gobsmacked" by the response and is confident the new platform, TVNZ ondemand, will drive viewing of the pubcaster's free-to-air networks, TV One and TV2.

Negotiations are under way with international suppliers for online rights to foreign programs, while local independent producers have been "extremely enthusiastic and supportive" in building the content of the new service, Ellis said.

TVNZ screens about 5,000 hours of local content annually and has 26 years' worth of New Zealand programming in its archives.

It will offer a mix of free and PPV fare online. Charges will range from NZ$2.00 ($1.38) for an edited half-hour to NZ$4.00 ($2.76) for an edited hour (programs will be paid for using a credit card purchasing system that provides a bank of "play points" that are deducted when a downloaded program is played).

Programs will feature sponsorship and/or advertising. They will be able to be viewed, in VHS quality, for up to seven days after downloading, which could take as long as 45 minutes because of New Zealand's notoriously slow broadband connections.

"The speed of New Zealand's broadband services is still somewhat modest and we look forward to improvement over time," Ellis said.

The initiative is part of TVNZ's new "Inspiring On Every Screen" strategy that will see the pubcaster provide programs when and where Kiwis want to see them.

Ellis said this means some of TVNZ's future will be based on partnerships at times with media and telco rivals.

"Not only will TVNZ have to have an organization that is capable of delivering 'Inspiring On Every Screen,' it will have to change the way it thinks about the business of content.

"With some content we will be rivals with other parties and at other times their partners."

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