A new thread to discuss New Zealand TV history (separate from the listings thread)
The launch of Sky Network Television
by Adrian Blackburn
This article was first published in the NZ Listener (16 April 1990).
“We’re going a hundred miles an hour already,” breezes Richard Anderson of Sky Network, speaking just over a fortnight after arriving in New Zealand to become chief executive of the network. It’s his job to introduce pay television to New Zealand, overseeing the final stages of three years’ planning and the investment by Sky Network’s promoters of more than $50 million.
May 18 is the target date, the date when transmissions, initially to the Auckland area, begin, the date when Sky’s three new channels will, at a stroke, double the TV enthusiast’s choice.
Looking around the vast, open and meagrely populated spaces at Sky’s 7000 sq m headquarters at Mt Wellington, it seems that Anderson may need to speed up to a thousand miles an hour, rather than a hundred, if he’s to meet the initial deadline.
New Zealand’s painful crawl from a two- to a three-channel television system suggest that adding a further three channels might take rather longer than a bare three months from the Government’s approval of successful bids for ultra-high frequency (UHF) frequencies. And that sort of deadline seems particularly unlikely when the aim is to transmit not only 12 hours each of sports and movies daily but also 24 hours of television news.
Just two months later transmissions to the Hamilton and Tauranga regions are to begin, followed before year’s end by the rest of the North Island, with service to the South Island planned for 1991. That would bring Sky transmissions within reach of roughly 80 percent of the population about the number reached now by TV3.
The big difference – this is pay TV, remember – is that only those viewers who have bought or rented decoders to unscramble Sky’s encrypted UHF signals, who have paid Sky in advance for its service, will get to see its offerings.
The tight deadline does not seen to worry Anderson. At 40, the slight Californian is a veteran of 15 years in the cable television business. For 11 years he has worked on cable TV for the powerful Times Mirror company, parent of the Los Angeles Times , and has himself started and run cable companies in several US centres.
“It’s a very similar business to this. The technology of broadcasting is much easier than cable, though the channel capacity is less. We were running 45- to 55-channel capacity in the US against the three to four we’ll have here.”
In mid-February, when Commerce Minister David Butcher announced successful bidder for UHF frequencies, Sky was the big winner, taking four of the seven national networks awarded, at a cost rumoured to be around $400,000 each.
So confident of success were Sky’s promoters they had Richard Anderson signed to a three-year contract and in New Zealand in time for Butcher’s announcement.
Behind Sky are Auckland businessmen Craig Heatley, Terry Jarvis, Trevor Farmer and Allan Gibbs. Although TVNZ has a 35 percent shareholding, the controlling interest lies with Heatley (ex-Rainbow Corporation) and Jarvis, who are Sky’s managing partners. (Although Sky shares its name with Rupert Murdoch’s immensely costly television venture in Britain, the Australian media mogul has nothing to do with the local business.)
Meanwhile Anderson is also keen to quash any idea that Sky is simply some sort of puppet for TVNZ. “We’re run totally separately,” he says. TVNZ is not programming Sky, both are in the marketplace separately buying programmes and although TVNZ has aided Sky with its technical expertise, “everything else is really just a financial investment.”
The technical side remains quite straightforward. A big satellite dish sits out the back of the buildings which, purpose-built for Wilson and Horton’s costly but doomed attempt to head off other third channel contenders at the pass, are proving well-suited to Sky’s needs.
From the satellites Sky takes the US-based Cable News Network (CNN) international news feed and the Entertainment Sports Programming Network (ESPN) international sports feed, as well as other regular programming and individual events.
Programmes will be scrambled by a special computer programme before being transmitted on UHF. Would-be viewers will need a decoder (the same German-designed, Singapore-built equipment as used for the British Sky channel), which will be available for $499 from Sky Network or for a similar amount through retailers.
The 80 percent or more who have not got a fairly new TV with multiple channels capable of being tuned to the UHF band, will need to use their VCR to tune in the different channels. The antenna and cable – yes, most people, depending on their area, will need a UHF aerial costing perhaps $30 to $50 plus fitting – will go directly into the decoder, with the decoder’s output going into the VCR, which is linked to the TV set.
That’s not quite all. Securing your Sky signals will also cost $10 a week plus GST, payable monthly in advance. And the sophisticated IBM 400 computer which is the heart of Sky’s systems knows how to cut you off if you stop paying.
Sky began test pattern transmissions in the Auckland area in February, continued them in March and from April 6 to April 8 offered viewers a chance to taste its wares for free, transmitting unscrambled pictures of Winfield Cup rugby league from Australia.
These transmissions also gave potential pay viewers a chance to check on tuning into UHF and on whether they need a UHF aerial. Those without enough cash to buy a decoder, or who are not prepared to gamble on what Sky is offering, will have the option of renting decoders from TV service companies.
At this stage the question as to how many New Zealand TV compulsives will be ready to dig deep for Sky remains unanswered. But the company’s market research suggests at least a profitable proportion.
Sky is not revealing its break-even, but it clearly lies somewhere between the eight and 10 percent of viewers who feel impelled to buy anything new that comes along in the TV/video field, and the 15 to 20 percent of the TV audience with which Sky would be “very happy”.
“Ultimately we expect as high as 30 percent penetration,” says Anderson.
The big drawcards, as he sees it, are price, after the initial outlay, and programmes. Sky’s sights are set firmly on the disposable income represented by the estimated $140 million a year rental videos market.
“No, the video shops probably won’t love us, though in the States there hasn’t been a great impact except to dramatically lower the price of videos, typically $US1 to $2.
“With many new movies on view just a short time after video release, plus all the sports and the news for the price of renting around two videos a week, we really think Sky will be a bargain.
“And we’re going to programme these channels with such a great product it will be very hard for the consumer who enjoys TV at all to say no to Sky.”
Anderson says New Zealanders’ readiness to embrace new technologies is reassuring. “We find 75 to 85 percent of homes have VCRs and that has to be very close to No 1 in the world. Video is obviously very important in the dollars that a New Zealander will spend for entertainment.”
The research shows pay TV users will be no exclusive group. “Very much across the board,” says Anderson, “both male and female and across all income levels.”
But when it comes to the point, why should people make a relatively large outlay simply to get more TV, a medium in which greater quantity is notoriously no guarantee of better quality?
Sky maintains that its programming mix, and the hours of transmission, offer viewers choices that go a long way towards meeting needs not now met by the three broadcast channels. And because Sky will draw only about five percent of its revenue from advertising, it guarantees minimal interference from ads.
The cocktail, as outlined by Sky programming director Harold Anderson, who was until recently TVNZ’s programming chief, does sound attractive. He sees the sports channel as being possibly the biggest draw. “The success of televised sport depends on how quickly you can deliver it. The whole thrust of the channel is going to be live, or as near live as possible. Because we have 12 hours we can do that. We’re not restricted by the risk of offending part of the audience that doesn’t like sports.”
Harold Anderson says great care has been taken to create a balance of sports programmes to suit New Zealand tastes. And although the channel will operate basically from noon to midnight, those hours will be extended for special events.
Sky will show Winfield Cup league live from Australia every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, will carry local national league basketball live at 8.00pm on Saturday and, through its relationship with TVNZ, will carry full coverage (though not live) of the major local rugby matches.
A contract with the BBC will provide over 250 hours of British sport a year. There will be full coverage of the major match of the day in English league soccer, over four hours a day of Wimbledon tennis, as well as British rugby league. Other features include full coverage of Grand Prix motor races, other major tennis tournaments and PGA golf from the US.
Flexibility in timing means Sky can promise not to cut the end from a world championship boxing match to meet other programming requirements.
“If there is an extreme over-run on a major event we will just stay with it because it’s the sports fan who is sitting there, not someone waiting for the network news to come on.
“On both the movies and sports channels we are aiming for commercials-free programming. We will achieve it with sport in most cases by editing the commercial breaks out as the feed comes in on the satellite.
“The only time we will get caught is when we are taking something live from America and we will need to cover their commercial breaks with our own material, possibly local analysis of what is on.”
The news channel, depending basically on CNN and its 26 international news bureaux, will have to cover locally CNN’s commercial breaks of up to 12 minutes an hour. “We will cover these with graphically presented local news, similar to Teletext, with a rolling update every hour of local news.”
Hiring of local journalists and presenters to provide fuller local coverage is a few months away, though local presenters will quickly be involved in the sports channel.
Sky will run in full a couple of British news bulletins each day as well as repeating TVNZ’s 6.00pm bulletin in mid-evening.
Harold Anderson expects the movies and light entertainment channel, which will also run from noon to midnight, to be close in popularity to the sports channel.
Films will be run ad-free and normally in the same form as for cinema showing, not as cut for broadcast TV. They will usually be shown within nine to 12 months of local cinema release, with seldom more than 60 to 90 seconds of advertising between them.
Sky already has more than 300 movies available, as well as mini-series, which will also be shown before they are available to the normal TV broadcasters.
In its first weeks of transmission Sky will be showing more than 20 new movies a week. This will settle to six films premiered a week, each repeated in different time slots over the next few weeks to give all viewers a chance to see them.
All films will be rated for age suitability. Viewers wanting to stop children viewing unsuitable material can cut off Sky simply by removing a card similar to a credit card from the decoder. A more sophisticated card will be available later this year enabling only films rated, for instance, up to 13-year-old viewing, to be received.
Richard Anderson does not believe pay TV will result in New Zealanders becoming even more firmly planted couch potatoes. “Time is very important to people and I really think people simply want more choice on what they watch at the times they are available to watch. Part of extending that choice could be longer hours in future for Sky’s sports and movie channels.
What about cable TV, with its potential for many channels? Richard Anderson believes at the moment that the lack of sufficient programmes available by satellite, combined with the cost of cabling – in the US between $US45,000 and $55,000 a mile – would make it uneconomic. That could change within three to five years, and if so Sky would expect to be involved.
What will Sky do with the fourth national channel it won in February? The company is saying nothing, except that it too will be launched before year’s end.
Take a closer look at this photo, as I was at Tauranga Library at the time.
Back in May, Sky Network Television celebrated 30 years on air. When Sky began on 18 May 1990 there were three channels, as described by Dick Smith Electronics, on scrambled UHF frequencies:
Up to the minute news from the world’s largest international news exchange plus national news direct from New Zealand sources. World news, local news … any time you want it.
Sky Movie Channel (Sky Movies)
The best of the world’s top movies direct from the best production houses. Many other top rating programmes too. Yes, Sky brings total entertainment into your living room.
Sky Sports Channel (Sky Sport)
If there’s a major sporting event taking place anywhere in the world - it’ll be on Sky. All the top international and New Zealand sport! Now that’s … excitement!
Most electronic retailers, like Dick Smith, used to sell Sky decoders for only $399 (UHF aerial required). Each carton contained a subscription form and Smart Card, which allowed a potential subscriber to fill in the form and post it to Sky via postal mail. If the subscriber had a credit card, they could phone Sky immediately, quote their credit card number and have their Smart Card activated straight away.
The signal was sent with the picture scrambled using VideoCrypt technology; the Sky decoder, connected to a UHF aerial (as, initially, Sky was only available in Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga), was used to unscramble the picture.
Sky Movies was the only channel to broadcast in NICAM stereo; Sky News and Sky Sport were broadcast in mono. The decoder didn’t actually support stereo sound; if a subscriber wanted to watch Sky Movies in stereo, the subscriber had to feed the audio from another source such as a NICAM stereo capable VCR.
One for all.
Check out the old TV One (now TVNZ 1) shows during 1990: New Zealand’s own Sale of the Century, 'Allo 'Allo!, Minder, The Bill, Coronation Street (of course!), Murder, She Wrote and many more.
Love it Paddy! My family ended up getting Sky around 1999 from memory - we certainly watched the 1999 Super 12 final live as we had neighbours come around. We only got UHF at that point then later switched to Telstra Clear’s cable service.
So much British content there! Surprised they had Anything But Love as American shows on TVNZ 1 were rather rare in those days in prime time from memory.
Although I guess Murder She Wrote is American (albeit with a British lead).
I remember on my first visit to NZ in April 2001 and channel surfing coming across the scrambled pictures on UHF. Of note was the Trackside Channel was free to air and when that finished, it went to a Sky Pay TV Channel. I can’t remember which one it was but I do recall it was unscrambled for a good 5 or so minutes before someone finally “pushed the button”.
Discovery used to timeshare with Trackside from memory.
I remember those fleeting glimpses of unscrambled content as well, before someone realised or the timer switched or whatever.
@OnAir Thanks, pal!
i remember in the early days of sky you used to get 1 hr of unscrambled sport bewteen 5 and 6
at least you got to see the
1st half of the winfield cup
here is a conversation starter who was your favorite tv
newsreader and why??
John Hawkesby when he was on tv3 he was easy to understand
had a sense of authority and he was good when he was paired with Bill ralston
Favourite Newsreader would have to be Judy Bailey, very clear and concise along with Richard Long. I made the switch over to One News during the 9/11 attacks. Was pretty much a 3 National News watcher during the mid 90’s with Neil Waka & John Hawkesby and then ofcourse John & Carol. I also liked Darren Macdonald and Carolyn Robinson during there stints.
In 1991, Leighton Smith (well known from his Newstalk 1ZB days) moved into television and fronted a 10-minute current affairs slot within the 6pm news hour on TV3 (now Three) for two years. Bill Ralston, in addition to his Ralston Group commitments, replaced Leighton about two years later.
Also, from my memory, 3 moved its early evening news (or 3 National News as it was called in those days) from 6.30pm to 6pm and was extended from 30 minutes to a full hour. The news was read by either Joanna Paul or Neil Waka on alternate nights … until John Hawkesby came along in 1992 as weeknight anchor. At the same time, Janet Wilson joined the network and read the weekend news.
The late Kerry Smith, who died in April 2011, replaced Belinda Todd as weather presenter, and Belinda (or “Hot Toddy” as described by the NZ Listener) moved to Nightline, with the late news segment read by Neil Waka.
However, things started to change in 1993 when a fresh new look Nightline was introduced, including the same opening titles as Nightline from ABC America, the same theme music as ABC’s World News Tonight, a new desk and a ‘standard news bulletin’ format. Janet Wilson and Neil Waka were appointed co-anchors of the new-look Nightline.
who remembers the likes of dougal stevenson and bill mccarthy
along with Phillip sherry
phillip sherry was the 1st tv3 news reader
Philip Sherry didn’t join the newly rebranded TV One (formerly NZBC TV, now TVNZ 1) team when it launched in 1975. According to Robert Boyd-Bell in the book New Zealand Television: The First 25 Years, TV One had to rely on Dougal Stevenson and Bill McCarthy as newsreaders with Tina Carline as its ‘weather girl’.
Over at TV2 (then South Pacific Television or SPTV, now TVNZ 2), Jennie Goodwin was New Zealand’s first woman newscaster on the nightly Two at Seven programme and Tom Bradley and Sam Gardiner co-anchored News at Ten. By the end of that year, TV2 moved its early evening news from 7pm to 6pm (as News at Six) and News at Ten got a revamp by 1976. It went on to become an award-winning news and current affairs programme, anchored jointly by Tom Bradley in Auckland and Philip Sherry in Wellington.
The Sky with limits
by Terry Snow
This article was first published in the NZ Listener (14 May 1990).
The Sky Network television broadcasts begin on Friday this week. Subscribers with decoders will receive a 24-hour news channel, and film and sports channels each broadcasting from midday to midnight.
But all television viewers within the transmission area who wish to sample the new pay channels can still receive a “free-to-air” news broadcast and a free sports hour each day. All you need to do is to tune your television set to a UHF channel and the Sky signal.
The free news broadcasts can be seen on Mondays from 7.00am to 9.00am (CNN World Report and BBC World News), on Tuesday to Saturday from 6.00am to 8.00am (one hour of Newsday, a US network news roundup, and the CNN International Hour) and on Sundays from 6.00am to 8.00am (News Update, Health Week, Style with Elsa Klensch, On the Menu and Your Money).
The free-to-air sports slot will be on from 5.00pm to 6.00pm each night. This week, Friday night’s screening will preview the next few months of sport on Sky television, while Saturday and Sunday will see live coverage of the first half of Winfield Cup rugby league matches from Australia.
The reach of the Sky signal from the first day of transmission can be seen from the map and will be - in broad terms - the greater Auckland region. The map indicates the areas where viewers will receive an average strength signal - roughly from Pukekohe in the south to Orewa in the north, extending out to Beachlands and the Whangaparaoa Peninsula in the east and the line of the Waitakere Ranges in the west.
Viewers who have managed to tune to the Sky test pattern during recent weeks should receive the signal without problems, while those who have trouble getting the normal broadcast signal for TVNZ and TV3 broadcast channels may experience the same problems with the Sky signal. A tall UHF aerial may solve the problem.
According to Sky’s director of engineering, Brian Green, the reception outside the region of the average strength signal could be quite good in selected pockets as far away as Maungaturoto in the north or Coromandel Peninsula in the east. “But you are taking a very tall aerial and perhaps a mast amplifier. It also depends on the line of sight from the viewer’s aerial to the transmitter at Waiatarua in the Waitakere Rangers or to either of the translators in Remuera or East Coast Bays,” says Green.
The translator on Mt Te Aroha is due to come into operation in August, transmitting a signal to the Waikato and the Bay of Plenty. Coverage of the rest of the country is intended to spread gradually, Palmerston North and the Manawatu are next in line with the scheduled opening of the Wharati transmitter in October.
The former TVNZ programming chief Harold Anderson, who is now Sky’s programming director, says the introduction of Sky television is “not just a fourth channel. This is a completely new product presented in a different way.”
This is a natural progression for New Zealand, Anderson says, following the way other countries have narrowcasting as an alternative after the establishment of broadcasting.
The news channel, which runs 24 hours a day, will begin at 6.00am this Friday. News buffs who subscribe will welcome the steady diet of hot information, but the channel will show its domestic American origins - it is not the international CNN news channel which Sky originally wanted to buy.
That international channel is beamed out of Atlanta to Europe and South America and would not reach the Pacific satellite which feeds New Zealand, according to Allan Martin, Sky executive director in charge of the news channel. So the domestic channel was the next best thing.
The international news which forms a regular part of the CNN feed is, in any case, boosted by Sky’s insertion of two BBC news bulletins daily.
News viewers will also have to get used to the upside-down sense of time. The Daybreak news programme will screen at midnight New Zealand time, the CNN Evening News from Atlanta at 2.30pm New Zealand time, CNN Sports Tonight at 3.30pm New Zealand time. The week’s end wrap-up of sports, news, science and so on will be seen here during the early hours of Monday morning rather than in the Sunday daytime slots it is geared to for US viewers.
Because the news channel is a US domestic programme, commercial spots are built in. Equipment at the Warkworth receiving station will enable these spots to be replaced with Sky’s own channel promotions.
Nearly all of the movies being screened on this channel in the first month are being seen on television in New Zealand for the first time, says Anderson. And he adds, “the movies will be 100 percent first-run on television within a month or so”.
It’s normal to have repeats built into the schedule on a pay channel. The newness of this channel ensures that the pattern of movie repeats will not be established until a few weeks in. For example, of the films showing this week, Willow is rescheduled for the following Sunday, the Looney, Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie and Princess Bride for Sunday in a fortnight’s time, and The Man from Snowy River, Hamburger Hill and Angel Heart for the weekend in three weeks’ time. Other films follow similar repeat patterns.
Films will be rated for age suitability and viewers wanting to stop children seeing unsuitable material can simply remove the smart card from the decoder.
Although initial publicity said Sky television would screen films in advance of their showing on existing broadcast channels, this will not cover all movies. TV3 has exclusive rights to films put out by the Touchstone (Disney) company and Sky will not have access to these movies.
The dedication of a whole channel to sports gives programmers the flexibility to continue with live coverage when events go over scheduled time. This will happen with the cricket being received from Britain next week. New Zealand will play England in two one-day internationals (scheduled starts Wednesday 10.00pm and Friday 10.45pm) and the live feed from the BBC will continue past the normal closedown time of midnight.
Anderson says great care has been taken to creat a balance of sports programmes to suit New Zealand tastes. Although the ESPN sports channel from the United States provides a large chunk of the programmes, Sky has a contract with the BBC to receive more than 250 hours of British sport a year and Television New Zealand’s input is evident in programmes such as the Rugby at Noon on Sundays and the Rugby Extra programme.
Major Sky coverage of events such as tennis at Wimbledon and World Cup soccer does not mean the events will not be seen by Television New Zealand sports fans.
Murray Needham, TVNZ’s assistant head of sport, says that Television New Zealand has its own broadcast rights to events such as Wimbledon, which are separate from the rights for pay, satellite, cable or other forms of television.
“The TVNZ sports service will not be less because Sky is covering events,” he says. “We hope they will be very much complementary - on some occasions TVNZ will cover an event live and Sky will run highlights or Sky will be live and we will have a package of highlights. Viewers of both TVNZ and Sky could on occasions be watching the same events live.” Live telecasts by Sky in the first seven weeks include league from Australia (the State of Origin matches), games from the French rugby tour of Australia, local basketball and, of course, cricket between New Zealand and England.
Local rugby games, including those played by the touring Scottish team, appear to be all delayed broadcasts.
Motorsport, international golf, World Cup soccer, boxing, wrestling, US basketball, tennis and the women’s pro bowling tour will all also be given major time.
The decoders to unscramble the Sky signal are on sale from major retail stores and from Sky television for $399 or can be rented for $13.50 a month.
Green says that the decoder available at present has no tuner built in and has to be plugged into a video recorder which does have a tuner. But the effect is that a person watching a Sky channel cannot use the video recorder to record a TVNZ or TV3 channel at the same time. Anyone viewing TVNZ or TV3 broadcast channels is unable to use the video recorder to record Sky, says Green.
“We are having decoders built which will have tuners in them, enabling viewers to record any of the channels while watching any other channel,” says Green. “But they will be about $100 dearer than the present models.”
Recent model television with a 20-pin Scart connection can have the decoder plugged in directly to the TV set, says Green.
“All the ancillary services for television in Europe have one thing in common - they need to be decoded and the world standard for access to decoders is the Scart connection. We are just a bit behind. Some newer model television sets are likely to have it on already, but our information is that the numbers in New Zealand are low.”
New Zealand programmes on Television One
It happened 30 years ago as TV One (now TVNZ 1) screened a selection of New Zealand made programmes, ranging from news, sport and current affairs to drama, documentary, factual, lifestyle and entertainment.
Special thanks to the late Mark Nicholls for the use of an NZ Listener clipping as part of his scrapbook collection.
ahhh the good old days of tv before we had mindless reality tv
shows happy days
Let’s go back to the mid-1980s where the news was shown on TV One (now TVNZ 1) at 6.30pm. Take a closer look at this snapshot (courtesy of TVNZ).
The news went to air live from TVNZ’s Auckland studios; it was read in a ‘single head newscaster’ format by Philip Sherry and Tom Bradley on alternate evenings, with the role of sports anchor shared by Richard Long and Tony Ciprian. Weather was presented from TVNZ’s old Wellington studios (Avalon) by Veronica Allum and Sue Scott.
It’s ‘Flashback Friday’. What do you think?
On the evening of Saturday 1 September 1990 at 7.30pm on TVNZ’s Channel 2 (now TVNZ 2), Telethon went to air for 24 hours and began with the late Sir Howard Morrison singing a cover of"The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics.
The late (Sir) Paul Holmes, Judy Bailey and John Hawkesby - who were the hosts for the Auckland Telethon - introduced us to Telethon 1990 for a few seconds in this video before switching to the Wellington Telethon with hosts Steve Parr (well known to us as the host of New Zealand’s own Sale of the Century) and Hilary Timmins (who went on to host the live Lotto draw from 1992 until 2007).
Celebrity guests included Barbara Knox, Kevin Kennedy and Bryan Mosley (as Rita, Curly and Alf respectively) from Coronation Street; the late Anne Haddy and ‘our own’ Alan Dale (as Helen and Jim respectively) from Neighbours; Barbara Thorn and Jon Iles (otherwise known as Frazer and Dashwood respectively) from The Bill; well-known Australian singer John Farnham; and many more.
For Telethon 1990, over $4 million went to the Celebration of Age.
Check out the old TV One and TV2 (now TVNZ 1 & 2 respectively) symbols from 1975 through 1987:
Television One (1975-80)
South Pacific Television (1976-77)
South Pacific Television (1977-80)
TV One (1980-82)
TV Two (1980-82)
Television One (1982-87)
Television 2 (1982-87)
All logos courtesy of TVNZ.