The starting point
New Zealand was a latecomer to the television age. Britain had led the way when the BBC started the world’s first public service in 1936; three years later NBC began broadcasting in the USA and Australia had its first stations operating by 1956.
A Government committee had been studying the new medium since 1949 but the green light for television was only finally granted in November 1959.
At 7.30pm on Wednesday 1 June 1960 the first official television transmission began. The first night’s programming lasted just three hours and was only received in Auckland. Transmission began in Christchurch and Wellington a year later with the remainder of the country following in successive years.
1961 saw the introduction of television advertising.
In 1965, the four stations were broadcasting seven nights a week – a total of 50 hours – but this was before the days of a national network. Each centre saw its own local programmes.
For its first 14 years, New Zealand television was a black and white world. The plan was to introduce colour television in time for the 1974 Commonwealth Games. There weren’t enough facilities to cover all of the Games in colour, however viewers were able to see swimming, track and field and boxing.
In 1980 TVNZ came into existence with the merger of Television One and TV2.
The era of competition
In 1989 TV3 became the first privately owned station, followed a year later by SKY Network Television who became the first pay TV network.
The early 1990’s were a tumultuous time for the industry with deregulation, fierce competition and a rise in locally produced content thanks to the arrival of New Zealand On Air. In May 1990, TV3 announced that financial difficulties had forced the company into receivership.
A further change that year was an amendment to the Broadcasting Act which allowed overseas ownership. By 1991 Canadian broadcaster CanWest had bought into TV3 and a consortium of two US firms, Time Warner and TCI, took control of Sky TV.
Regional television had mixed fortunes. Horizon Pacific Television, TVNZ’s regional network, was launched in 1995 but closed two years later due to a lack of profitability. The proliferation of small regional stations continued through the 1990s in Nelson, Dunedin, Gisborne, Christchurch, Invercargill and the Hawkes Bay.
The modern era
The first decade of the 21st century once again saw massive changes in the broadcasting landscape.
Maori Television launched in 2004. This success was followed up four years later with the launched of Maori Television’s second channel, Te Reo, which broadcasts exclusively in the Maori language.
Sky kept adding channels and developed the first digital services in New Zealand, reaching their subscribers via satellite.
In 2007 CanWest sold TV3 and C4 to Ironbridge, an Australian Private Equity Company. The operating company became publicly known as MediaWorks TV.
2007 also saw the start of the switch to free-to-air digital television broadcasting with the launch of the Freeview platform. By 2014 New Zealand will turn off the old analogue television broadcasting.
The arrival of digital free-to-air broadcasting has spurred the creation of a number of new free-to-air channels such as TVNZ6, TVNZ7 and TV3+1. It has also provided new opportunities for smaller regional and niche language broadcasters to reach a broader audience.
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