Hard News by Russell Brown


Te Reo and the Resolution

The Maori Language Week episode of Media7 is online now. Our panel is Paora Maxwell, the recently-appointed general manager of Maori programming at TVNZ; Maori Television's general manager of sales marketing and communications Sonya Haggie; and former Mai FM programme director Manu Taylor.

Maori broadcast media's role in supporting the language was underlined by a 2006 Te Puni Kokiri survey, in which about half of respondents reported learning te reo via Maori TV and radio -- more than said they learned via formal education or conversation with friends and family.

Maori broadcast media have other roles too, of course: and although I'd take issue with parts of the Treaty Resource Centre's analysis of the reporting of Maori issues in the mainstream and specialist media, I was interested by one finding: on average, "sources" got to speak for one and a half times as long on Maori Television's Te Kaea news programme as on mainstream news, and three times as long on TVNZ's Te Karere. In an age of soundbites, I thought that was quite a significant difference.

I also think the respective channels' current affairs shows, Native Affairs and Marae, are particularly good.

Maori Television itself has become the sixth most-watched TV channel, behind Prime and C4 and ahead of The Box on Sky, with its most popular programme by far being the good-humoured weekly sports show Code.

But what Maori audiences watch most is another matter. The top two programmes watched by all Maori 5+ in the seven-day ratings we obtained for our show were episodes of Shortland Street. Shortie itself got into the spirit of the week with an effective, even moving story which had Scottie -- the uptight, culturally alienated Maori -- surprising everyone with a mihi at his traditional Indian wedding to Shanti. Last night's Shortland Street was subtitled (with open captions) Maori, as will be Saturday's Country Calendar.

Anyway, the programme isn't a confrontational one, and it wasn't intended to be one, but I really enjoyed the discussion. It was also my first experience of reading Maori off an autocue; something I occasionally find challenging in my first language, but that was fun too.

You can see it on TVNZ ondemand, as Windows Media clips, in a podcast and via our YouTube channel.

(A technical problem delayed the uploads this morning, but ondemand is there and the others are coming any moment)


I flopped down from a birthday dinner at Rocco last night to watch the Tour de France on the Sky HDi box installed yesterday, and, as expected, the last alpine stage looked breathtaking. I wasn't keeping track of the race so much as gazing slack-jawed at the sweeping aerial shots in HD.

The box itself is similar enough to the MySky that it replaced that it uses the same remote control (the installer even left the old controller), and existing MySky users will have no trouble using the quicker, cleaner-looking interface. It's still a remarkably good consumer device.

The HDi has three tuners, so you can record two programmes while you watch another, and a built-in splitter rather than the clunky external one the MySky uses. It wasn't perfect out of the box -- our one needed an over-the-air software upgrade before it could see both LNBs on our rooftop dish.

And, of course, it receives Sky's four digital channels -- Sports 1 and 2, Sky Movies 1 and Sky Movie Greats -- plus the HD broadcasts from TV3. (The channels cost $10 a month, but they allowed us to cancel the Rugby Channel and Rialto, so it worked out neutral.)

There was the odd glitch there too -- England-SA cricket highlights appeared in 4:3 format without sound for 10 minutes before suddenly appearing in HD widescreen. When they did, the effect was quite striking. Seeing the beads of sweat glistening on Dale Steyn's forehead as he paused at the top of his run-up suggested that sometimes sports in HD is going to mean getting closer than you really want to get. (But am I looking forward to the rugby on Saturday? Oh yes.)

Also, although Sky announced the channels would be broadcast in 1080i format, they're all showing up as 720p on my TV. Resolution nerds can argue about that one. The sound on the HD broadcasts is in 5.1 format, but even through TV speakers it sounded notably better than the standard broadcasts. Which is, in part a commentary on the technical quality of some of Sky standard broadcasts.

Sky's offering is pretty clear: sports and movies, including a good library of older movie titles converted to HD. I haven't had a chance to compare the TV3 pictures between Sky and Freeview, but the colours on one movie last night were nastily over-saturated, suggesting again that Sky's offering still needs a little tweaking.

Now that TV sets with integrated Freeview HD tuners are on the market, I think it will split up fairly tidily. Freeview will be your broadcast TV, and you'll choose whether pay for premium programming on Sky.

This is the last time that a free-to-air broadcaster will own the rights to Olympic coverage -- Sky has rights to the next Winter Olympics and the 2012 summer games in London. A lot of people will be watching to see how well the games drive Freeview uptake. And in 2012, where will non Sky subscribers be able to view the games coverage? It will be on Prime, via Sky. But I would not be at all surprised if it was also carried on TV3, via both Sky and Freeview HD.

PS: TVNZ's Olympics site launched this week (the designers look to have made the very most of the constraints imposed by the ageing site templates) and will stream four channels of video coverage during the games.

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