Hard News by Russell Brown


On Telly, Telly Off

Sometimes when I read Tim Selwyn, I find myself looking for some signal of irony; a sign that he's not really saying that. Surely. But it's really best to just relax and absorb the prose, because he writes with such colour that it might be a modern answer to the brilliantly-expressed tosh of A.R.D. Fairburn, if only it weren't so dark sometimes.

Case in point: Tim's meditation on receipt of a letter from the government warning of the Auckland region's digital switchover ("I haven’t opened it yet, it’s still Schrodinger’s letter."). For Tim, it's as if not just fuzzy old analogue television that will die in December, but TV itself.

Not sure how many people will be fumbling about on the roof with their aerials trying to find the fault, and writing strongly worded letters to the NZ Listener in spindly geriatric script, but they will be out there. And good luck trying to explain to them why something called Freeview is going to cost them at least $70.

And better luck explaining the concept of rain fade and signal loss and why it pixillates after you’ve just delivered the lecture about how the government had to go digital and change frequencies because the signal was better – or was supposed to be better.

And also best of British in selling them on the flagship technology of the Electronic Programme Guide when they only watch TV One and they already get the listings in the paper.

And they will continue to watch through their Pye Colormatic or National Visitron or whatever mini-Chernobyl/Fukishima cathode ray tube that they have sat in front of since RD Muldoon gave them permission to buy it in 1976, so the change will be underwhelming, and a hassle for these folk. Promising a new Ferrari that is prone to breaking down randomly is not as appealing as a dependable Datsun Sunny for many, no matter how shiny the badge.

I'm not sure how many CRT sets are still out there -- you can't even give them to op shops these days -- let alone vintage cabinets from the 70s stuck on TV One, but Tim's right, they'll be out there. And it stands to reason there will be a few viewers bypassed by all the switchover publicity and the letters from the government and assistance for beneficiaries to get a decoder box. As each region has gone digital, there must have been people for whom TV just ceased. What did they do?

Tim's in a bit of a dream about the quality and reliability of the analogue broadcasts. Unless you live in a non-coverage area, your Freeview terrestrial signal will look and sound better than the old analogue broadcast did. It'll quite probably be fine on rabbit ears. No ghosting, and I've actually never experienced rainfade on a terrestrial signal.

But perhaps he is right to be disappointed about digital television. I genuinely thought that six years into the Freeview era, TV would be better, at least in the sense that it would offer more choice. It has become better if you're a Chinese Aucklander or an evangelical Christian: there are whole channels for your community. But with the exception of Maori Television the early promise of diverse, public-good free-to-air television has been shut down. It's the era of the +1 channel because there's not much scope for more.

There is some innovation coming. For one, QuickFlix, the enterprising on-demand internet service, will show up as a Freeview channel in the Freeview EPG and might even offer some free programming. I imagine Tim could type something very bleak about that.


So as to end happily, today is the fifth birthday of NZ On Screen. It turns five positively humming along, and as part of the cultural landscape.

To mark the anniversary, the team has compiled an all-time Top 20 -- from "always blow on the pie" to Patu! and Angela D'Audney's briefly scandalising boobies -- and a new spotlight called Now We Are Five, which features excerpts from Spot On, After School, Play School and more. It's a shame most of those aren't embeddable as a condition of the licence from TVNZ, but it's wonderful that people have been able to revisit our screen heritage like this.

Among my favourites: the excerpt from This Is New Zealand, which need its own special super-wide player. And the arty, slightly sulky Games 74, which contains many memories of place for Christchurch residents.

Thats part of the Christchurch Collection, which also incudes a Media7 special -- and something quite different from our usual fare, Blair Parkes' Chimney Book, which was commissioned for a Public Address Great Blend. It very much deserves to be there:


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