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The bizarre love triangle over digital television

Friday 15th December 2000

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MUSICAL BEDS: Nate Smith, Marian Hobbs and Graeme Hunter

By Michele Simpson

Sky, TVNZ and TV3 had a messy menage a trois in the race to go digital this year.

Sky already had the jump on Television New Zealand and Canwest's TV3 but the new government threw everything into disarray.

The messy business of the John Hawkesby $5.2 million payout was the background against which TVNZ chairman Rosanne Meo left her job.

TVNZ restructured its board and had several working documents during the year to formulate a charter, and for 11 months the public was left wondering if the state-owned enterprise would pursue digital television after its initial plans under National were shelved.

Finally last month it was revealed TVNZ would go ahead with a digital plan not with Sky Television, which had been an strong option, but with Telstra Saturn.

The broadcasting arm of TVNZ, BCL, is now being probed by Broadcasting Minister Marian Hobbs as a possible separate SOE from the television network.

TVNZ and Sky Television have never really got back on to each other's Christmas card list after TVNZ sold its shareholding in June last year and then pulled Holmes and its network news off the service.

New chairman Ross Armstrong had been talking to Sky chief executive Nate Smith, but no deal was ever forged for a digital partnership.

Several days after TVNZ announced its plans for a digital venture with Telstra Saturn Mr Smith went public on his sudden departure from the network and his plans to head back to his home country, the US. Chief operating officer John Fellet will take over in the new year.

TV3, which has forged closer links with Sky Network Television through its sports contracts for cricket and rugby, lost its managing director, Graeme Hunter.

Mr Hunter left in September with two new positions being created following his departure. Brent Impey has expanded his role in the Canadian company, taking over as chief executive of Canwest's entire media operation in New Zealand - including the radio division.

Canadian Rick Friesen has been brought over to take over Mr Hunter's position.

TV3 has had a tough year - this month it posted a net loss of $19.9 million before tax for the year ended August 31, 2000. But there is some recompense as revenue lifted 14% to $95.5 million.

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