Igloo pay-TV details released

Telecom is sitting on the sidelines as Sky TV and Television New Zealand take the wraps off discount pay-television service Igloo, dampening speculation of a partnership that could make it easier for customers of the new service to download pay-per-view television.

A website for Igloo was visible briefly yesterday before it was taken offline. It said customers would be able to pay in advance for "30-day channel packs" that would let them watch 11 Sky channels. The channels will be broadcast using the same technology as FreeviewHD.

Sky's sports channels aren't included, but viewers will be able to pay to see "the best sports live" on a pay-per-view basis. They will also be able to rent "thousands of blockbuster movies and TV episodes" by downloading them to a set-top box over the internet.

Telecom has not agreed to provide unmetered access to those pay-per-view Igloo movies and TV shows in the same way it did agree to provide unmetered access to content streamed to TiVo set-top boxes through a partnership with TVNZ.

Telecom chief marketing officer Jason Paris said it did not know details of Igloo's service. "However, we are always pleased to see innovations that enable New Zealanders to get the most out of their internet services and are always open to new partnering opportunities that could provide benefits for our customers."

TelstraClear also indicated it had not agreed to unmeter Igloo pay-per-view content but said it was ''open to any approach''.

Deutsche Bank analyst Geoff Zame said pay-per-view sports events would be broadcast rather than streamed over the internet, so watching them would not eat into customers' broadband data caps.

Igloos' 11 pay-TV channels are BBC News, BBC Knowledge, UKTV, National Geographic, Animal Planet, Heartland, Vibe, Food Television, Kidzone24, MTV Hits and Comedy Central.

Customers will also be able to pick up FreeviewHD free-to-air television broadcasts, though there was speculation this morning that MediaWorks might seek to withhold its TV3 and channel Four programming data from Igloo's electronic programming guide. MediaWorks could not be reached for comment.  

Igloo is expected to either sell or rent customers a special digital set-top box. It said it would let viewers "pause" live TV and play music and home movies and view photos on their televisions.

Pricing for the set-top boxes and the 30-day channel packs have not yet been disclosed. Igloo will hold conferences in Auckland this afternoon at which it will brief analysts and the media.

Zame said Sky's partnering strategy made sense. "They are looking for the next wave of subscriber growth with the switch-off of analogue television and [Igloo] fills a niche between Freeview and full-blown pay-TV. The innovative aspect is going to be pay-per-view sports and what pricing they come up with to watch an All Blacks game."

The service could appeal to existing Sky subscribers with second homes, he said. "You go up to your beach house and you don't want to subscribe to sport the whole time, but you do want to watch the All Blacks match, and it makes sense to do it with TVNZ who have also got a whole lot of content."

A television industry source said Sky and TVNZ  which has a minority 49 per cent stake in the venture  would need to spend about $30 million to set up the service.

It will launch by June next year and will be available to the 86 per cent of New Zealanders who can currently receive FreeviewHD broadcasts using UHF aerials.

Igloo is marketing itself as a cheaper alternative to Sky's satellite television service, which is now believed to be in half of all homes.