New public service channel for Sky

Last updated 05:00 23/11/2012

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Sky Television is to host a new public service channel on its airwaves after striking a deal with Stratos Television founder Jim Blackman.

The channel, Face TV, will beam local and international news and current affairs on Sky's channel 89 from the beginning of February.

Much of the international content, such as Al Jazeera, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America, was available on Stratos Television through Sky, Freeview and TelstraClear before Blackman shut it down almost a year ago.

Blackman blamed Stratos' closure on the cost of moving regional channels to a digital format and the Government's lack of support for local programming or a national digital network for regional channels.

Sky has given the channel spectrum to Blackman in order to make Face TV viable. He hoped regional broadcasters would see it as a complement to their operations.

He had not yet approached them to sign up to the channel, but his Auckland-based Triangle TV channel would be the basis for Face TV's schedule.

Blackman said Face TV was different to Stratos and Triangle because it would have more of a public service focus, although the exact programming schedule was not yet decided.

"I believe it will have much more of a public service focus - we're aiming to increase the amount of local news and current affairs we do, we want to involve the community and the regions more, and get a much more reflective view of broadcasting both in New Zealand and overseas," he said.

"It won't be reality television, it will be more thought-provoking."

Victoria University media studies lecturer Dr Peter Thompson said, however, that "public service broadcasting" in the strict sense requires the public to have universal access to the channel, which is not possible behind Sky's subscription paywall.

Blackman said the establishment of Face TV as a pay channel was "the first step".

"The key thing for both of us [Sky and Face] is to get the brand and the audience established so that we can assess where we go from there, and whatever we do I think we will work together on it."

Sky chief executive John Fellet said the rationale for hosting the channel was commercial as he had noticed a dip in Sky subscribers' overall viewership when Stratos went off the air.

Stratos, which Sky carried through a link with Freeview, often had higher viewer numbers than CNN among Sky subscribers, he said.

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