TV channel faces licence fee dilemma

Oamaru television channel 45 South is preparing to fight through yet more bureaucratic roadblocks once all New Zealand TV signals switch to digital next year.

The channel, which has been broadcasting across the town since 2006, already holds a Digital TV licence and is now broadcasting in digital, but 45 South Television chairman Tony Reynolds said the licence had been obtained despite opposition from the Government, and more challenges lay ahead.

"It has been very, very difficult from our point of view, because they weren't going to issue us with a licence at all. We were supposed to just disappear, but with a lot of public support we managed to persuade them to give us a digital licence."

Mr Reynolds said the channel had a licence to broadcast from its own digital platform and was running 45 South digital, an information channel, TV3, QTV, Prime and Trackside, but it was now faced with the possibility of having to pay a large bill in order to continue.

He said although the digital broadcast licence cost only about $450 a year, the resource and values side of the fee was based on population figures in the broadcast area.

"The real long-term licence falls due in November next year, and then we have to find somewhere in the region of $12,000 to $13,000, up front, in one go.

"That's going to be a major hurdle for us, because that's about the whole revenue for our station for one year."

However, the organisation had "its fingers crossed" that it could successfully lobby to be allowed to pay the money in separate payments because it was not a commercial operation, he said.

"If we can't raise the money by that time and if they don't give us a concession, it could be the end, but I'm sure we will.

"If necessary we will have to re-appeal to our public, but hopefully it won't come to that."

The Government was also trying to exclude the channel from a $70,000 grant that was made available to TV broadcasters to update equipment in time for the digital switchover in April, he said.

"One of the criteria for getting it was to be in a Digital Terrestrial Transmission (DTT) area, and basically we were not - until we got our signal in the air, and then I said yes we are, we are now in our own DTT area. That point will be argued vigorously when we put in to get it [funding] within the next two to three months."

If the assistance was not made available it would not affect the channel's ability to broadcast, and the station would still broadcast after the change, he said.

"We are up and running in digital, but we would like to do more. Everything that we have changed to digital on we have done on our own resources, but it has limitations and we would like to invest in new equipment."