The evolution of television

Glued to the goggle-box – a 2006 cartoon (click for image credit)

Glued to the goggle-box – a 2006 cartoon (click for image credit)

Yesterday I bought a cable to connect my computer to the television. Now I’ll be able to stream TV programmes on demand, and watch them on the big (well, 30-inch) screen. This isn’t new, but if you read my blog about going digital, you’ll know it takes a while for me to catch up.

It got me thinking about how much television viewing has changed since it was introduced more than 50 years ago.

Auckland was the first region to get television, in June 1960. The service began just one day a week, but by July had increased to Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and to five weekday broadcasts in October. Services to Christchurch and Wellington started in 1961, with Dunedin following in 1962.

Schedules published in the NZ Listener in June 1960 for NZBS TV Channel Two Auckland record that a selection of British and American programmes  (opening with The adventures of Robin Hood) were broadcast in a two-hour slot from 7.30 p.m. Closedown was at 9.30 p.m! The line-up was interspersed with a couple of short studio items.  On opening night Studio Two featured the Howard Morrison Quartet, and on another night was ‘a musical interlude by Pat McMinn and the Crombie Murdoch Trio’.

News was flown in from the British Commonwealth International Newsfilm Agency (Visnews). Most other programmes were also imported, and as a Listener article reported, ‘A balance has also been struck between their places of origin. Nobody will be forced to listen to, say, American voices all night.’

However, Kiwi voices and local content were scarce in the early days of television. Māori programme content was even rarer, as Tainui Stephens outlines in the Māori and television – whakaata entry. Programmes featuring Māori were generally limited to light entertainment or were made from a Pākehā perspective. The establishment of a Maori Production Unit in TVNZ helped to change this with the production of series such Koha, Waka huia and Te karere in the 1980s.

There was a significant rise in the production of local content in the early 1990s, likely a result of the establishment of the television funding body NZ On Air in 1989. This was a time that local documentaries made by independent production companies flourished. The setting up of a third television channel  – TV3 – also provided an outlet for more local programmes and for competition.

In the Television entry, Trisha Dunleavy outlines the history of various genres of television, including our enjoyment of rural programmes such as our longest-running series, Country calendar.  She also describes three main eras of New Zealand television history – scarcity, availability and plenty.

That brings me back to the digital plenty now accessible to me through multiple platforms such as streaming from the internet. We are a small island nation, and personally I enjoy looking outward to what the rest of the world offers. Equally, I love to hear our voices on screen and to experience New Zealanders’ unique stories and perspectives.

This month Te Ara is highlighting its entries about television. I hope you enjoy reading about its history in New Zealand, marvel at how far it has come, and perhaps wonder how you’d like it to develop.

PS I would like to acknowledge Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision for collecting, preserving and making accessible our television history; also NZ On Screen for showcasing it.

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