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By Ulamila Kurai-Marrie.

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Dec. 24) - Television viewers in the Cook Islands may soon enjoy a 12-channel pay television service, Sky Pacific, which is being beamed by neighboring Fiji Television Limited.

Fiji TV, which currently offers its local viewers pay TV called Sky Fiji, is hoping to introduce its service to regional countries by early next year.

George Pitt of Elijah Communications, which is the parent company of Cook Islands Television, says that Fiji TV has kept regional broadcasters up to date with their plans for the last two years.

"They have no obligation to provide for anyone else but for the whole of Fiji only. Our place is too small and we are geographically disadvantaged ... but we are keeping our fingers crossed that it is a viable proposition to also include the Cook Islands," Pitt said.

Telecom Cook Islands chief executive officer Stuart Davies says that they are also aware of Fiji TV's interest. Last week it announced that the subscription fee in Fiji would be FJ$55 (NZ$46) per month.

However, Fiji TV's chief executive officer Ken Clark says that details are yet to be developed for the other areas in which Sky Pacific will be offered and "we will expect to consult widely before the final decisions are made and a range of options for the acquisition of the necessary hardware will be available".

Sky Pacific is currently in an experimental mode. The full service will carry a total of twelve channels, but only five or six are currently being uplinked to the satellite.

"We are delighted that the signal is being watched in many parts of the Pacific region - all the way from the Cook Islands to New Zealand and around the edge of the Pacific rim," Clarke said. "However, it needs to be noted that the full service will not be complete until January and we expect to roll out very early in 2005."

Clarke says that no arrangement for distribution has yet been made in any of the regional countries.

"We have strong and valuable relationships with terrestrial television program people and companies and we will want to ensure that we preserve those relationships," he said. "We will also have an obligation to ensure that our business development moves along at an acceptable pace. There may be a delicate balance required.

"Further, while the programming is running in the clear right now as we get the system set up - the signal will be scrambled very soon. No terrestrial broadcaster is authorised to broadcast those signals at the moment and we will have to ensure that copyright issues are carefully handled."

Last Sunday night Rarotonga viewers got a peek of what Sky Pacific has to offer, following normal programming on Cook Islands TV. The TV station apparently told Fiji that the screening was an "engineering error."

January 3, 2005

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