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Southland Television



Southland Television

The board of CRT (Combined Rural Traders) was the main catalyst behind 'Mercury Television', a new regional station to be based in Invercargill, New Zealand.  Invercargill is a city of about 45,000 and is part of the Southland province, known for it's farming and strong contribution to the country's GDP.
The station went on-air on October 31st, 1996, with much celebration from the staff and viewers.  It broadcasted on VHF Channel 5, being the last New Zealand station to recieve a VHF license. Competing with a local newspaper and several local radio stations, Mercury TV broadcasted approximately 8-12 hours each day, and filled the rest of the time with satellite feeds, such as TVSN and Bloomberg.  During the first five years, the station changed hands several times, mostly due to the unprofitable industry that regional TV is.  FTN (Family Television Network) took over the station, importing much of the programming already used at it's network stations around the country.  The station again changed hands after FTN's rein, to be part of the large West Media 175 chain, a company based in the UK and famous for cooking programmes.  West Media owned a couple of other South Island TV stations, as well as an Internet company and other New Zealand-based ventures.
The new owners helped to bring the station back on it's feet, and into brand-new premises too.  When Mercury opened, it was based inside a former bank, and while large premises suited the business originally, over time the building came of age.  The station moved to the ground floor of the State Insurance building, the tallest inner-city building.  A higher line-of-sight to it's Forest Hill transmission site meant a better-looking picture, and a custom-wired studio meant better productivity.
West Media decided to sell its New Zealand assets, and it's two other regional stations closed, leaving many out of work.  Seeing that his workers would also become unemployed, Mercury TV's manager Tom Conroy bought the station himself.  The channel had become quite successful by this time, even in a difficult market.
Conroy soon found a co-owner for the station, local investment company 'Invest South' whose assets included tourist attractions such as the Kingston Flyer train.  The challenge now was to make the station find it's feet yet again.
The answer:  Change the name of the station to 'Southland TV', make it a 24-hour channel, and have it broadcast nationwide on the Sky Digital satellite service.
On September 1st 2003, the changover happened, with a huge amount of upgrading required to complete the task.  As well as the Forest Hill transmission link, a new link to Hedgehope was installed to serve the Sky viewers, who now could view the station with much more definition than before.  After initial technical problems, the station settled in to the 24/7 routine.  Feedback from around the country confirmed the success of the idea.  Another partnership for the station was to join with the local tertiary provider, the Southern Institute of Technology, to turn most of the off-peak programming into distance learning programmes.
Southland TV continues to broadcast, every hour of every day, on Sky Digital Channel 90 in New Zealand.

Special thanks to Damien Service for the Mercury logo!