Freeview general manager Sam Irvine departs

After a decade-long stint, Freeview general manager Sam Irvine has confirmed that he will be leaving the organisation to take up the role of chief operating officer at Isthmus Group.

Irvine first joined Freeview in 2007 as a marketing manager, before moving into the general manager role in 2009.

During these years, Irvine found himself at the centre of some major changes in the television industry.

Irvine’s first big challenge at the organisation involved the move from analogue to digital television.

The local market was able to traverse the digital fence in about five years, which Irvine says is quick by international standards.

“It took Australia about three times as long and the UK about four times as long as that,” he says.  

He puts the success in the local market down to the willingness of local broadcasters to work together when they needed to.

“It was done without any need for legislation or government intervention, whereas this wasn’t the case in other markets,” he says.

This collaborative approach is also evident in KPEX, which counts both TVNZ and MediaWorks as founding partners (along with NZME and Fairfax).

In addition to this collaboration, Irvine adds that the New Zealand public also played an important role in adopting the technology early.

“We tend to be quite an open nation [when it comes to adopting new technology],” he says. “You also saw this when EFTPOS first became available. One exception could be smartphones, but that might have had something to do with initial data or usage costs.”

For users to adopt new technology, information about that technology must first reach the public consciousness. And, over the course of his tenure, Irvine has on various occasions aimed to spread the word about Freeview via a range of television commercials.

The initial Freeview launch campaign was developed by Whybin\TBWA, and Irvine fondly remembers the experience of working with creative Andy Blood on the first few clips.

Later the brand moved across to Shine, which introduced the malleable blob Fergus, and then onto True, which released an ad starring Pio Terei.


The aim of the earlier videos was to familiarise New Zealanders with what Freeview offered and how the service worked.

This educational approach again became important with the 2015 launch of FreeviewPlus, which looked to integrate free-to-air and on-demand into a single viewing experience.

By 2016 Freeview had moved on to working directly with TVNZ Blacksand, which unleashed the delightfully creepy talents of actor Chris Parker to educate the masses.

Today, over 1.2 million Kiwi homes have access to Freeview (over 70 percent), and much of the public has become comfortable using the services available. 

For this reason, Freeview has moved on from educating viewers to focusing on what is facilitated by the technology.

A campaign released earlier this year, again via TVNZ Blacksand, emphasises the free entertainment available through the interface.

Irvine sees parallels in the telco industry, which similarly has moved away from bombarding viewers with information about new gadgetry to highlighting the common experiences enabled by smartphones, broadband and apps.

While Irvine is set to leave his post in March, he says the journey for the company is far from over.

He says the main objective at the moment is to redevelop FreeviewPlus to ensure that the integration of free-to-air and on-demand is as seamless as possible.

“On-demand is a daily obligation, so you’ll probably see the Freeview team grow in coming months,” he says.

But those obligations will now transfer to Irvine’s replacement, who is set to be announced in a few weeks.  

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