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Wai TV’s making waves

Toby Mills, right, who created Wairarapa TV, this week signed an agreement with Changchun Television in China. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
[email protected]

When Toby Mills first dreamt up starting his own television station, he didn’t anticipate revolutionising the way people got their daily telly fix.

But just 18 months after Wairarapa TV launched, the channel is making waves globally with technologies never tried before.

Mr Mills, from Masterton, is the mastermind behind the region’s community channel, which costs absolutely nothing to run and is operated entirely through AI, or artificial intelligence.

A self-proclaimed IT geek, Mr Mills came up with the idea on a plane home from Sydney.

Four months later, he had made it a reality – but only after discovering that he would have to build the technology himself.

“When I had the idea, I thought this would be cool, and I went out there looking for the software and the systems to do it, but it just doesn’t exist – no one’s done it.

“TV channels are normally built around large organisations with lots and lots of people and it’s just too expensive to do in a small place like Wairarapa, so you’ve got to build software and systems that can do it without needing all the people and money.”

Wairarapa TV has no premises.

The channel is virtually cloud-based.

An AI scheduler determines which shows are broadcast and when.

“I don’t have to do anything,” Mr Mills said.

Wairarapa TV gave the community a voice, but also demonstrated the new tech to the world.

Mr Mills said there had been a lot of interest and he had sold the tech to overseas organisations.

Most regional TV stations in New Zealand had closed due to financial hardship, he said.

“Wairarapa TV is a really good model, because there’s no ongoing running costs.”

People tuning in to the station will see a quick response code pop up on the screen, with a like and dislike icon.

Watchers scanning the codes assist the AI in scheduling the programmes.

Wairarapa TV is a social enterprise, a status which means it receives diverse content for free.

This included content from US space agency, Nasa, which was not aired by other New Zealand broadcasters, educational shows with one featuring “an hour full of random facts that you’d never think to learn or know about”, and an arts show where a man visits Kiwi and Australian artists on his motorcycle.

Arrow FM also has many of its weekly radio shows going out on Wairarapa TV.

Mr Mills said he was always after more local content for the channel.

The main avenue to watch Wairarapa TV is through the Freeview platform on channel 41.

It is also available to view through YouTube, and on the Wairarapa TV phone app, with the option of watching shows on demand.

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