Posts

View from the Top banner

Last week Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi announced the names of a panel to finalise the business case for the merger of TVNZ and Radio NZ. It’s members are:

  • Chair—former NZ First party deputy leader Tracey Martin.
  • Broadcasting Standards Authority chair Glen Scanlon – a former head of news at RNZ.
  • Former MediaWorks chief executive Michael Anderson.
  • TV producer, former reporter  and member of Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council Bailey Mackey.
  • Broadcasting and technology consultant William Earl.
  • Dr Trisha Dunleavy, Victoria University of Wellington media academic.
  • Producer Sandra Kailahi, former journalist at TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika, Te Karere and Fair Go.
  • John Quirk, former chair and director of state-owner transmission company Kordia.

This panel has till mid-year to come up with its plan, to go to Cabinet before the end of the year. Its expected to allow for a mixed model of funding, with monies to flow to the merged entity from both Government and advertising.

Free-to-air broadcasting has seen a considerable decline in advertising revenue to the point where two years ago revenue versus expenditure at TVNZ was even. Consequently, TVNZ announced that there were not going to be paying a dividend to the Government. The decline had come primarily at the hand of online advertising, with Google, Facebook and other digital advertising channels benefitting at the expense of free-to-air.

Over the last couple of years, however, TVNZ’s revenue situation has improved, thanks to an improved share of TV market revenue , growth in digital advertising and a move to more locally produced content and a streamer-forced move away from acquired international content.

TVNZ had astutely recognised the value of a digital video platform and ploughed significant investment and resources into its Advertising Video on Demand service TVNZ OnDemand. In 2014 when NZ On Air started its ‘Where Are the Audiences’ research, TV2’s share of the 5+ audience was 27% while OnDemand’s was 7%. In 2020, OnDemand’s share was 21% while TV2’s was 14%.

Radio New Zealand meanwhile has gone from strength to strength. In 2020, a nationwide survey found that RNZ National has become the first New Zealand radio station to record more than 700,000 different listeners each week. CEO Paul Thompson attributed this to the public wanting a trusted source of news. Understandable in the era of fake news. RNZ has also seen growth in its digital channels.

The key concern for many is the merging of the non-advertising public broadcaster Radio NZ with the highly commercial public broadcaster TVNZ. The boards of the organisations reflect the non-commercial and commercial remits of the broadcasting entities.

If the panel wanted to stick to the adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, they’d leave TVNZ OnDemand and Radio NZ alone, most likely turn TV One into a true public free-to-air broadcaster, and dump TV2. But would the advertising revenue from OnDemand be sufficient?

Even with AVOD revenues in a number of countries expected to quadruple in the next five years, it’s doubtful OnDemand would make a big enough contribution to the bottom line with NZ’s small market.

The U.S.’s public broadcaster, National Public Media (NPM) provides a viable revenue-generation option. NPM, which includes National Public Radio (NPR), TV via Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and their digital platforms runs a very specific kind of sponsorship and advertising model that is a proven revenue generator alongside a highly trusted public broadcaster brand. You can learn more about it here. Together with advertising-free content on TV One turned into Ad-supported content when moved to OnDemand, there probably would be sufficient revenues and maybe even some profit from the rejigged organisation.

Installing a completely new board for the new entity, putting RNZ CEO Paul Thompson in charge and making Kevin Kendrick responsible for the commercial arm—just like panel member Bill Earl was in charge of TVNZ Enterprises all those years ago—would play to their strengths as well. Kendrick would undoubtedly find other ways to generate revenue if he were willing to stay in essentially a demoted position.

I’ll be interested to see if my back-of-the-napkin business plan is close or wildly off the mark in July.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

View from the Top banner

The standoff between the Australian Government and the global digital platforms has been a fascinating insight into the power the platforms, particularly Facebook, now hold.

Australia’s News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, just passed by the Australian Senate in the last 24 hours, allows the Australian Treasurer to designate global platforms who then must start negotiating with news businesses about how much to pay them for content through mediation, or if that fails, arbitration.

None of the platforms were happy with the thought of having to pay for something they have been getting for free up until now. And nor did they care that the advantage they had was driving news publishers out of business. However, the big stick of proposed legislation forced Google to reach deals with some major Australian news media outlets. It’s highly likely though that this would never have come about if Bill Gates and Microsoft hadn’t stepped into the breach with the threat of its search engine Bing replacing Google—sufficient enough a concern for Google to cave in.

Facebook however is a different matter. It’s such an all-pervasive platform with no real competition that Mark Zuckerberg felt emboldened enough to cut Australian news feeds from Facebook rather than pay up. An unintended consequence of this was to remove from Facebook Australian-originated information that was considered vital, such as that from health services providing Covid information, charities, food banks, and other important sources. Additionally, the removal of trusted news sources also reignited criticism of Facebook as a promoter of conspiracy theories and fake news.

Facebook’s bullying tactics were lambasted by UK and European Governments, but they did in fact force the Australian Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, to amend the proposed bill. Rather than all platforms being designated from Day 1, the Treasurer is required to give 30-day’s notice before a platform goes on the list. And Facebook gets to avoid going on the list at this point.

There has been considerable criticism of the Australian Government’s bill from a variety of sources, ranging from that it’s an incredibly blunt instrument to it being favourable towards the major Australian media players while doing nothing for small publishers. There’s more to come on this David vs Goliath battle but Round One seems to have gone to Facebook.

Meanwhile, at the Australian screen producers conference Screen Forever, Australian producers decried the Australian Government’s deregulation of Australia’s commercial networks while failing to regulate Subscription Video On Demand providers like Netflix. Deregulation means the screen industry there has lost the stringent quotas for local content that used to be required of the networks. At the same time, the Producer Offset—the Australian equivalent of the New Zealand Production Grant–for feature film was also lowered from 40% to 30%. These two hits created significant uncertainty about the ability of many Australian production companies to survive. Although there is a mooted requirement from the Aussie Government that SVODs and AVODs invest a percentage of their revenue on Australian content in the form of commissions, co-productions and acquisitions, it’s only in its early consultation phase with nothing concrete expected should it come to pass for some time. While a figure of five percent of revenue has been flagged by Government there as a level streamers would be required to invest in Australian content, amongst the production community 20 per cent is being touted as much more realistic.

This side of the Tasman it’s far too easy to say that the New Zealand Government is being gutless by avoiding to talk about any kind of regulation of global platforms or SVODs. I’m hoping that doesn’t prove to be true.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

View from the Top banner

My op-ed this week is devoted to personal musings in the lead up to the NZ Screen Sector Strategy hui, and the changing nature of the screen industry as we know it.

Colin Peacock on the Radio New Zealand website wrote on the weekend about ‘Convergence’: what it is and what it has led to—telecommunications and broadcasting merging due to digital technology and the Internet.

One outcome of the convergence that’s happened here, which I wrote about last newsletter, was the TVNZ board reporting to Government that it will not be paying a dividend for the foreseeable future.

In the same RNZ convergence article, TVNZ CEO Kevin Kenrick is quoted as saying that TVNZ will refine the data from TVNZ OnDemand users to allow advertisers to tightly target ads to online viewers.

Following last year’s revamp of TVNZ OnDemand, RNZ also reported Kendrick as saying, “Consumers of online video are pretty clear they pay with their wallet, their data or their time. We’re in an ad-funded world.”

With no profits in sight and the Government forgiving TVNZ its requirement as a state-owned company to deliver a dividend, is it time to turn TVNZ back into a public broadcaster and forget about advertising as the main revenue stream?

If convergence is the reality, how about converging ONE, TVNZ 2, DUKE, TVNZ OnDemand and Radio NZ into a new media powerhouse for public broadcasting? Let’s call it Aotearoa Media Powerhouse – Digital (AMP-D) for ease.

The commitment by Kendrick to a significant increase in local content, the mix between local and international shifting markedly towards local, and investment in an online future while making that content available across more devices would make absolute sense for AMP-D. This would parallel the efforts the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) are making to survive.

Granted, TVNZ would be moving from a business that cost close to $300 million to run in 2018—essentially what they earn from advertising—to a public broadcaster that has to find other ways to earn revenue.

How about an AMP-D Studios along the lines of BBC Studios, whose remit is to produce and market programmes not only for the BBC, but for other broadcasters on the open market at home and internationally, returning profits back to the BBC. AMP-D Studios would give the commercially inclined at TVNZ a new playground to play in.

Perhaps the greatest benefit to AMP-D is we’d get away from this navel-gazing that differentiates New Zealand content for local audiences, which is fragmenting away before our eyes. AMP-D Studios and independents could produce programming that is—to steal something else from the BBC—distinctive (in our case NZ), world-class content. Why couldn’t AMP-D Studios generate shows like The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen, produced by Danish public broadcaster DR, which sold all around the world? There’d have to be a cap to how much of the public purse AMP-D Studios could get, though.

AMP-D could also generate news and current affairs nationally in a revenue generating service to commercial media companies, much as the NZ Press Association and the worldwide video news service Visnews did previously. This would allow the commercials to put their own spin on the content without the major cost of resourcing.

AMP-D OnDemand could have two operational tiers: Subscriber Video On Demand (SVOD) that’s ad-free and costs a monthly fee, and Ad-Supported Video On Demand (AVOD) that carries advertising in a free-to-air service. Hulu already operates this hybrid system.

In such a new environment, it would make sense for NZ On Air and the NZ Film Commission to ‘converge’. Let’s call this the Aotearoa Media Fund (AMF). AMF could manage the discretionary funding allotted to it to spend between broadcast, digital audio-visual content for the Internet, film and radio.

To really power AMP-D up, AMF could be required to stop funding content on the commercial platforms, dedicate its funding to AMP-D and meet its requirement to deliver great New Zealand content that is valued and enjoyed by many New Zealand audiences on multiple public broadcasting platforms. A cap in funding for internal production for both screen and radio content could be levelled to ensure independent production companies could operate in the new environment.

AMP-D could benefit local feature films by being required to carry all films funded by AMF, guaranteeing free-to air play to New Zealand audiences for every NZ film, which doesn’t happen now. The best films would get significant marketing and promotion. The not-so-good would get buried in AMP-D OnDemand—the same for not-so-great content on Netflix—where they’d sit for those still interested enough to search them out. (Smart Kiwi producers could take a page out of Norwegian producer Anders Tange’s book on how to build an audience independently of a streamer as he did for his Viking comedy Norsemen on Netflix.)

It’s almost certain that there would be an increased cost to establishing and running AMP-D that would take a long time to mitigate if ever, even with the efficiencies of a combined entity. That would be the cost of continued existence.

But perhaps it might be useful to compare New Zealand content and its industry to the kakapo — an endangered species that’s potentially headed towards extinction if we don’t do something paradigm-shifting to save it.

“What about us?”, the commercial platforms here would scream?

Frankly, it’s a fight for survival and we have to ensure first and foremost that our content and our platforms survive and flourish in the brave new world that’s upon us. Sorry, you commercial guys, you’re going to have to sort it for yourselves. Or maybe ‘converge’.  And if they withered and died, maybe it would all be for the better for AMP-D. After all, it would still have to face Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney +, HBO +, Hulu and others. Heck, AMP-D might even have to team up with the public broadcasters in Australia, Canada, the UK, the U.S. and elsewhere to live to fight another day. Such collaborations are already happening in Europe.

I’m happy for anyone to shoot holes in my postulations above. I’ve only spent a couple of hours daydreaming, not weeks and months devising a strategy. The intent is to get you to do more thinking about our industry with the screen sector strategy upon us. We can now imagine our own futures and let Government know.

We are going to be sending out the list of questions I wrote about in the last blog to everyone on our database. We want your thoughts about the direction the New Zealand’s screen industry should go. So please take the time to ponder, write to and or tell the Screen Sector Strategy NZ and DEGNZ your opinions. We’ll make sure we collate them and submit them from the Guild along with our thinking, so that we all have a say.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director