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If you do a search on the Interweb, one of the definitions of a disruptor in business reads:

To be a disruptor is to create a product, service, or way of doing things which displaces the existing market leaders and eventually replaces them at the helm of the sector. Disruptors are generally entrepreneurs, outsiders, and idealists rather than industry insiders or market specialists.

Netflix is a great example of a disruptor. It started as a DVD rental company posting DVDs to customers before becoming the first major streamer. It now dominates screen content creation, delivery and the Hollywood studios globally. How long it maintains that dominant position remains to be seen—it’s certainly the hare among the tortoises. But those tortoises are weighed down by money and muscle through their parent entities as much by hard and relatively inflexible exteriors and slow-moving parts.

I’d posit though that COVID-19 is the ultimate disruptor. It’s creating dramatic change in the way of doing things that even if we overcome it with a vaccine, it has wrought such rapid transformation to business that just a year ago we would have considered inconceivable. We can see that transformation occurring right now, in the screen industry, in New Zealand. Anyone who watched the NZFC/NZ On Air/TMP webinar this week on the Premium Production for International Audience Fund saw an example of it in action.

In the Screen Sector Strategy, one of the ten initiatives in the short-term plan is to work with the Government to modernise the regulation that shapes the sector. I can tell you after two and a half years of working on the Copyright Act Review with Government and at least another year of work ahead, my expectations of quickly modernising the regulation that shapes the sector was not great.

Like the studios, our screen bureaucracy and Government around it is a cumbersome beast, pretty resistant to significant change. Note how we’ve sat on the sidelines as the Golden Age of Television reshaped the global screen industry. Or Netflix changed the screen content business model for creation, distribution, revenue flows and ownership. Or a commercially driven public broadcaster became a loss-making entity with a still-beating commercial heart and a decidedly permanent-looking hand in the taxpayer pocket.

But then COVID.

Now our screen bureaucracy is moving it’s stumpy little legs so fast in COVID recovery mode we are seeing changes mooted for rapid implementation or in place that in the old normal would have taken forever to bring about.

Such as in the Premium Production Fund:

• allowing productions to access NZ On Air funding and the New Zealand Screen Production Grant for drama.
• permitting productions to have no minimum level of Aotearoa New Zealand content.
• Requiring only a minimum level of private international investment for eligibility set at 10% of a production’s total value for TV.
• Doing away with the need for an NZ Free-to-Air broadcaster to get across the line.

Or in the COVID 19 Policy for the NZFC Terms of Trade for films under $2.5 million:

• dispensing with the requirement to have a distributor AND sales agent
• doing away with the need for an NZ theatrical release
• allowing a VOD platform as a distribution partner

I’m not sure if we are ever going to catch the hare, but I can certainly feel my hair—now longer due to COVID—getting ruffled with the winds of change.

Bring on the NZ Broadcasting Act and NZ Film Commission Act reform.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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Well it’s happening. The SVOD wars have really kicked off.

Apple TV+ debuted in New Zealand on 1 November with 14 original shows. Very much a tortoise approach from Apple, and you don’t have to pay for it for a year if you’ve bought an Apple product recently. Otherwise you’re up for $8.99/month.

Disney+ meanwhile will be off like a hare at the starting gates, launching more than 600 movies and shows from Day 1, being 12 November (19 Nov. in NZ). Expect every household in the country with kids to at least consider adding a subscription at $9.99/month.

NBCUniversal’s Peacock will soft launch in April 2020 with 15,000 hours of programming, while HBO Max comes online in May with more than 10,000 hours of programming.

Netflix is already feeling the heat.

FilmTake reports that Netflix lost subscribers for the first time in the U.S. since they started in 2011. It has likely reached saturation in the market, and we can expect to see the massive international growth of Netflix to slow or halt, or worse for them, decline.

We all thought Netflix was shaking the screen industry to its core, and it has. But it was primarily Google and Facebook that was impacting on New Zealand’s Free-to-Air market, taking advertising dollars away from TV screens.

The initial streaming entities in NZ did contribute to a decline in Free-to-Air viewership, but our Free-to-Air market was still holding up with significant numbers of New Zealanders continuing to watch mainstream TV. But is that going to be the case now with Disney+ and Apple+ in the market, together with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Neon, and Lightbox and with others to come?

You have to imagine that Neon and Lightbox are fretting about their continued existence, unless Neon has done a deal to retain HBO content and possibly keep HBO Max out of the NZ market. Spark-owned Lightbox will most likely be the first casualty unless their strategy has sport and other offerings in the wings. Spark has the All Blacks and cricket afterall. Unlike Peacock, who is mooted to pursue sport, news and live programming, Spark doesn’t have the programming and financial resources of NBC and Unversal to draw upon. It’s rumoured though that Lightbox is for sale. You’d need big cojones to step into that space , or cash+ and programming+. Streamers who don’t have studio majors and/or their parents as backers are really at a disadvantage. With Netflix now paying a premium to license shows because they are losing the content owned by their competitors, you can’t imagine our locally-owned streamers having deep enough pockets to play in the big leagues. And how much longer will our broadcasters be able to access the best of international product?

At TVNZ, Kevin Kendrick is focusing on more NZ content to differentiate its Free-to-Air and OnDemand brands and help to avoid the price wars on the international scene for programming. This is an area they are likely to be able to call their own, as we can’t expect the international SVODs to commission much here unless they are forced to as the Australians are seriously contemplating making them do. With reality TV to undoubtedly feature highly in the offering, is TVNZ really going to be able to keep NZ viewers in good numbers?

What about Three? Only the woman upstairs knows what’s going to happen there. The gossip: it’s going to be bought by… someone.

Kris Faafoi’s decision about what to do with the soon-to-be loss-making TVNZ and with public broadcasting becomes even more critical now.

And just as this is all happening, NZ On Air CEO Jane Wrightson resigns to become the new Retirement Commissioner.

Jane has done a fantastic job navigating NZ On Air through the tumultuous changes that have impacted on broadcasting in the 12 years she’s been at the helm. But has she been prescient?

In this now constantly changing screen industry world, we’ll undoubtedly find out if NZ On Air gets retired before Jane runs her course in her new job. We’ll certainly learn whether or not Netflix will survive. If you are a producer on a multi-year pay down schedule for the content you sold them, you are going to be hoping somebody will buy Netflix out rather than it going under. As of 30 September, Netflix reported US$12.43 billion in debt and they are adding to it to keep the originals and higher-priced acquisitions coming. That US$292 Netflix share price is definitely going to take a hit sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, hunker down and get binge watching. There’s going to be more than enough for everyone with one, two or three SVOD subscriptions… for a very long time.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director