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There are a few key unresolved issues in our sector and we are sitting on our hands waiting for action. The transformation of TVNZ into a proper public broadcaster is one. Then there’s the Screen Industry Worker Bill that will allow contractors to engage in collective bargaining. Another, the underwriting insurance needed to get the domestic film industry up again.

I know there is an election on, but we are still some ways away from the transformational change needed to get going properly, as well as grasp the opportunities on offer in the new world we are in.

In the UK, the new Director General of the BBC is moving rapidly to address the challenges there. Amongst them the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of diverse representation, political pressure, pay disparity, technological disruption, the emergence of competing news outlets, a battle to maintain relevance and the threat to the licence fee. A number of his changes will undoubtedly prove unpopular as he drives the organisation to be leaner and more commercial as well.

Yet here we sit still waiting for the Government to address the public broadcaster issue. It was December last year when Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi proposed merging TVNZ and RNZ. In January, he presented a revised plan and was asked for a business case due last month. Meanwhile, streamers have become the new global studios, YouTube has become the most popular source of video content in New Zealand, and TVNZ continues to lose money. The only wait that’s been blessedly terminated is what’s happening to TV3. The good news is Discovery’s acquisition of some of Mediaworks assets including the network—perhaps the first time in the channel’s history that it’s going to have real money in the bank to draw on.

Starting in 2018, the Film Industry Working Group toiled for months to unanimously come up with recommendations to help shape the Screen Industry Worker Bill. This extended process together with the time to draft the Bill, the Select Committee submissions and the interruptions caused by COVID mean we have to accept there will be no passage of the bill into law prior to the election. We are now faced with its fate hanging on the election result. Even after all the Select Committee submissions were predominantly in support of the Bill, National continue to oppose it. They will throw it out if they come into power. Accepting the rejection of the Hobbit Law they were responsible for putting in place would obviously be too much for them.

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block for the industry right now is the lack of commitment from our Government to underwriting the local film industry, replacing the insurance companies who won’t insure for COVID. In June, the Australian Government put in place an AUD$50 million fund to provide financial guarantees because insurance companies are not providing coverage for COVID-19. In July the British government launched an emergency £500M (US$646M) film and TV coronavirus production insurance fund. NZFC and SPADA have already made representations to Government to underwrite local production. Nearly two months later and we still haven’t heard an answer.

I know that the New Zealand screen sector has received monies to address the impact of COVID. We are all thankful for that. But this underwriting is necessary if any new New Zealand films are going to get made. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait too much longer to find out.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

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The Australian Broadcasting Corporation was thrown into turmoil last week when Managing Director Michelle Guthrie was fired. Chairman at the time, Justin Milne, a political appointee and personal friend of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, questioned her leadership style and her relationships with Canberra.

Milne was then ‘forced’ to resign when it became clear that he had allegedly asked Guthrie to get rid of two ABC reporters who had written negatively about the Conservative Government.

While Guthrie won few friends inside the ABC for being a distant and absent MD, it seems she was doing a good job protecting her employees from the political pressure exerted on her.

The ABC has long been under pressure, with global media disruption, funding cuts, complaints of bias from government and attacks from the commercial media sector. With five years of government with the Conservatives at the helm, it is perhaps the accusation of left-wing leanings that has most brought the ABC to its current position.

In his opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, Vincent O’Donnell, honorary associate at the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University, found some fault with the ABC, but stressed that its role as a public broadcaster with bias is not a vice but a virtue.The ABC, especially ABC radio, devotes airtime to issues that are largely ignored by other media: religion, feminism, Indigenous issues, Muslim and other minorities’ interests. In doing so it paints a picture of an Australia that is at odds with some people’s beliefs about Australia, for whom Australia is white, European, Christian and male.”

There’s an abject lesson for us in NZ from all this.

As reported in an NZ Herald story back in 2003, former magazine and Radio Liberty journalist and ACT MP Deborah Coddington accused our leading public broadcaster Radio NZ of bias in her Saving Public Radio report.

In his 2015 piece, RNZ Mediawatch presenter Colin Peacock took a look at bias in the NZ media without coming up with a conclusion, although he does cite the survey of NZ journalists that found 62 percent of them lean to the left.

With the change of government to Labour in 2017 came a focus on strengthening public broadcasting. This brought forth criticism from the commercial media sector when Fairifax CEO Sinead Butcher questioned Labour’s “… approach of piling more money into state-owned media, and their plans to turn Radio NZ into a super-media platform and broadcaster.”

In an unusual about face from the commercial sector, Mediaworks boss Michael Anderson supported public broadcasting with a call for TVNZ1 to become a public broadcaster. He was transparent with his reasoning here, being to allow Mediaworks access to the advertising revenue TVNZ takes from the declining piece of the free-to-air advertising pie.

These currently timid pokes by the NZ commercial media sector at public broadcasting pale in comparison to the Murdoch empire’s all out war against the ABC in Australia and the BBC in the UK, outlined in an opinion piece by Martin Flannagan in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014. This railing against the ABC by Murdoch’s Newscorp continues unabated, with calls for its and SBS’s charters to be reviewed because of unfair competition.

The NZ Labour-led coalition government has a focus on enshrining public broadcasting. Former Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran said earlier this year in an address to the Public Media Trust that “I am a firm believer in the value of independent public media – both as a means of holding our institutions to account, and for its contribution to our national identity.”

Curran obviously didn’t read her own memo about political interference when it became obvious that Radio NZ’s CEO Paul Thompson and Chair Richard Griffen disagreed with her plans to turn RNZ into a TV broadcaster. She stumbled over her ‘clandestine’ meeting with RNZ’s Carol Hirschfeld, and then fell on her own sword after her discovered get-together with Derek Handley over the Chief Technology Officer job.

If the ructions across the Tassie are anything to go by, we can expect that political and commercial pressure on public broadcasting in New Zealand won’t let up, no matter who’s in power. There’s a lot at stake and we can thank the Aussies for giving us a heads up on what’s coming.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive DIrector

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New Zealand On Air’s Where Are the Audiences? 2018 Report makes for interesting reading.

If you haven’t already seen it, the key findings for the screen industry are:

  • Weekly audiences for traditional broadcast media are stable, and continue to deliver the biggest audiences.
    – But the gap to online video and SVOD is closing.
  • The weekly reach of SVOD has nearly doubled since 2016 – now reaching more than 6 in 10 people.
  • On a daily basis, linear TV has declined – driven by a fall in Sky TV penetration (Free-to-air actually grew 9%.)
  • Daily more people view videos on sites like YouTube and Facebook than read a newspaper.
  • On Demand viewing is stable but there’s a growing use of this as a content source, as opposed to catch up viewing.
  • New Zealanders still spend the most time each day on traditional broadcast media – 2.5 hrs watching linear TV, 1.5 hrs listening to radio, compared to 62 minutes on SVOD.
  • There’s significant behaviour difference between under 40s and over 45s, but the generation gap is closing as older New Zealanders adopt new tech.

So what does this mean for public broadcasting, particularly as it relates to TVNZ and Radio New Zealand?

As Sky subscriptions fall there has been a positive effect on free-to-air TV, particularly the daily reach of TV One. Conversely, the daily reach of TV2 and TV3 is declining dramatically, while Prime remains steady and Maori TV shows slight growth.

TV One is definitely the strongest TV brand and will, therefore, be the biggest revenue earner in the free-to-air space. Their On Demand offering is working, as attested to by the growth it’s achieving. Two though is languishing and looks to be going the way of Four, which is over and out, as does TV3.

TV One is the dominant free-to-air player as a commercial entity, much to the chagrin of Mediaworks CEO Michael Anderson who is doing his best to convince anyone who will listen that TV One should be turned into a public broadcaster. He knows the writing’s on the wall if he doesn’t get the changes he wants. But should One become the public broadcaster? Or would it be better to be flicked while its star is at least glimmering. There again is the elephant-in-the-room question of what to do about a public screen broadcaster.

Radio NZ is holding its own as a radio station. While Radio NZ’s daily reach is dropping, its audience share remains strong and it’s the single most popular radio station. RNZ is also increasing its online video content offering, which has been strengthened by the extra funding for commissioned programming recently announced.

Does TVNZ’s On Demand success hold the answer? As would be expected, SVOD’s weekly reach is up dramatically according to the report, and TVNZ On Demand is showing growth, not just for Catch Up but also as a content source.

If Radio NZ had a digital On Demand platform that offered a significant content source for ‘free-to-air’ programming and built its eyeball numbers to rival or surpass TVNZ’s On Demand, then we’d be in a place where quality programming could access NZ On Air funding without the commercial imperative that controls what does and doesn’t get made currently.

I’m clearly better on the questions than the answers, but I’m certainly not the only one trying to figure out how to take advantage of the global changes sweeping the TV industry that still haven’t really arrived here.

If you’ve got some bright ideas, let me know.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director