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Carving Out a Public Broadcasting Audience

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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

NZFC +

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The New Zealand Film Commission has just announced its Te Rautaki Māori strategy and that’s a great achievement, even though it comes 15 years after New Zealand On Air’s—better late than never.

It’s no secret that Māori films are New Zealand’s most successful both domestically and internationally. Pākēha producers certainly cottoned onto this a long time ago—John Barnett with Whale Rider, Robin Scholes with Once Were Warriors, and more recently Matthew Metcalfe with The Dead Lands.

There are a number of new initiatives to help drive the strategy with an ongoing fund of up to $2.5 million in investment for dramatic feature films made in Te Reo Māori, by Māori filmmakers; a Te Reo development fund; devolved funding supporting internships, mentoring and professional placements for Māori filmmakers; and rangatahi development in the form of wananga, workshops and programmes for young Māori creatives.

Additionally, a one-off $2 million investment for dramatic features in any genre where the director and at least one other key creative is Māori, which some critics might say is there to allow pākēha to keep dipping their toes in the Māori pie.

Criticism aside, Te Rautaki is a significant stake in the ground by the Film Commission that goes along with the changes they propose internally to address representation, protocols and capacity and capability.

Te Rautaki is warmly welcomed by my colleagues at Ngā Aho Whakaari who I’ve been speaking to. And by DEGNZ.

NZFC must also be complimented for continuing to address gender inequity with the announcement of the 125 Fund.

The fund is open to dramatic features in any genre and is offering an investment of $1.25 million each for up to two projects where the director and at least one other key creative is a woman. Critics would also undoubtedly say that this keeps men in the game, too.

With the Budget soon to be announced by the Government, we can only hope that additional funding will be allocated to NZFC as well as to NZ On Air and Radio NZ. Rather than cutting into the essentially static funding the Film Commish has been operating on in the last few years (Screen Production Grant aside), it would be nice to know that these dedicated initiatives are being resourced with new funds rather than taking from existing.

Congratulations New Zealand Film Commission on these efforts! We look forward to the films that will come from them.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

The Big Picture

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There’s a lot of big picture stuff going on at the moment, so I thought I would take the time to discuss it a little further.

DEGNZ together with other guilds, screen industry bodies and representatives, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and Business New Zealand have been meeting regularly to formulate recommendations to the Minister of Employment about how we can restore the right of workers in the industry to collectively bargain, without necessarily changing the status of those who wish to continue working as individual contractors. We are making good progress at this point and are expected to finalise recommendations by the end of June at the latest as required by the Minister.

The Guild has been very active in regard to the ongoing Copyright Act Review now underway. We expect the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to release an issues paper before the middle of the year in what is going to be a multi-year review process. We are working very hard to get Director’s Copyright onto that issues paper and have the support of the Australian Directors Guild, Directors UK and the Directors Guild of America in our efforts.

President Howard Taylor and board member Annie Collins have been toiling quietly away on the idea of a proposed Code of Ethics, instigated by us, and being discussed by all the guilds and other industry bodies. Some of you will have participated in the survey we put out to the screen industry. We have received very valuable feedback from the survey and are redrafting the proposed code now for a second round of consultation. We expect before the end of the year to be able to introduce and promote the Code of Ethics and hope that the industry and funding bodies take it up as an ethical guideline to all behaviour in the screen sector.

We are keeping a very close watch on developments around RNZ+, meeting key players to try and determine what the potential outcomes might be, and also working to determine the Guild’s position on public media broadcasting and the best way to ramp it up. We would be interested in hearing from members’ views on the following:

  1. If RNZ+ as a platform receives a specific funding increase from Government to deliver better public service media including audio visual content, should it as a platform also be able to seek funding from NZ On Air? Or, should the the funding streams and content be kept entirely separate, i.e. NZ On Air funding used only to create content for commerical broadcasters/platforms?
  2. Should RNZ+ commision audio-visual content from outside suppliers, or create it inhouse?

Could members address any thoughts you might have on this to admin@degnz.co.nz with RNZ+ Thoughts in the subject line. Thanks in advance and hope it’s all going well for you out there.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

RNZ Minus?

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When Broadcasting, Communications & Digital Media Minister Clare Curran announced her plan to ramp up Radio New Zealand to RNZ+ with additional funding of up to $38 million, there were a lot of smiles out there including on my dial. I love Radio NZ and spend all of my driving time—and that’s a lot of course in Auckland—listening to it.

Equally, there is a lot of concern about what this actually means.

Nobody including me wants to see large chunks of money spent on hardware to build a free-to-air public media TV station to play out linear programming. That sentence there has a number of conundrums worth exploring.

Is it expensive to actually build a TV station? Not necessarily. Having peripherally or directly been involved in three digital channels, I can unequivocally tell you there would be a lot of change from $38 million. However, to feed a TV station with content is like feeding a beast. It consumes everything in its path 24/7 or however many hours you are programming for.

The best way to do it is to buy already made content, which generally comes from offshore because it’s cheaper than making it. Then you can of course rotate it in blocks of four or multiples of, to fill a 24-hour day, and introduce new content to whatever your change in/change out strategy is. That doesn’t help local content makers, though, which is why we have NZ On Air.

You could of course hold up the Maori TV model and say, look at all the local content they are making with the $33 million they get. The immediate reply would likely be, look at the quality of the material that often comes out of there and what Maori Television Service has done to budgets and rates of pay for the programme makers who do the work—that’s potentially the path to devastating the whole industry and certainly not what we want from any RNZ+.

A more important question doing the rounds right now is why build a new channel at all? TVNZ is government owned and TV One could be the free-to-air public broadcaster it should be. This had been proposed by NZ First. It would seem the Minister views the commercial culture of the organisation as a key reason for that not happening, and therefore the need to build a public broadcaster in the screen space out of RNZ.

The simple suggestion mooted in some quarters to fix TVNZ is to replace the board and top management and everyone else in the organisation will fall into the public broadcaster line that the new lot would institute. There are a lot of sceptics about this thinking, including Clare Curran obviously. But it’s not as simple as it sounds, I believe. There would be a lot of complexities involved in moving ONE from it’s commercial positioning to a public broadcaster, which may or may not see change from $38 million. But worth looking at perhaps if it hasn’t been done already?

Then you have to consider what free-to-air actually means. In the People’s Public Media Report, a joint effort between Action Station and the Coalition for Better Broadcasting, presented to Government in December 2017, panellist and independent producer Kay Elmers wrote this:

As we move away from using public money to fund content for free-to-air broadcast delivery platforms, and increasingly fund content that is delivered online only, we have a fundamental problem that this publicly funded content is no longer freely accessible to all citizens.

In talking to Kay about this, she explained that if you have to pay to have data or Internet access to get online content then that’s not free-to-air—with TVNZ or Radio NZ, you only need the hardware to receive the programming. This is a key point of differentiation.

Another key consideration is what does public media mean? Wikipedia’s take, which comes from the widely accepted British definition, has as principles:

  • Universal geographic accessibility
  • Universal appeal
  • Attention to minorities
  • Contribution to national identity and sense of community
  • Distance from vested interests
  • Direct funding and universality of payment
  • Competition in good programming rather than numbers
  • Guidelines that liberate rather than restrict

But, when you read the paper put to cabinet by Minister Curran or the terms of reference provided by her for the just appointed Public Media Advisory Group who will look into the role and scope of the mooted Public Media Funding Commission, you can see an emphasis on news and current affairs and less on the wider content scope that makes up public media in totality.

Drawing on the People’s Public Media Report again, this time from panellist and long-time news and current affairs broadcaster Mark Jennings:

It [public service media] is now seen as perhaps the last bastion of independent, quality news and current affairs, in a media world that is collapsing under a deluge of click-bait and the impact of failing financial models.

So is the Minister throwing out the baby (broad public media content that keeps many of us employed) with the bathwater (TVNZ) to provide quality, independent news and current affairs on an energized Radio NZ (RNZ+)? Here’s hoping the Public Media Advisory Group looks into this. Or do the redacted bits in the cabinet paper (apart from those hiding the group member who withdrew) make RNZ+ a fait accompli?

Another conundrum to discuss: Is there a need for a public media linear channel for RNZ?

When asked by STUFF about it in October last year:

“RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson said RNZ was doing ‘television-like things.’

“We see that growing and improving

“Whether that translates into a fully-fledged, ‘old-style’ linear channel, I am unclear and I probably think it is not necessary given where the market and technology is going.

“Even before taking the new policy into account, we were moving down a path of having more audio-visual delivery of content live and on-demand,” he said.

“This policy would probably accelerate the development of our multimedia plans, but the definitions of what a television channel is and what audiences want and need is changing really quickly and we would have to take that into account,” he said.

Thomson reiterated this in a boisterous select committee hearing last week reported by NEWSROOM, although Curran wasn’t letting them completely off the hook when she added that a free-to-air linear station might be an option “down the track.”

I for one subscribe to Thompson’s approach to the RNZ+ offering. It won’t require major infrastructure spending, and would mean the majority of the new funding RNZ would get from the $38 million could be spent on news and current affairs content.

More importantly, this tack would leave NZ On Air as it is and hopefully provide them with a significant chunk of the $38 million to spend on other local content that is not news and current affairs, rather than receive insignificant funding, which won’t do anyone any good.

There’s a conspiracy view out there that a coterie of grey-bearded academics, embittered former public broadcasters and others have it in for NZ On Air and want it done away with entirely. Every working person in the screen industry I have spoken to about this so far feels that would be absolutely disastrous. As much as we bemoan NZ On Air when they say “No” to our proposals, there is almost universal agreement in the screen industry that it’s efficient and effective, must be kept, and given a lot more money to play with.

We all need to keep a close watch on developments around RNZ+ to make sure we will continue to get a good volume of quality NZ content, including independent news and current affairs, and a real public media offering, all the while ensuring we don’t slide into screen poverty with lower budgets and rates.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Hello 2018!

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We’re into the year and we’ve got a significant period of change coming.

The Government’s first hundred days are up in two weeks and it has already made good progress or is about to in terms of tertiary education, housing, child poverty, mental health and other social issues. Yet, it’s in the area of workplace relations that progress had been slow, and understandably so because the shift will be significant. However, today the Government announced a slew of employment law changes in favour of workers. Labour’s Fair Pay Agreements, which are still to come are potentially contentious with a fear that they’ll bring strikes and economic decline. Labour’s adamant they won’t.

In regard to the screen sector, following the attention-grabbing announcement that the Hobbit Law would be repealed, the government scrambled quickly to assure everyone that it did not want to affect attraction of international production to New Zealand. Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced the formation of a working group to consider options for replacing the legislation. The Film Industry Working Group will meet shortly and DEGNZ is a member. So for the moment,  film workers will not be able to collectively bargain, although the government fully intends for those workers to have that right.

Clare Curran confirmed at NZ On Air’s year-end celebration in December that Radio NZ will get a significant funding increase of around $20 – 30 million, and that NZ On Air and a new overarching public media funding commission would share the remainder of the $38 million fund, intended primarily for news and current affairs programming. This should start to flow this year.

The commitment has drawn the ire of Mediaworks CEO Ian Anderson, who complains it will weaken media diversity and hasten the end of Free To Air TV. Instead he suggests, turn TV1 into a true public broadcaster—Talk about flogging a dead horse. He also suggests that TVNZ has the TV business talent that Radio NZ does not. Many in the industry would think that puts Radio NZ in a good place not a bad one. And try telling that to former Maori Television CFO Alan Witherington and former MTS Head of Programming, and TV news and current affairs producer Carol Hirshfeld, both of who hold top management jobs at Radio NZ.

There’s been no mention of any additional funding for the New Zealand Film Commission, but we have to hope that NZFC would have put in a bid for additional funds for 2018/2019. The $13 million NZFC has to fund local production for 2017/2018 and the annual $16 million in Screen Production Grant funding for NZ films for the next four years won’t go far.

A major change at NZFC in 2018 is new CEO Annabelle Sheehan. An educator and bureaucrat with a production background, Sheehan can be expected to bring a different approach to the way the organisation operates from her predecessor producer Dave Gibson. As former head of the highly regarded Australian Film, TV and Radio School (AFTRS), we can expect she’ll have strong opinions on talent development. She will still though be reporting to the National Government-appointed NZFC board, and they were after all the ones she had to convince to get the job. We can expect Labour’s hand will come into play as board members on both NZFC’s and NZ ON Air’s boards reach their ends of terms and new appointments are made.

One of the big shifts at NZ On Air will happen in February or March when they announce their new drama strategy. After the incredible noise generated around the Filthy Rich and Dirty Laundry funding, primarily by Duncan Grieve, and the constant chatter around digital funding and the lack of support of emerging content makers, again very attributable to Mr Grieve, NZ On Air went into a major reassessment of scripted programming. No doubt the cracks that opened will widen. Interesting to note another change in Grieve stepping down as editor of Spinoff to focus on managing the company’s business, which includes two new TV shows.

On the international scene it’s a bloodbath. We are effectively saying goodbye to Hollywood studios and hello to high-tech companies. Once all the mergers and acquisitions are done, it’s likely Disney, who recently acquired Fox from Rupert Murdoch, will be the only one left standing and it’ll be competing with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and Google/YouTube. China funding in the US entertainment industry has dried up but the massive players in the Chinese online space are surging. Get used to saying Baidu, Tencent, iQiyi, Youku, Tudou and Sohu. News out of Sundance so far sees only one major acquisition going to new players Neon and AGBO, with a US$10 million spend to acquire all rights for Assasination Nation. Netflix and Amazon have yet to acquire anything.

It’s not looking any prettier for NZ film. The arthouse market where NZ film sits has dried up except for Europe, and its even tough there. Amazon was shedding a ray of light for independent film, particularly US indies, because of Ted Hope, who is a major supporter of auteur filmmaking. But online media intelligence site FilmTake has just reported that Amazon is moving away from small indies and into the $50 million budget space. And Netflix is supposedly proving a harder door to open now that it’s well established with a solid roster of content suppliers it already has relationships with.

On the domestic front it’s hard not conclude that the Australasian distribution system for NZ film is broken. Sure Wilderpeople and some of the more popular docos are still getting over the $1 million mark and small films like the recent Waru are punching well above their budget weight, but if you’re not making overtly commercial films you’re chucked out in two weeks to make way for the next Hollywood blockbuster, so there’s no chance for word of mouth to build up and grow an audience. That is if you can get theatrical distribution in the first place. This is a problem that needs to be addressed. Catering to niche audiences with good light entertainment as the Three Wise Cousins team is doing with their latest self-funded romcom Hibiscus & Ruthless is one model for the way forward.

On the guild front things are a little steadier. We have a lot of big picture work in front of us with the Film Industry Working Group, Copyright and the Code of Ethics to focus on. With professional development we will be running a full programme of training workshops for directors and editors, introducing a drama editor attachment scheme to complement the TV drama director attachment initiative we will do again this year, and putting one more intake through the Emerging Women Filmmakers Incubator. We are also planning further events specifically targeted at young creators. To round things off we’ll have our regular networking events where you can hear speakers and connect with like-minded screen industry professionals.

DEGNZ is here to work on your behalves, so make yourselves known to us whether it’s for assistance or just to say hello. We appreciate your support both through membership and patronage at our events and look forward to connecting with you in 2018.

Finally our thanks go out to the New Zealand Film Commission, NZ On Air, Vista Foundation and our other supporters Dominion Law, Resene, Seresin Wines, Pieter Holl & Associates, Event Cinemas, Reading Cinemas, Rialto Cinemas and Hoyts who support us in supporting you.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director