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It’s hard not to talk about what’s going on in the global screen industry when COVID continues to upend screen life as we know it.

Perhaps the biggest seismic shift that has occurred is Universal Studios and AMC, the U.S. and the world’s largest theatre chain, announcing a historic agreement for the studio’s movies to be made available on premium video-on-demand after just 17 days of play in cinemas. Exhibitors have long fought the shortening of theatrical windows and have been able to leverage their fight off the legislation in the U.S. that prevents studios owning theatres.

Some of you will remember the days when a movie came out in theatres first, three months later on VHS, pay TV three months after that and two years later on free-to-air television. This sort of worked for everyone as first VHS and later DVD was incredibly lucrative. Geographical territory releases are part of the windowing business model and still exist today.

Streaming of course upended all of this with its ability to release in multiple territories simultaneously straight into the consumer’s home. In a recent podcast, director Gina Prince-Bythewood, the helmer of Charlize Theron’s The Old Guard, while lamenting that the Netflix release of the film didn’t give it the cinematic presence that a typical theatrical release would have, also extolled the streamer for putting her film into 190 countries in one day.

It’s easy to understand why AMC caved in to Universal—it’s close to bankruptcy thanks to COVID, as are many other theatrical chains and independents. This deal is a watershed one for the movie business. Variety in an article, poses six questions on what the agreement might mean. Perhaps the most interesting for everyone in the independent film space—and that’s where all NZ films sit—is that the studios may shift away from just superhero films and towards quality fare.

In the second big piece of news for the week, the British Government launched an emergency £500M (NZ$1.17 billion) film and TV coronavirus production insurance fund. This is expected to kickstart production in the country that remains threatened by the pandemic. With this boost, British producers will be able to get back into filming, confident that the fund will effectively underwrite the cost of productions closing due to COVID. We still await a similar response from our government for the New Zealand screen industry.

And finally, across the ditch the Australian Government added A$400 million (NZ$431 million) to its location offset, essentially allowing international productions through their rebate scheme to access a total rebate of 30%, in comparison to NZ’s rebate scheme via NZSPG of 20% with a small number getting an additional 5% through the Uplift. It’s highly unlikely that the NZ Government is going to participate in a rebate race to the bottom, and I’m personally not convinced as some others are that this is going to have a significant negative impact on international productions coming to New Zealand.

Time will tell.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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As Minister of Broadcasting Kris Faafoi gets set to decide the New Zealand broadcasting industry’s future with hopefully sound advice that includes a note that the industry is more than just News and Current Affairs, I postulate further on possible answers to our dilemma to stimulate further debate and discussion.

Countries with strong public broadcasters are those with compulsory broadcast licence fees. In Denmark, with a population of just over five million, the licence fee of €332 (NZ$579) generates €4.4 billion (NZ$7,671,308,423). Danish public broadcaster DR operates six TV channels and eight radio channels with this revenue. Norway, which has a similar population to Denmark, has a licence fee of €315. Its public broadaster NRK runs three national TV channels and three national radio channels. Countries that still have licence fees include the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, Japan, Italy, the Netherlands and South Korea.

A licence fee in New Zealand of just NZ$125 applied to the estimated 1,765,100 households in the country would generate nearly $220 million dollars annually. This would cover the costs to fund Radio NZ ($35 million) and Māori Television ($45 million), administer the licence fee (est. $20 million) and leave $120 million.

If the $120 million were combined with Radio NZ’s $35 mil., a newly created public broadcaster would have $155 million of muscle. This entity could deliver quality News and Current Affairs (est. $50 mil.) and would have $105 million—almost the same level of funding NZ On Air has after the ring-fenced Radio NZ funding is deducted—to create a Public Broadcaster Fund to make great factual and scripted programming for both domestic use and international sales. To help secure the independent production sector’s future, this broadcaster could be required to outsource for factual and scripted ideas and their production. Sales revenue could go back to the broadcaster and the independents to contribute towards their sustainability.

In an added approach, the Government could continue to fund NZ On Air the annual $115 million it now receives. This NZ On Air Fund could be contestable and exclusively for the commercial channels and platforms, both Free-to-Air and those with paywalls. Once again, independent producers could pitch on this contestable fund with a percentage, say 75%, being ring-fenced for the independent sector.

The commercial channels and platforms could be required to pay a commercially appropriate licence fee for this content that acknowledges the real value that local NZ content would bring to them. After all, they are commercial with the Free-to-Airs able to scoop up any advertising revenue going, while the SVODs would get the subscription revenues. Funding levels would be determined by the quality of the idea, the scale of the proposed production and the audience size.

A means to extract revenues from streamers and international serviced productions coming here would need to be found to decrease and hopefully eventually eliminate Government funding in the NZ On Air Fund.

The Public Broadcaster Fund and the NZ On Air Fund should allow for access to the New Zealand Screen Production Grant (NZSPG) so that producers can more easily pitch and finance shows that have truly global potential. The NZ On Air Fund should retain the current NZSPG requirements of 25% or more of non-NZ production funding and a minimum of 10% market money to ensure the shows have real international appeal. And while we are at it, the NZSPG’s Qualifying New Zealand Production Expenditure (QNZPE) minimum should be reduced from $2.5 million to $500k so that films with lower budgets can access NZSPG. Some thought may well have to be given to the QNZPE for TV as well.

The above could potentially solve a number of issues:

  1. Give us a well funded public broadcaster.
  2. Ensure that the independent production community would still exist and be able to make the most of opportunities both domestically and internationally.
  3. Allow the commercial broadcasters and platforms to live to fight another day with all the advertising revenue available while giving them valuable local content.
  4. Make the streamers and international productions contribute to the growth of local IP and production.

All that’s needed for this to occur would be for the NZ public to buy into the need to pay a licence fee.

I would.

Would you and everyone else?

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director