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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

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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

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Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran last year shared her vision for RNZ+ as a non-commercial, audio-visual and multi-platform entity, with its services expanded to include a free-to-air non-commercial television service … progressively developed from Radio New Zealand. She likened this enhanced RNZ to the BBC or ABC.

Across the ditch last week the Chairman of the ABC Justin Milne unveiled the organisation’s vision for the future at a public meeting in Sydney.

“We’ll improve our content partnerships so that we can produce more and better Australian content,” he said. “We plan to constantly increase our investment in Australian production to help ensure both a healthy Australian screen industry and to provide more and new stories for Australian audiences.

“We’ll improve our commercial operations so that our content can be seen by more people all over the world and extra funds generated can be ploughed back into more Australian content.

“In tomorrow’s media environment we can expect ongoing intensity from a number of huge international players. Australia has always been at risk of being culturally swamped by overseas media and I believe that risk has never been greater, so ensuring that the trusted and much loved voice of the ABC can continue to be heard has never been more important.”

Milne described their plan of Investing in Audiences as a series of projects which will make the ABC better for audiences and better for staff, creating an initiative he called ABC 2.0.

“ABC 2.0 will use technology to transform the way we serve content to our audiences and it will change how our people operate, attracting the brightest creative and technical talent and making the ABC an even better place to work,” he said.

As an integrated platform provider with TV, radio and digital offerings and a far larger budget, the ABC is at a significant advantage over RNZ. The $30 million that RNZ will get to transform into RNZ+ is not going to go far. Yet, RNZ is faced here with exactly the same challenges that the ABC faces: increased competition from international players and the pervasiveness of cultural colonialism from offshore.

Thankfully, Radio New Zealand is the voice of our country, long abrogated by TVNZ with its commercial imperative. And it’s proving it. In the year to 18 November 2017, among all radio stations in New Zealand, RNZ National’s station share of 11.3% makes it Number 1 nationwide (among people 10+).  Its audience of 586,700 listeners makes it the Number 2 station for cumulative audience size nationwide behind The Edge It’s this statistical data from GfK Radio Audience Measurements that tells RNZ how well it’s doing.

It’s the data and the knowledge that you can glean from it that is the Fort Knox in the new media realm.

Netflix makes its US$10 billion dollar and growing content budget decisions based on the detailed data they take from their subscribers, which provides a wealth of information well beyond surveys. And they don’t reveal to anyone else what that data tells them, not even the programme makers whose content they screen. That’s how valuable it is.

So where’s the data on New Zealanders’ viewing habits? Well firstly, its in the Nielsen ratings, which no matter how many times you are told is statistically valid, you still doubt the insights that the PeopleMeter panel of 600 households provide.

More relevant now though is the detailed data that the NZ online platforms are amassing: TVNZ OnDemand, ThreeNow, Prime Catch Up, the SVODs Neon, Lightbox, Quickflix, Amazon Prime, Netflix of course and others such as Fairfax Media, Stuff and Vice.

This detailed screen data is what RNZ+ needs to plot its course into the future and help ensure a healthy New Zealand screen industry. But it doesn’t really have it now. Here’s hoping somebody there comes up with a bright idea for them to get it, rather than leave it all with TVNZ and private players.

Data is the new power and having your own platform to mine it is the new game if you have the money and can get the audience. RNZ+ offers that opportunity, and NZ On Air and NZFC would do well to take heed of that. I think it would be a safe bet to say that the ABC has already got this in hand and I can’t imagine it’s gone unnoticed at Screen Australia.

You can read ABC Chairman Justin Milne’s full speech here.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director