Posts

View from the Top banner

Last week Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi announced the names of a panel to finalise the business case for the merger of TVNZ and Radio NZ. It’s members are:

  • Chair—former NZ First party deputy leader Tracey Martin.
  • Broadcasting Standards Authority chair Glen Scanlon – a former head of news at RNZ.
  • Former MediaWorks chief executive Michael Anderson.
  • TV producer, former reporter  and member of Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council Bailey Mackey.
  • Broadcasting and technology consultant William Earl.
  • Dr Trisha Dunleavy, Victoria University of Wellington media academic.
  • Producer Sandra Kailahi, former journalist at TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika, Te Karere and Fair Go.
  • John Quirk, former chair and director of state-owner transmission company Kordia.

This panel has till mid-year to come up with its plan, to go to Cabinet before the end of the year. Its expected to allow for a mixed model of funding, with monies to flow to the merged entity from both Government and advertising.

Free-to-air broadcasting has seen a considerable decline in advertising revenue to the point where two years ago revenue versus expenditure at TVNZ was even. Consequently, TVNZ announced that there were not going to be paying a dividend to the Government. The decline had come primarily at the hand of online advertising, with Google, Facebook and other digital advertising channels benefitting at the expense of free-to-air.

Over the last couple of years, however, TVNZ’s revenue situation has improved, thanks to an improved share of TV market revenue , growth in digital advertising and a move to more locally produced content and a streamer-forced move away from acquired international content.

TVNZ had astutely recognised the value of a digital video platform and ploughed significant investment and resources into its Advertising Video on Demand service TVNZ OnDemand. In 2014 when NZ On Air started its ‘Where Are the Audiences’ research, TV2’s share of the 5+ audience was 27% while OnDemand’s was 7%. In 2020, OnDemand’s share was 21% while TV2’s was 14%.

Radio New Zealand meanwhile has gone from strength to strength. In 2020, a nationwide survey found that RNZ National has become the first New Zealand radio station to record more than 700,000 different listeners each week. CEO Paul Thompson attributed this to the public wanting a trusted source of news. Understandable in the era of fake news. RNZ has also seen growth in its digital channels.

The key concern for many is the merging of the non-advertising public broadcaster Radio NZ with the highly commercial public broadcaster TVNZ. The boards of the organisations reflect the non-commercial and commercial remits of the broadcasting entities.

If the panel wanted to stick to the adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, they’d leave TVNZ OnDemand and Radio NZ alone, most likely turn TV One into a true public free-to-air broadcaster, and dump TV2. But would the advertising revenue from OnDemand be sufficient?

Even with AVOD revenues in a number of countries expected to quadruple in the next five years, it’s doubtful OnDemand would make a big enough contribution to the bottom line with NZ’s small market.

The U.S.’s public broadcaster, National Public Media (NPM) provides a viable revenue-generation option. NPM, which includes National Public Radio (NPR), TV via Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and their digital platforms runs a very specific kind of sponsorship and advertising model that is a proven revenue generator alongside a highly trusted public broadcaster brand. You can learn more about it here. Together with advertising-free content on TV One turned into Ad-supported content when moved to OnDemand, there probably would be sufficient revenues and maybe even some profit from the rejigged organisation.

Installing a completely new board for the new entity, putting RNZ CEO Paul Thompson in charge and making Kevin Kendrick responsible for the commercial arm—just like panel member Bill Earl was in charge of TVNZ Enterprises all those years ago—would play to their strengths as well. Kendrick would undoubtedly find other ways to generate revenue if he were willing to stay in essentially a demoted position.

I’ll be interested to see if my back-of-the-napkin business plan is close or wildly off the mark in July.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

View from the Top banner

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