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What’s happened to the TVNZ – RNZ business case that Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi commissioned to be ready for mid-year, with presentation to Cabinet by the end of 2021?

You might have, like I did, missed the article about it in Stuff in early November.

It’s been delayed.

Sure, COVID has made it difficult for everyone to stay on track, including Government. However, Kevin Kendrick, the TVNZ CEO has now officially resigned, after a stellar performance taking TVNZ from a loss making entity with no dividend to Government, to an organisation making a profit. No mean feat in a streamer-challenged world.

Kedrick is certainly bailing at the right time for his career, leaving the task of navigating the difficult future to whoever gets the job next.

You’d hope that the TVNZ board is giving due consideration to whatever the new organisation will look like as they work through the job applicants. But do they actually know what’s coming right now? And how many of them will still be sitting on the board once the organisation gets rejigged anyway? They have been a corporate, profit-driven board for so long it’s hard to imagine most of them will retain their positions, or want to, even though TVNZ is supposedly going to maintain some elements of advertising revenue generation into the future.

The changes at Three have undoubtedly made things more complicated for our national broadcaster. Three has gone from being permanently on the edge of bankruptcy to being owned by the largest media organisation in the world, in Discovery. And in the process of setting up they’ve hired former General Manager of Digital Content at TVNZ, Juliet Peterson.

Peterson is now Senior Director, Programming (ANZ) at Discovery, while Vicky Keogh has gone from Commissioner Factual and Unscripted Comedy at TVNZ to the role of Executive Producer, Factual Lead, Discovery (ANZ).

The new TVNZ CEO will have a tougher playing field to square off on with two new free-to-air channels—sorta—in Gusto and Rush, Discovery’s existing digital channels already here, and the launch of streaming service Discovery+ next year.

TVNZ has already locked into its line-up for 2022, as has Three. Advertisers and the industry were given insights at both broadcasters’ programme launches in recent weeks. Reality featured strongly at TVNZ and Three, as did the emphasis on local content, although scripted was notably missing from Three’s presentation.

But it was the announcement from Kris Faafoi that I was more interested in, right now. What shape is TVNZ – RNZ going to take? What’s it going to mean for local content? And will it become a real public broadcaster? The answers are clearly not going to be in the Xmas sock this year.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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I’ve been writing this blog for the DEGNZ newsletter for close to six years now. There have been a few times when I’ve been stuck for what to write about, but ultimately came through. But from memory there were two or three times when I couldn’t move from the blank page and we’ve had to delay the newsletter to the following week.

I listen to Jeff Goldsmith’s podcast The Q & A. One of the questions he always asks writers he interviews is what they do when they have writer’s block. Of course the answers vary from: I don’t have it, I go for a walk, I just write anything to get through it, and multiple other responses.

You perhaps have twigged that the above is what I am doing now to address what was the blank page staring me in the face. Moving on.

Something else I listen to on a regular basis is Standing Room Only on RNZ. Last Sunday it featured a Simon Morris interview with the new CEO of NZFC, David Strong. In it, Strong quoted the Jackson Court Report of 2010, in which Peter Jackson said, “Arguably, there might be no more than 25 or 30 truly talented screen writers and directors working in a country the size of New Zealand.”

Supposedly, in each round of EDF at NZFC now, there are 20 – 30 applications. There are five EDF rounds a year. I understand that around 50% of projects applying for EDF get it. They are either new projects or projects coming in again for another round of EDF.

EDF these days doesn’t mean that a script is in early development. The competition for EDF is so strong that if a project isn’t a good way along the development path when it first goes in, then it’s unlikely to get funded. In other words, a lot of blank page staring must be going on during spec writing to get a script in good enough shape to be seriously considered for funding.

Strong also outlined how scripts going through NZFC were selected to be made—EDF with internal and external assessors, and ADF where local and international assessors were used to decide whether or not the film would get greenlit for production funding.

NZFC production funds between 10 – 15 films per year, some of which are documentary features. The remainder are narratives.

With some unscientific number crunching looking forward, you could make a guesstimate that of the 150 or so films that apply for funding each year 75 get EDF, so the odds of getting EDF are 50%, or one in two.

If 75 films got EDF each year and 10 – 15 films are made, then the odds of a film getting EDF and getting made are 20% or one in five.

Another way of looking at it is that of the 150 films in any given year applying for EDF funding, only 10% or one in ten will get over the line and get made, perhaps substantiating Jackson’s view. Some, I’m sure, would dispute that the best scripts always go into production.

Morris also asked Strong what vision he pitched to the NZFC board to get the job. His response: he didn’t pitch an “agenda”. Rather he went on to speak of the dramatic change in the film business globally and the need to continue to attract international production to deliver economic and other benefits that will help to make the New Zealand film industry sustainable—his job he sees it is to create the environment to deliver that. I don’t believe that’s a message that going to resonate with New Zealand filmmakers, but one that will certainly make crew happy.

Coming into the Film Commission doesn’t give any new CEO a blank page. In this instance, Strong picked up on the more recent legacies of former CEOs Dave Gibson and Annabelle Sheehan.

But each CEO gets to decide the direction in which they will drive the organisation. As Morris pointed out, Gibson drove it towards commercial fare, Sheehan towards diverse. You could take from the interview that international production is a priority for Strong, even though he pointed out repeatedly the cultural remit of the organisation and the need to tell NZ stories on screen.

There is perhaps light at the end of the tunnel, though. Earlier in the piece he did state that the whole purpose of being a director or writer is to have their own voice… “Let the director have their voice because we go to cinemas to see great stories, and great stories have to be inspired by great writers and great directors.” If Strong can achieve this for New Zealand film while treading the path of attracting international production, then he will have made his own mark on the industry, and it will be considered a success by NZ creatives. Now if he would only stop calling films “shows”.

You can listen to the full interview here.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

DEGNZ member Rachale Davies’ new eight-part docuseries, The Collective, is now available to watch online on RNZ. Created and produced by Rachale, the series follows six young musicians as they embark on a powerful journey of self-discovery.

The eight episodes revolve around the young musicians taking part in a youth music programme designed to give them real-world skills and help them make positive life changes through the power of music.

Speaking to RNZ, Davies stated how amazing the experience was working with the crew to document the “stories of these six talented rangatahi and I think viewers will find their stories compelling”.

Up-and-comer Hunter Crouchley served as the DOP for The Collective, which is also available to watch on TVNZ’s Re: website.

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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

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With the Big Screen Symposium about to kick off tomorrow, it’s yet another recent event at which to be thankful for, for our Government’s response to COVID. We can gather in big numbers will little concern for the spread of the virus, while in many other places around the world the statistics of COVID sickness and death are horrific. I was extremely pleased to hear yesterday that our Trans-Tasman cousins can now travel interstate, relatively freely.

 

And talking of our Aussie cousins, we have a new head at the Australian Directors’ Guild in Alaric McCausland. Alaric has a screen executive background in Australia and internationally, bringing a slightly different focus over his last two predecessors. As always, DEGNZ seeks a strong relationship with the ADG, with my first call with Alaric cordial, informative and supportive.

 

NZFC, NZ On Air and TMP obviously got more feedback than they bargained for in regard to the Premium Productions for International Audiences Fund. They are now late in getting the final criteria out—perhaps they will show at BSS. I have to imagine the number of applications to the fund is going to be as voluminous as the feedback was.

 

I heard yesterday that TV3 is now officially in the hands of Discovery. A Stuff article here. Being run as an Australasian service, it will be interesting to see what opportunities come for local content makers in the trans-Tasman tie, with Discovery’s global network and the planned launch of a streaming service here making for exciting possibilities.

 

Over at Sky they’ve got a new CEO in Sophie Moloney. Martin Stewart wears the blood splashes of his restructuring as he heads back to the UK, and Moloney offers an experienced, friendly, female and kotahitanga approach as she takes Sky forward. Unity is certainly needed in an organisation reeling from job losses.

 

TVNZ’s GM Local Content Nevak Rogers came with Drama and Scripted Comedy Commissioner Steve Barr to talk to our Emerging Women Filmmakers participants at their fifth and final workshop. Nevak was pleased to tell me that TVNZ is now spending around $100 million on local content, which is besting the highest spend during the Charter years at TVNZ. For those not old enough to know what the charter was, this from Wikipedia:

 

The Labour Government introduced a “TVNZ Charter” in 2002. This was a list of objectives for TVNZ which specified it must broadcast a wide variety of New Zealand-made content; the broadcaster was given public responsibility to provide news, drama, documentaries and “promote understanding of the diversity of cultures”. In 2008 the Government announced that the broadcaster was to become “more public-service” like. TVNZ responded by launching two commercial free channels; TVNZ 6 and TVNZ 7. By 2011 Prime Minister John Key announced the closure of these channels. 6 in 2011, and 7 in mid-2012, with much of their content put into TVNZ Heartland and TVNZ Kidzone24 which are only available behind a Sky TV paywall. The National Government abolished the Charter in 2011. Political opponents accused the Government of reducing TVNZ’s commitments as a public broadcaster.

 

Just this week at the NZ On Air end-of-year function, Broadcasting Minister Chris Faafoi reaffirmed his commitment to public broadcasting via a video address. Back in October, Faafoi announced that the TVNZ – RNZ merger discussion was back on the table. The partially completed and partially redacted PWC consultant’s report released in September, however, didn’t outline the benefits of combining the broadcasters into a single entity or state how TVNZ or RNZ’s services would change if the proposal was approved. Just what is going to happen and when seems entirely open to discussion. Dealing with COVID and its impacts provides wonderful cover for doing nothing for quite a while yet. Let’s hope something good comes of it sooner.

 

Finally, the DEGNZ Workflow Best Practice Guide, driven by board member and  long-time, drama and documentary editor Annie Collins, continues to win rave reviews. If you want to save your production time and money and yourself stress, become very familiar with the content, available on our website here.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director