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Well it’s happening. The SVOD wars have really kicked off.

Apple TV+ debuted in New Zealand on 1 November with 14 original shows. Very much a tortoise approach from Apple, and you don’t have to pay for it for a year if you’ve bought an Apple product recently. Otherwise you’re up for $8.99/month.

Disney+ meanwhile will be off like a hare at the starting gates, launching more than 600 movies and shows from Day 1, being 12 November (19 Nov. in NZ). Expect every household in the country with kids to at least consider adding a subscription at $9.99/month.

NBCUniversal’s Peacock will soft launch in April 2020 with 15,000 hours of programming, while HBO Max comes online in May with more than 10,000 hours of programming.

Netflix is already feeling the heat.

FilmTake reports that Netflix lost subscribers for the first time in the U.S. since they started in 2011. It has likely reached saturation in the market, and we can expect to see the massive international growth of Netflix to slow or halt, or worse for them, decline.

We all thought Netflix was shaking the screen industry to its core, and it has. But it was primarily Google and Facebook that was impacting on New Zealand’s Free-to-Air market, taking advertising dollars away from TV screens.

The initial streaming entities in NZ did contribute to a decline in Free-to-Air viewership, but our Free-to-Air market was still holding up with significant numbers of New Zealanders continuing to watch mainstream TV. But is that going to be the case now with Disney+ and Apple+ in the market, together with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Neon, and Lightbox and with others to come?

You have to imagine that Neon and Lightbox are fretting about their continued existence, unless Neon has done a deal to retain HBO content and possibly keep HBO Max out of the NZ market. Spark-owned Lightbox will most likely be the first casualty unless their strategy has sport and other offerings in the wings. Spark has the All Blacks and cricket afterall. Unlike Peacock, who is mooted to pursue sport, news and live programming, Spark doesn’t have the programming and financial resources of NBC and Unversal to draw upon. It’s rumoured though that Lightbox is for sale. You’d need big cojones to step into that space , or cash+ and programming+. Streamers who don’t have studio majors and/or their parents as backers are really at a disadvantage. With Netflix now paying a premium to license shows because they are losing the content owned by their competitors, you can’t imagine our locally-owned streamers having deep enough pockets to play in the big leagues. And how much longer will our broadcasters be able to access the best of international product?

At TVNZ, Kevin Kendrick is focusing on more NZ content to differentiate its Free-to-Air and OnDemand brands and help to avoid the price wars on the international scene for programming. This is an area they are likely to be able to call their own, as we can’t expect the international SVODs to commission much here unless they are forced to as the Australians are seriously contemplating making them do. With reality TV to undoubtedly feature highly in the offering, is TVNZ really going to be able to keep NZ viewers in good numbers?

What about Three? Only the woman upstairs knows what’s going to happen there. The gossip: it’s going to be bought by… someone.

Kris Faafoi’s decision about what to do with the soon-to-be loss-making TVNZ and with public broadcasting becomes even more critical now.

And just as this is all happening, NZ On Air CEO Jane Wrightson resigns to become the new Retirement Commissioner.

Jane has done a fantastic job navigating NZ On Air through the tumultuous changes that have impacted on broadcasting in the 12 years she’s been at the helm. But has she been prescient?

In this now constantly changing screen industry world, we’ll undoubtedly find out if NZ On Air gets retired before Jane runs her course in her new job. We’ll certainly learn whether or not Netflix will survive. If you are a producer on a multi-year pay down schedule for the content you sold them, you are going to be hoping somebody will buy Netflix out rather than it going under. As of 30 September, Netflix reported US$12.43 billion in debt and they are adding to it to keep the originals and higher-priced acquisitions coming. That US$292 Netflix share price is definitely going to take a hit sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, hunker down and get binge watching. There’s going to be more than enough for everyone with one, two or three SVOD subscriptions… for a very long time.

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