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On Wednesday evening I participated in our online Editors and Assistant Editors Gathering. There were about 35 of us. It was an opportunity to discuss issues that affect editors and assistant editors, and to network.

One of the questions that often came up from students studying screen, and one that I regularly encounter, is: How do you get a job in the industry?

This is a question we are wrestling with at the Guild as we put our efforts into the Reform of Vocational Education, to provide both a clear pathway into work as well as to outline educational structures and content that will help to ensure learners are as prepared as they can be to work within the screen sector.

The Gathering also got me to look back at how I got into the screen sector, and I thought I would relate that pathway here.

I was living in Tokyo Japan working with an American and Canadian friend in their small agency as a writer and rewriter of copy for advertising and communications content. A good chunk of the work was taking the Japanese to English translations the Canadian and others were doing of corporate video scripts and brushing them up for re-narrating in English.

The American had gone to film school in California and had a mate who was working as an Editor at Entertainment Tonight, a daily entertainment show on CBS. My friend managed to convince his mate and his mate’s bosses they needed a stringer (contract) crew in Japan to do entertainment stories for the show. They agreed, so he went out and bought camera and sound gear, roped his Canadian partner, me and another friend in, and very quickly we were filing stories for them. It was fun work. In the early days it was occasionally covering well-known bands coming to Japan to play concerts before it spun into much broader entertainment content and more regular work.

Meanwhile I had been travelling back to NZ once a year for breaks. On one trip I met a young Kiwi student studying at Auckland University who was a good Japanese speaker. He told me that he had been getting work with a couple of Japanese line producers, one living in Auckland the other in Sydney. They were coordinating Japanese TV commercial crews coming down to NZ for shoots. This made me think that there was an opportunity to get into this work as my English-speaking Japanese girlfriend (now wife) worked regularly as an interpreter, and my sister was a travel agent. We set up a company and for a few years worked with Japanese crews, most often in Central Otago and Southland shooting commercials.

During this time we returned to NZ to live and continued running the company, but I decided that I wanted to make content rather than just help others to make it. I made up a list of production companies in Auckland (there weren’t many at that time) and started banging on doors. Fortunately, I didn’t have to do too much knocking before I was hired to work as a production assistant for television and film producer Robin Scholes. So began my climb up the ladder through various roles as a writer, director, producer and executive producer doing corporate, TV, travel, and news for companies, including a couple of my own, before I launched into narrative drama.

Everybody has their own path into the screen industry. Every once in a while from now on I’m going to ask someone to write about their own experience. I’m hoping it will at least be interesting if not helpful for readers, while the Guild works to make it less about who you know and more about what you know, and formalise how to get there to kickstart a career.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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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

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My op-ed this week is devoted to personal musings in the lead up to the NZ Screen Sector Strategy hui, and the changing nature of the screen industry as we know it.

Colin Peacock on the Radio New Zealand website wrote on the weekend about ‘Convergence’: what it is and what it has led to—telecommunications and broadcasting merging due to digital technology and the Internet.

One outcome of the convergence that’s happened here, which I wrote about last newsletter, was the TVNZ board reporting to Government that it will not be paying a dividend for the foreseeable future.

In the same RNZ convergence article, TVNZ CEO Kevin Kenrick is quoted as saying that TVNZ will refine the data from TVNZ OnDemand users to allow advertisers to tightly target ads to online viewers.

Following last year’s revamp of TVNZ OnDemand, RNZ also reported Kendrick as saying, “Consumers of online video are pretty clear they pay with their wallet, their data or their time. We’re in an ad-funded world.”

With no profits in sight and the Government forgiving TVNZ its requirement as a state-owned company to deliver a dividend, is it time to turn TVNZ back into a public broadcaster and forget about advertising as the main revenue stream?

If convergence is the reality, how about converging ONE, TVNZ 2, DUKE, TVNZ OnDemand and Radio NZ into a new media powerhouse for public broadcasting? Let’s call it Aotearoa Media Powerhouse – Digital (AMP-D) for ease.

The commitment by Kendrick to a significant increase in local content, the mix between local and international shifting markedly towards local, and investment in an online future while making that content available across more devices would make absolute sense for AMP-D. This would parallel the efforts the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) are making to survive.

Granted, TVNZ would be moving from a business that cost close to $300 million to run in 2018—essentially what they earn from advertising—to a public broadcaster that has to find other ways to earn revenue.

How about an AMP-D Studios along the lines of BBC Studios, whose remit is to produce and market programmes not only for the BBC, but for other broadcasters on the open market at home and internationally, returning profits back to the BBC. AMP-D Studios would give the commercially inclined at TVNZ a new playground to play in.

Perhaps the greatest benefit to AMP-D is we’d get away from this navel-gazing that differentiates New Zealand content for local audiences, which is fragmenting away before our eyes. AMP-D Studios and independents could produce programming that is—to steal something else from the BBC—distinctive (in our case NZ), world-class content. Why couldn’t AMP-D Studios generate shows like The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen, produced by Danish public broadcaster DR, which sold all around the world? There’d have to be a cap to how much of the public purse AMP-D Studios could get, though.

AMP-D could also generate news and current affairs nationally in a revenue generating service to commercial media companies, much as the NZ Press Association and the worldwide video news service Visnews did previously. This would allow the commercials to put their own spin on the content without the major cost of resourcing.

AMP-D OnDemand could have two operational tiers: Subscriber Video On Demand (SVOD) that’s ad-free and costs a monthly fee, and Ad-Supported Video On Demand (AVOD) that carries advertising in a free-to-air service. Hulu already operates this hybrid system.

In such a new environment, it would make sense for NZ On Air and the NZ Film Commission to ‘converge’. Let’s call this the Aotearoa Media Fund (AMF). AMF could manage the discretionary funding allotted to it to spend between broadcast, digital audio-visual content for the Internet, film and radio.

To really power AMP-D up, AMF could be required to stop funding content on the commercial platforms, dedicate its funding to AMP-D and meet its requirement to deliver great New Zealand content that is valued and enjoyed by many New Zealand audiences on multiple public broadcasting platforms. A cap in funding for internal production for both screen and radio content could be levelled to ensure independent production companies could operate in the new environment.

AMP-D could benefit local feature films by being required to carry all films funded by AMF, guaranteeing free-to air play to New Zealand audiences for every NZ film, which doesn’t happen now. The best films would get significant marketing and promotion. The not-so-good would get buried in AMP-D OnDemand—the same for not-so-great content on Netflix—where they’d sit for those still interested enough to search them out. (Smart Kiwi producers could take a page out of Norwegian producer Anders Tange’s book on how to build an audience independently of a streamer as he did for his Viking comedy Norsemen on Netflix.)

It’s almost certain that there would be an increased cost to establishing and running AMP-D that would take a long time to mitigate if ever, even with the efficiencies of a combined entity. That would be the cost of continued existence.

But perhaps it might be useful to compare New Zealand content and its industry to the kakapo — an endangered species that’s potentially headed towards extinction if we don’t do something paradigm-shifting to save it.

“What about us?”, the commercial platforms here would scream?

Frankly, it’s a fight for survival and we have to ensure first and foremost that our content and our platforms survive and flourish in the brave new world that’s upon us. Sorry, you commercial guys, you’re going to have to sort it for yourselves. Or maybe ‘converge’.  And if they withered and died, maybe it would all be for the better for AMP-D. After all, it would still have to face Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney +, HBO +, Hulu and others. Heck, AMP-D might even have to team up with the public broadcasters in Australia, Canada, the UK, the U.S. and elsewhere to live to fight another day. Such collaborations are already happening in Europe.

I’m happy for anyone to shoot holes in my postulations above. I’ve only spent a couple of hours daydreaming, not weeks and months devising a strategy. The intent is to get you to do more thinking about our industry with the screen sector strategy upon us. We can now imagine our own futures and let Government know.

We are going to be sending out the list of questions I wrote about in the last blog to everyone on our database. We want your thoughts about the direction the New Zealand’s screen industry should go. So please take the time to ponder, write to and or tell the Screen Sector Strategy NZ and DEGNZ your opinions. We’ll make sure we collate them and submit them from the Guild along with our thinking, so that we all have a say.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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I’ve been watching the debates raging across the Tasman as the Austalian screen industry seeks to ensure the future of Australian content in the face of the realities of SVOD.

Research company Roy Morgan reported in March 2019 that nearly 14 million Australians now have access to some form of Pay TV/Subscription TV, up 11.8% on a year ago.

Netflix with over 11.2 million subscribers had growth on a year ago of 25.2%, with Australian-owned Stan at 2.6 million subscribers seeing a 45.2% increase.

YouTube Premium and Amazon Prime also had significant increases.

Australian broadcasting standards require all commercial free-to-air television licensees to broadcast an annual minimum transmission quota of 55 per cent Australian programming between 6 am and midnight. In addition, there are specific minimum annual sub-quotas for first-run Australian adult drama, documentary and children’s programs.

SVODs in Australia have no Australian content requirement.

Australian commercial broadcasters sought in 2017 to have the quota removed for Australian children’s content. The Australian screen industry united against this, decrying what they said would be the almost complete annihilation of Australian children’s programming.

Then in 2017 the Australian Directors’ Guild; Australian Writers’ Guild;  Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance and Screen Producers Australia joined together to launch the ‘Make It Australia’ campaign to lobby the Government for support for the sector in the wake of sustained funding cuts and changed viewing habits, which of course includes the rise of SVODs.

They called for no more cuts to SBS, the ABC and Screen Australia; a raising of tax incentives for Australian TV and foreign productions; a cementing of the commercial free-to-air Australian content quota at 55%; and new regulations for Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) providers.

The Australian Government launched in 2017 an Australian and Children’s Content Review.

In March of 2019, the Senate Committee released its Review paper. Among the recommendations was a call to force streaming services such as Netflix and Stan (and Amazon and any others who might enter the space) to spend a minimum 10 per cent of income earned in Australia on original Australian content. They would also be obliged to promote that content to their subscribers. The other recommendations:

  • The current quota system being preserved.
  • Examining other Terms of Trade provisions and implementing them.
  • Introducing a single Producer Offset of 40%.*
  • Ceasing recognising New Zealand content as Australian.**
  • Increasing the Location Offset to 30%
  • Decoupling the Location and Post, Digital and Visual Effects (PDV) Offset.
  • Platform Neutral Location and ODV Offsets.

*The Producer Offset, Australia’s version of the NZ Screen Production Grant, sits at 20% for TV.

**This refers to Project Blue Sky, which allowed NZ content to be recognised as Australian content because of the Closer Economic Relations (CER) agreement between the two countries.

What did they Australian Government do in response? It allowed streamers that operate behind a paywall access to the production incentive for content they make in Australia, which of course includes international productions shooting there.

“The Government’s policy announcement is inexplicable and one-dimensional given how many times our local sector has called for urgent intervention”, said Austrlian Directors Guild CEO, Kingston Anderson.

“Our screen incentives need to be updated across the board, not just those that apply to international production. This decision shows a tremendous lack of confidence in the ability of Australians to tell our stories in our own voices.”

You are possibly wondering why at this point I am so wrapped up in what’s going on in Australia? It’s because I feel it’s clearly indicative of what we face and have essentially been ignoring till now. The 10-year screen strategy recently called for by the NZ Government is a chance to address the many problems the onslaught of foreign content and SVODs are having on the NZ screen industry. We only have to look across the Tassie for some insights and thoughts on how to address the issues.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Exeuctive Director