The Digital Landscape

20 March 2015

On Tuesday evening I was fortunate to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of New Zealand on Air, hosted by Broadcasting Minister Amy Adams at Parliament.

The crowd of 300 or so included many producers whose programmes have received funding from NZ on Air across those 25 years; a number acknowledged with awards for their programmes including The Down Low Concept for Seven Days, Whitebait-TV for What Now, Attitude Group for Attitude TV, TVNZ for Country Calendar, South Pacific Pictures for Shortland Street and Moana Maniapoto for the music video A E I O U. Everyone of course was thankful for NZOA support.

In the last newsletter, I made mention of Ruth Harley’s acknowledgment of a misstep, which was over a quota for New Zealand broadcasting. Yet in spite of that, NZ on Air has made a significant contribution to getting a broad spectrum of New Zealand programming on screen. But that’s the past. What about the future?

NZ On Air’s digital efforts have occasioned criticism, but some truly innovating programming has come about because of it. Reservoir Hill went on to win an Emmy Award. Other successful digital initiatives include digital portal Coconet TV, web series Flat 3 by our very own Roseanne Liang and the short documentary platform Loading Docs. NZ on Air’s latest initiative is the Canada – NZ Digital Fund, which will hopefully deliver some innovative digital co-production programming.

What else is happening on the New Zealand digital landscape?

TVNZ seems to have finally woken up to the value of data as you now have to subscribe to their revamped OnDemand service. Spark has upped its investment in Lightbox, which is now freely available to Spark home broadband customers. Sky’s Neon has launched with little real fanfare and nothing much more than a dated back catalogue, and Netflix NZ is almost upon us. But what do these and the other digital offerings mean for dedicated online NZ content? Not much so far, particularly for the pay services with the dominance of offshore shows.

Viewfinder has sought to corner NZ web series on its webserieschannel and by the look of it, it has—you can probably binge watch them all in a weekend. But are web series the answer?

In September of last year, journalist James Rawson wrote in The Guardian about the demise of web series at the hands of Amazon Prime and Netflix.

The success of shows such as House of Cards and Arrested Development on Netflix has some Kiwi programme makers longing for the opportunity to make their New Zealand equivalents, leaving the production of low or no budget web series to others. This could well make sense. In the same Guardian article, successful web drama creator Ingrid Jungermann, of hit F to 7th fame is quoted as saying that: “It’s inevitable that web series will mirror film and split into two camps – indie web series creators who produce and distribute on their own, and “studio” web series creators who produce content for online channels. On one hand, you retain freedom of expression and ownership while going broke, and on the other hand, you exchange vision and voice to make a living.”

With little opportunity for the latter, we could well be left to the penniless former without the NZ On Air digital funds that are helping to create dedicated New Zealand online content .

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director