What’s Happening to Your Screen Tax Payer Dollars?

I was at the Screen Producers Australia – Screen Forever conference last week in Melbourne. An interesting issue was brought up by highly regarded independent Australian producer Trish Lake, who highlighted the fact that many of the primetime slots on Australian TV and large chunks of Australian taxpayer funding distributed by Screen Australia are taken by non-Australian companies, i.e., companies that once were Australian but have been bought out by foreign entities, an example being one of Australia’s most prolific production companies Matchbox Pictures, which is owned by NBC Universal. Trish feels that foreign-owned companies should not be accessing discretionary Screen Australia funding. She is not alone in this.

In New Zealand we now have five of the largest TV production companies foreign-owned: NHNZ by Fox International, South Pacific Pictures by the U.K’s all3media (who also own 50% of Satellite Media and 51% of Kura Productions), Screentime by the French Banijay Group, the former Eyeworks Touchdown by U.S. studio Warner, and Greenstone by Australian outfit CJZ.

Two Australian companies—Matchbox Pictures and See Saw Films have recently set up here, but not received NZ On Air funding to date.

I decided to take a look at the primetime slots (7 – 9:30PM) across the mainstream TV channels (1, 2, 3, Prime) to see who did what this week (Wed. 23rd – Tues. 29th Nov.). Here’s what I found with the New Zealand-made shows that aired:

NZ Broadcasters
Stripped shows
Seven Sharp, Current Affairs – TVNZ
Story, Current Affairs – TV3
The Crowd Goes Wild, Sports – SKY on Prime

Series
Country Calendar, Documentary – TVNZ
Fair Go, Consumer Affairs – TVNZ
First Dates NZ, Reality- TVNZ
The Friday Story, Light Ent. – TV3

Foreign-owned independents
Stripped shows
Shortland Street, Drama – South Pacific Pictures/all3media

Series
The Brokenwood Mysteries, Drama – South Pacific Pictures/all3media
Police Ten 7, Reality – Screentime/Banijay
Motorway Patrol, Reality – Greenstone/CJZ
Our Big Blue Backyard, Documentary – NHNZ/Fox

NZ Independents
Series
Dirty Laundry, Drama –Filthy Productions
Terry Teo, Comedy – Semi-Professional

The foreign-owned independents certainly seem to dominate primetime this week.

To see what was happening with NZ On Air funding I went back through the last four funding announcements in 2016 to see who got how much across all timeslots, not just primetime shows:

Broadcasters…………………………………………………………………… $4,044,942       11.00%
Foreign owned Independents……………………………………….. $11,403,637       30.98%
NZ Independents…………………………………………………………… $20,732,213       58.02%

Total funding allocated (Mar to Sept. 2016 rounds)………..$36,805,774      100.00%

NB:

  1. Satellite Media received funding so I split it equally between Foreign and NZ
  2. Funding this year does’nt relate to programming this year.

While NZ independents took the biggest slice of the cake in 2016, foreign-owned independents took a not unsubstantial 31 per cent of the money available for shows on 1, 2, 3 and Prime.

I thought I would also take a look at what foreign-owned companies have received from NZ On Air for mainstream broadcast (1, 2, 3, Prime) since they became 100 per cent foreign owned. Here are the numbers:

Since 5 April 2013 when all3media took total control of South Pacific Pictures they have received $29,624,564, and Satellite Media have received $4,080,113, 50% of which is attributable for a total of: $31,664,621
From the time CJZ took control of Greenstone in December 2013 they have received:   $4,566,766
Screentime became wholly owned by its Australian parent in June 2009, and later by Banijay at a date I found difficult to determine. Since June 2009, Screentime has received from NZ On Air: $34,172,527
It looks like Eyeworks Touchdown/Warner has been foreign-owned since April 2006. Since that time they have received from NZ On Air: $22,857,516
NHNZ would seem to have been 100 % foreign owned since at least November 1997, but they only seem to have received from NZ On Air:   $5,563,647
TTL $98,825,647

It’s all a little unscientific and essentially not comparing apples with apples, but there’s no denying that nearly 100 million dollars has gone to foreign-owned production companies from NZ On Air funding, at least 75% of it in the last six years.

So what does it all mean? Here are some thoughts:

With TVNZ a commercially-driven public broadcaster getting $8.5 million from the government for operating revenues and returning an $8.3 million dividend from a $28.1 million net profit in 2015, you have to wonder why they are allowed to dip into NZ On Air’s coffers for production funding.

Foreign-owned independents  took 31% of NZ On Air funding in 2016, and apart from the broadcasters totally dominate the primetime slots in the period looked at. Certainly they employ Kiwis and contribute to the local economy but at what cost? Surely they are stymying the growth of NZ production businesses by being so dominant.

As more offshore entities buy out NZ companies and foreign independents set up here more of NZ On Air’s funding will go to them, leaving less for NZ owned independents. And more of the profits made with NZ tax payer funding will head offshore.

Our situation here is essentially the same as in Australia except they have a public broadcaster and quota and we don’t.

This issue regarding who gets the discretionary screen tax payer dollars is certainly something we should all be giving a lot more thought to.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

NB: I didn’t look at what foreign-owned companies in NZ might or might not take from the New Zealand Film Commission’s discretionary funding (not including the Screen Production Grant).