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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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Mark Jennings, co-editor of online news platform Newsroom, and former head of News at TV3, has penned an article on Discovery’s plans for TV3.

As Jennings writes, after Discovery’s merger with WarnerMedia., TV3 is now part of the second largest media business in the world after Disney. That in itself is a serious game changer for New Zealand.

TV3 has had an up and down history, moving from private ownership into the Canadian-owned hands of media conglomerate Canwest, before shifting to private equity ownership with Ironbridge Capital and then Oaktree Capital Management. It’s financial fortunes also swung about, going from high profitability before plunging twice into receivership.

TVNZ and SKY in more recent times have kept TV3 impoverished but no longer.

Already the owner of NZ’s Choice TV and HGTV and with six of its own channels on the SKY service, Discovery has, as Jennings points out, brought its might to bear on acquisitions by driving down the prices it pays for content for TV3. With staff cutbacks and other efficiencies, AUNZ GM for Discovery Glen Kyne told Jennings that the channel will be looking to more domestic shows as it competes with TVNZ and Prime in the domestic free-to-air market for viewers.

But what kinds of shows are they after? Kyne didn’t exactly reveal what they are looking for.

In April Juliet Peterson, former GM TVNZ Digital Content, was appointed as Senior Director, Programming at Three, while Australian Darren Chau was appointed Senior Director, Production. Chau has been in New Zealand recently having meetings with some New Zealand producers. Undoubtedly, others have been banging on Juliet’s door. They are certainly looking for ideas.

With its merger with WarnerMedia, Discovery has moved from reality and factual into scripted film and TV as well, with an annual US$20 billion commissioning chest—bigger than Netflix’s. There has been speculation as to whether or not the new CEO of the combined organisation, David Zaslav, is going to adapt when it comes to scripted. This could well play out in TV3’s commissioning stance.

Supposedly, Three is looking for NZ content that can travel internationally as well. It will be interesting to see, though, whether or not the network will continue to rely primarily on NZ On Air and NZ Screen Production Grant funding to get content made in New Zealand. Hopefully, they’ll ante up more than low license fees and become equity investors in NZ shows that could go on one or more of the international distribution channels the newly-branded Warner Bros. Discovery conglomerate owns.

Will it be new beginnings for NZ’s free-to-air market or just more of the same? Watch this space.

 

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