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A couple of days ago on The Spinoff, South Pacific Pictures Managing Director Andrew Szusterman decried the loss of drama Head High from Discovery Three. Lead director and co-lead writer on the show is a DEGANZ member, Tim Worrall.

Szusterman pointed out the difficulty and cost of getting NZ drama funded and made. He said that without NZ On Air, there would be little drama produced at all because it provides the majority of the funding for such projects.

He went on to call for the Government to say, “It’s time” to streamers, such as Netflix, Amazon and the others, and to put money into New Zealand programme production. Szusterman quite rightly stated that New Zealand’s market is not big enough to warrant streamers voluntarily investing significantly in New Zealand content.

“None of these services have commissioned any New Zealand premium drama content directly for New Zealand audiences, and there is not a chance that they will unless change is forced upon them.”

I’m glad that Szusterman is adding his voice to SPADA’s recent activity in this space. SPADA has finally given up on saying, “We can’t levy the streamers because of GATT*”. I’ve been calling for levies on streamers in this column for years: Show Me the Money, Time for a Reset, An Answer to NZ’s Broadcasting Industry Dilemma? I point this out not because I want to say “I told you so.”, but to highlight that we have been mired in a time warp for too long while the Golden Age of TV drama sails on by.

I’m aware that there are a number of NZ producers who are pushing hard to crack the international door open for ‘high-end’ TV drama. But you need the budgets to do it. And you need the policies to make it easier. At the moment both are a barrier.

Good drama requires a lot of development funding. So does the production. When many of the shows appearing on the streamers are being made from an absolute low of US$2 million per episode to the stratospheric heights of The Crown or Ozark at US$13 – 14 million per episode, an NZ show at US$ 0.7 – 1.2 mil. per episode doesn’t cut it. As long as the Government keeps NZ On Air and NZFC funding at the levels it has for the last 10 years or so, we have to find money elsewhere to supplement the budgets. This is outlined in the Screen Sector Strategy 2030.

So where to get it from and what needs to change? It’s time to levy the streamers. They’re an obvious source. Even though our market isn’t big, it still provides incremental income for them, and they should pay to get it.

We also need to remove the block to going behind a paywall for NZ On Air funding, as is currently the case. And we need to allow, as I’ve said before, Drama and Factual to access both the New Zealand Screen Production Grant and NZ On Air funds, which is only allowed now for Children’s and Animation. The Premium Production Fund has been given a temporary reprieve concerning this. It’s time to make this permanent, and the Premium Fund, too. If we had to, we could accept a 30% NZSPG for behind paywalls instead of the 40% available now for free-to-air.

In the meantime, we wish Szusterman luck in finding a new home for Head High. It has a place on NZ screens.

 

The Spinoff article here.

*General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

 

 

 

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Globalisation has been both beneficial and detrimental to the New Zealand screen industry. Beneficial in that we have been the recipient of international productions coming here and spending many millions of dollars on goods, services and wages with a net benefit to the New Zealand economy.

When American producer Rob Tapert really kicked it off with Hercules in the 90’s, he also trained up many of the crew who went on to work on his other shows and later Peter Jackson’s and Andrew Adamson’s films, amongst other big budget projects. Now our crew have a reputation second to none.

But we really screwed up when we signed up for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and failed to get an exemption as Australia did for audiovisual services.

This exemption allows Australia to impose broadcast quotas for local content. It also creates the possibility for Australia to apply quotas to digital services, including streamers as is now being actively discussed there. Meanwhile, in New Zealand when we talk about quotas on broadcast and levies on streamers, the first thing that springs from peoples’ mouths is, “We can’t because of GATT.”

Well maybe it’s time to drive significant change here as is currently being proposed in many other sectors. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it great opportunity to make change that before would never have been imaginable.

We are seeing examples of it every day in the news. The proposed merger of TVNZ and RNZ, the setting aside of the Resource Management Act, the drive to grow the New Zealand manufacturing sector, and the selling of CBD head offices because working from home has become a reality for many. We are now having to reconfigure the rules to adapt to the new normal we find ourselves in.

With America turning in on itself, the idea of unchecked globilisation being reconsidered, and trade deals being mooted for restructuring and renegotiation, now is an ideal time for cultural considerations for local content to be reinstated. We should be looking to ensure that New Zealand content on NZ screens is a requirement, not just a nice to have, whether it’s on local broadcasters and platforms or international streamers swamping us with international content.

In the meantime, we just have to figure out a way to swamp the world with New Zealand content. Some more funding for NZ On Air and the NZ Film Commission would be a good start.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director