Red Alert

Archive for the ‘TVNZ 7’ Category

Irony: ABC turns 80 as TVNZ7 killed off

Posted by on July 1st, 2012

Australia’s public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and affectionately known as Aunty, is celebrating its 80th birthday today.

The ABC’s first wireless broadcast was on this day in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression.

The chimes of Sydney’s GPO clock were the first sounds transmitted across the country from 12 radio stations.

In the 80 years since, the ABC has expanded from those radio stations into multiple platforms including television and online.

Last night at midnight, TVNZ turned off TVNZ7, our antion’s only public television channel after a mere 4 and a half years. The National Government made the decision not to fund it.  Now New Zealand becomes the only country in the OEC, bar Mexico, to be without a public television channel.

The Australian Federal Government allocates $912 million per year to the ABC and is a vital part of the Australian identity . In NZ, TVNZ7 cost around $16 million. Our national identity is being steadily eroded.

Goodnight Kiwi. RIP TVNZ7

Posted by on July 1st, 2012

TVNZ7 is no more. New Zealand is worse off for it.

Killing off public broadcasting will be one of the legacies of this National Government.

The slippery slope

Posted by on July 13th, 2011

Public television broadcasting ended in NZ last night. The TVNZ Amendment Bill passed which kills the TVNZ Charter. TVNZ is now required to be a commercial broadcaster. it remains State owned for now but is likely being prepared for sale by a government that has no commitment to public broadcasting.

While the National Govt axes the Charter and drives a stake into public TV broadcasting,  there’s a mounting crisis in the media world; in the relationship between media and politicians which could severely impact on the Murdoch media empire and the UK Govt.

The News of the World phone hacking scandal has reverberated around the globe. The Murdoch empire has tentacles in many countries.

There’s some important lessons here.

Independent public media, not captured by vested interests is critical to the health of a nation. The public needs to know that politicians and media aren’t in bed with each other, that there’s standards that media adhere to and lines that wont be crossed. If they are crossed, that the judicial system will investigate and prosecute. And wont be captured and muzzled by fear of powerful media.

But the passing of this Bill takes NZ on a slippery slope to a place where vested interests rule our media. Hopefully not our politicians.


We’ve already seen the government fork out $43 million to bail out Mediaworks. It’s pretty clear that TVNZ is being prepared for sale and meanwhile Sky gains a bigger slice of the unregulated broadcasting sphere. Unfettered. Not good.

Labour is committed to a strong independent public media. If you have had any doubts about the need, just look across the hemisphere.

All governments are susceptible to media influence. Especially big media empires. Which makes for a compelling case for independent publicly funded media which is arms length from government.

Tell the Government: Don’t Cut Our Future!

Posted by on April 27th, 2011


t Cut Our Future

Frost of the Caucus

Posted by on April 12th, 2011

Over the past few days I’ve been feeling rather sad about the announcements of NZPA and TVNZ 7. It has been tough to see that more voices in our media are being lost.

But I cheer up whenever I listen (online) to a community radio show that you probably didn’t even know about.

For a community radio show it has pulled in some pretty big guests like Te Radar, Roger Kerr (of the Business Roundtable), Economists Bernard Hickey and Rod Oram, Political columnists Chris Trotter, Matthew Hooton, Bomber Bradbury and Colin James, Auckland mayors John Banks and Len Brown, New Zealander of the Year Ray Avery, Rocket Man Peter Beck, League Legend Stacey Jones, Former Governor General Dame Cath Tizard and Aotearoa Republican Lewis Holden.

Now you are wondering, with guests that good, why haven’t you heard about it? Well wonder now more. Ladies and gentleman I introduce to you the David Frost of the Labour caucus, David Shearer.

The show is live Thursdays at 9.05am on Thursday or listen online [link has been fixed]

Fuzzy signals from the copper dome

Posted by on September 4th, 2010

What has happened to Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman’s Think Big plans for public service broadcasting? (See various past Broadcasting posts)

It would seem matters have bogged down at  Cabinet. The dark, powerful trio of  English, Joyce and McCully are not buying in.  Perhaps having to find $1.7b for Mr Hubbard’s cupboard is not helping. Not that there are many in a Nat Cabinet who,at the best of times, would defend PSB. Some think that local production and public broadcasting are the same thing, and besides,  SKY and all that money the Government is pumping into the broadband future will take care of it

Coleman had Treasury and Ministry of Culture and Heritage put up options on what to do once funding for TVNZ’s non-commercial channels 6 + 7 runs out early in 2012. (with little if any reference to anyone with broadcasting experience.)

Cabinet may have added another alternative to officials’ three options of  do nothing; leave TVNZ to run Ch7 under a separate governance arrangement (most likely outcome); merge with RNZ (either using Parliamentary Channel or CH 7 or both)

Now the time-honoured solution; have an industry/officials committee review everything and assesse a a preferred option.If this involved genuine public consultation, fine but much more likely it is a  kick for touch

Perhaps looming decisions may just cause Cabinet to focus. A date needs to be announced soon on Digital Switch On (and analogue switch off.) And also announcements on any extension to Freeview terrestial coveage, currently only received by 75% of homes and excluding many provincial cities.- all but one Nat held.  And there is the  TVNZ Amendment Bill now at submission hearings at Commerce Committee. It does away with the TVNZ Charter and begs the question of the Minister: what will you replace it with?  He would hope his options paper would provide a part-answer  but signals are reception is poor inside the copper dome.

Future of television#4

Posted by on August 27th, 2010

Cabinet is currently wrestling with what to do with TVNZ’s non-commercial channesl 6+7 once funding runs out next year. Leaving it up to TVNZ to sort out may be gaining the upper hand.  In part, they may be looking to technology to deliver an answer. Some Ministers apparently believe that given you can find an increasing amount of material that might be considered ‘quality’ or ‘public service’ content on the Internet or off Sky, why create a new edifice? The thinking goes that the market will solve this quite soon.

This is the derivatives approach to broadcasting; that amid a sea of junk bond programmes there will be some with real value. All you’ve got to do is find them and put them into a portfolio/folder/channel.

Here some will start crying that we fund local production via NZ on Air and this provides a platform for programmes which feed our sense of identity, and constitutes “public service broadcasting.”

Local production (however incentivised by NZoA or imposed by regulation) is not the same thing as public broadcasting.  For one thing, NZoA has no capacity to direct where programmes go; if they ain’t ‘commercial’ they are likely to be ghettoised, no matter what their broader importance or value. For many years, Governments have behaved as though it is–a convenient approach because it keeps the noisy creatives happy, while reducing the debate to commercial vs non-commercial objectives, and the circular and wholly subjective discussion of what constitutes “quality.”

The consequence is that there has been no history in N.Z. of what public broadcasting could be as a unified “system” within the total broadcasting landscape, and what its objectives in the digital era ought to be. It is time we had that debate.

Let’s accept the current model of state-owned television is skewed to the commercial realities. For twenty years, TVNZ has done what successive governments told it to do; make money. Sure, we as Labour stitched on the ‘dual mandate.’ We provided funding via the TVNZ Charter, admittedly modest, to try and provide something more. TVNZ was too attuned to its over-riding requirement to make money. It squandered some of the money on programming clearly outside the non-commercial ambit of the Charter and unwound some of the case for it.

Labour believes in public service broadcasting; the Charter was an attempt at achieving that.   We have it with Radio New Zealand. We  believe New Zealanders deserve some of that via television. Our sense of ourselves and the need for that to be reflected back to us is too important to entrust to the vagaries of the market, especially one that is changing fast.

We need a television platform that can endure into the future and survive the technological shift, while providing the New Zealand content that defines and redefines who we are as communities and a nation. The options could include Channel One, Channel 7 or even Parliament TV(when it’s not showing the House, which is the majority of times. ) Funding could come from a mix of revenue – from Channel 2 as the recession recedes, from some advertising or sponsorship, from a greater portion of NZ on Air funding, from the ‘digital dividend.’

Maori Television now provides ‘public service broadcasting’ for an audience that while actually attracting more Pakeha than Maori, is programmed around Maori interests. It costs around $35m a year for an essentially non-commercial service, about the same as Radio NZ. Maori Television, panned by the Nats and others when it started, is now accepted by most as providing innovative, modestly-costed flaxroots,  proud to be Kiwi television albeit to a modest audience. If we are talking about providing a viable, affordable platform into the future for all New Zealanders, that might be a good benchmark figure and comparative model to get us started on a national debate.

Future of television#3

Posted by on August 26th, 2010

A television executive recently achieved techno-nirvana. He successfully piped Internet video signals into his television receiver. “Brilliant,” said his wife.”Now you can watch television on television.”

This is the world to which we are hurtling. Latest Nielsen data from the States shows while traditional television audiences are holding up, ‘time-shifted’ programme watchers rose nearly 15 % in the past year and video via Internet by TV rose nearly 6 percent. And the really big growth is those watching video on their mobiles – up by more than half year on year, though mostly still clips not full programmes but IPad will change that.

Television companies in New Zealand understand this shift. TVNZ is now a digital media company; Jason Paris who drove that strategy now runs TV3. Sky’s stellar $103m profit of last week is framed as much around add-ons like MYSKY as increasing subscriptions.

All broadcasters face the challenge of Over the Top (OTT) content – that provided by non-broadcasters, with little or no overheads to meet. Within a few short years, free-to-air television will earn as much of their revenue from content shown on screens other than televisions.

So the lines between broadcasting and telecommunications are blurring fast.

Yet the rules are very different. Ask Paul Reynolds. The telecommunications market can be subject to Ministerial intervention faster than you can flick a fly rod. It makes little difference which Government is in power; telecommunications is deemed too important to leave to the vagaries of an unregulated market.

Contrast that with broadcasting which is now becoming paper-thin in separation from telecommunications.

Distribution systems and platforms have technically converged in their use for “broadcasting” (content) and “telephony” (also content). These distribution systems are regulated to ensure competition when used for telco purposes, but NOT when used for broadcasting purposes. Hello?

The pricing and terms of trade for providing “telephony” content services are regulated to ensure competition, but not for broadcasting content even when both are paid for by the user. The logic and equity of that is….what?


Future of television#2

Posted by on August 18th, 2010

When you blog or comment about the need for us as a nation to have public service television – admittedly an awful phrase – you sometimes get branded elitist, high-brow, wasteful of taxpayer dollars to provide content for a minority.

So what about Desperate Housewives? Rupert Murdoch’s British arm, BSkyB has just bought the UK rights to Home Box Office. That means if you want to watch Desperate Housewives – and a string other such others – you have to pay Rupert for the privilege.

How long before that’s your only option here? Sky is now in close to 55% of NZ homes. It is already pursuing such popular programmes to build on its movies and sport base. While free-to-air television has been knocked for six in the last two years, Sky is regarded as ‘recession proof.’ People stay at home and watch Sky. On Friday Sky will report its latest after-tax profit. Projections are $100m this year, up $9m on last year and growing to $141m in two years. Little wonder the analysts are suggesting Sky can gear up and buy something. TVNZ?

To date, TVNZ and TV3 (free-to-air television) have stayed ahead of Sky in viewership by mixing the likes of Desperate Housewives with New Zealand content.

Big threats are posed for free-to-air television once Sky outbids and buys these rights. We all have a stake in TVNZ. The rising cost to buy overseas programmes against Sky will dilute TVNZ’s capacity to make local content, which can be ten times the cost of buying foreign shows. NZ on Air is our $80m mechanism to keep it Kiwi on television. But note NZOA’s chief executive Jane Wrightson in her latest newsletter who felt like writing a “bleak missive” about challenges ahead and “likely enemies preparing to storm the gates.” Ouch!

So we have a government that refuses to acknowledge the competition issues being presented by the increasing power of Sky, is telling TVNZ to only focus on making money and now is looking at raiding NZ on Air funding which keeps FTA viable and allows it to show New Zealanders themselves on television.

The funds-raid is likely to have been in a ‘white paper’ discussed at Cabinet last Monday or soon will be, on what to do once TVNZ 6 + 7 funding runs out next year; options include do nothing (let TVNZ sort it), run 7 + possibly 6 as a small independent entity, or integrate them with Radio NZ.

The first option could mean a ghetto service at best unless there’s a remarkable lift in TVNZ revenue and there’s a high-risk of that being the case with the other two options. And yes, we might well all be watching most of our content on screens other than our televisions in a decade, but someone still has to fund, create and showcase our stories.

A connection to the TVNZ mothership is crucial in my view. Some 20+ years ago, I worked in London for Channel 4 News. Initially the new channel provided the news. It was simply studio interviews that bored viewers into switching off. Independent Television News, ITN, came in and provided a base news feed to liven up what became an excellent news hour including extended interviews, assisted by being, then, non-commercial.

This does not mean Channel 7 (and possibly 6) have to be run by TVNZ. Point is, television needs pictures and TVNZ is probably best placed to provide some of them, not just for news but through its other programming and archives. But how Channels 7 (and 6?) might best work deserves more than a Cabinet paper and some blogging.  Feedback from a variety of industry and academic sources confirm that a national debate is demanded with opportunity for real input . We want a television future that regards us as New Zealand citizens as well as consumers.

Next blog:  Watching television on other screens and how rapidly it’s changing

A future for television #1

Posted by on August 16th, 2010

Decision-time looms on the future of any version of public service television. As early as today, Cabinet will consider what to do, if anything, once the funding for TVNZ’s non-commercial channels, 6 + 7, runs out next year. These channels form the backbone of the Freeview service, set up to provide a digital competitor to the Murdoch-dominated Sky TV pay channels. About one in four NZ homes are now receiving Freeview – half those with Sky.

My understanding is that the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and Treasury’s Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit are juggling three possible outcomes which reflect the lack of coherence within Cabinet about public service broadcasting:

1/ Do nothing, leave it up to TVNZ to sort it out, unassisted.

2/ Create a small independent entity to run 7 (and possibly 6), perhaps with some contracted Radio NZ services

3/ Morph TVNZ 7 into Radio NZ

None of these options seem likely to be funded to work. viably.

  • Leaving it to TVNZ will have its likely Cabinet backers. Bill English and Treasury will not sanction a new funding round to the tune of last time, so sticking it on little-loved TVNZ will have its appeal. Steven Joyce, who made his fortune in private radio, may be in this camp too, so this option may prove hard to beat. Except the state owned broadcaster is barely trading profitably this year and to date has subsidized 6+7 well beyond the $79m one-off funding grant (created out of boomtime TVNZ dividends.) Funding even TVNZ7 would eat into expected dividends. And TVNZ is now explicitly told that its only function is to make cash; to require it to carry two, or even one non-commercial channel, is contrary to the aims of the TVNZ Amendment Bill (before Parliament but not passed.)
  • Creating a small independent entity is implausible. Television needs pictures. The easiest and best way to provide them is via TVNZ. Some form of ongoing link to TVNZ could possible be stitched into any the provisions for a small new broadcaster but TVNZ would then expect to be paid handsomely for  news and other programme feeds. At present, young TVNZ reporters are cutting their teeth on the round-the-clock demands of TVNZ 7. As already blogged, if the funding for a stand-alone were to come from cuts to NZ on Air’s budget, this could be at the expense of the independent production sector. Even forcing NZ on Air to hand over the new Platinum Fund to TVNZ7 seems unlikely, as it would be an embarrassing backdown for Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman. And “ghettoising’ much NZ content in a small audience channel would pull viewership off TV One, Two and TV3 to the further benefit of Sky.
  • A forced merger of TVNZ7 and Radio NZ would be opposed by many supporters of Radio NZ, myself included. That’s not because combined operations can’t work but like any relationship they need time, space and security.  I doubt there is enough goodwill in this Cabinet towards the concept of public service broadcasting for that to happen. Radio NZ is already under-funded; you can’t strap on television without  new funding and a new Charter for public service  broadcasting  to make this work well. Neither of these will appeal to Coleman and Cabinet.  

 For about $15m a year, we’ve had two non-commercial channels – extraodinary value thanks to Steve Maharey and TVNZ’s stretch of resources.  A renewed arrangement could look at all the funding options and provide a huge opportunity to re-define how Channel 7 operates and its relationship with TVNZ.

Perhaps, just perhaps, some in Cabinet might see that as a nation we need a viable alternative to an increasingly commercial model where even news bulletins are shaped around minute by minute ratings;  and how  TVNZ’s value to the Crown and taxpayers is diminishing as Sky beams into ever  more homes while audiences also fragment to new media.

Some thoughts on that next post.


Posted by on July 7th, 2010

TVNZ is wrapping up further staff cuts in silk stockings with its ‘biggest changes to television news and current affairs in 20 years’ announcement yesterday.

The ‘multi-media’ approach will see reporters become their own video editors and sometimes camera operator, as well as working for programmes from Breakfast through to late news bulletins and the web too boot. All very ‘efficient’, extracting the most from staff as a  resource and assisting our state-owned television network to maximise its returns to the government, now the only requirement of TVNZ. The last line of the media release identifies the drive: annual savings of $3m.

And yes, it parallels what is happening in other news operations where falling revenues have seen newsrooms decimated and reporters required to file incessantly for a variety of outlets including web services and blogs.   All of these changes are turning too many journalists into churnalists. Where once there was a capacity to dig, do the research, speak to a variety of sources, check the facts – now there is constant pressure to meet another deadline. The head of an aid organisation I spoke to this week complained without prompting that journalists no longer ring and ask her a series of questions – they just want her to voice a grab so they can get it to air or on-screen.

So it will increasingly become with TVNZ. The reporters it still has that could, until now, expect the time to work on a story for a dedicated programme, will now have to file for a range of programmes and platforms.  And edit (and increasingly) film their own stories too.

All of this will mean TVNZ scatters its resources more thinly across an increasing range of platforms. My pick is that some core viewers will notice the lesser fare and the audience-pull that TVNZ gets from One News, Sunday, Fair Go will diminish.  That ultimately is bad news for TVNZ and for those of us who believe it has a crucial role to play in ensuring New Zealanders are truly well-informed.

TVNZ launches new Sky channel

Posted by on June 1st, 2010

Attended the launch tonight of TVNZ’s Heartland, its new entirely NZ content channel. Delivered on the Sky platform.  Hmmm. TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis and Sky CEO John Fellett gave polite speeches about the mutual benefits etc but  no doubt who is smiling the widest.

You have to acknowledge that it’s tough times and this  bit of revenue from Sky may help keep TVNZ stay in the black and perhaps deliver a little more dividend to Dr Coleman. But there is still something fundamentally flawed with our state broadcaster providing a channel to the same compeptitor which TVNZ chairman Sir John Anderson  complains about having an increasing dominance. More eyeballs on Heartland/Sky are fewer eyeballs on 1,2, 6 +7.

And this continues to erode Freeview which TVNZ wanted as a digital platform to compete with Sky.  Last month’s Budget confirms no funding  beyond next year for Freeview, or for channels 6 + 7. It all feels  like the same sort of “whoa” moment that happened in the early 90s when TVNZ’s board, supported by Maurice Williamson as Minister –  sold its 37 percent stake in Sky.  A fundamentally short-sighted decision, driven by another set of short-term needs  by a  previous National government which had no strategic plan for TVNZ beyond selling it.

The launch of Heartland – which I pick will prove popular for Sky – took place the same days as we marked 50 years since television started in NZ.

I tuned into a bit of TVNZ’s 2-hour programme tonight, which turned out to be a celebrity quiz show. If you want a gruntier doco on 50 years of television – 30 of which was entirely TVNZ and its predecssors – you shall have to wait .  And which channel is doing that doco?  Sky-owned Prime!

Sigh… if only we could

Posted by on January 21st, 2010

Here’s something we could truly aspire to. Just announced:

The ABC will launch Australia’s first free-to-air 24-hour television news channel in 2010.

The ABC’s Managing Director, Mark Scott, said the ABC’s commitment to quality news and current affairs would enter a new era with the creation of the new digital channel.

The channel will provide live continuous news coverage of major breaking stories from Australia and around the world. Broadcasting around the clock will enable the ABC to increase its in-depth coverage of local, national and international affairs through background features and analysis, combined with the ABC’s unrivalled long-form current affairs reporting.

We do have our own version, TVNZ 7, but it needs a boost and to be taken really seriously rather than be an add on.

TVNZ 7 is a commercial-free New Zealand 24-hour news and information channel on Freeview digital television platform and on SKY Television Digital from 1 July 2009.

Just imagine if we could consistently produce news around New Zealand drawn from New Zealand and overseas across a digital platform that encompassed radio, television and online mediums that was driven by news values and not ratings.

That’s the New Zealand I want to live in.

My colleague Brendon Burns is doing some work in this area and will have mroe to say on this subject.

Hat tip: Mark Scott, ABC Managing Director on Twitter (abcmarkscott)