FAQ about TVNZ Digital Services

How did TVNZ select which services to provide?

A great deal of preliminary work went into understanding viewer needs, interests and behaviour. The start-up of Digital television is not a commercial opportunity for us – it’s a strategic opportunity to give public value.

Why is government investment needed — why not fund with advertising like TV ONE and TV2?

Although limited advertising “sponsorship” is part of the plan, “spot advertising” will not work at the outset because:
– Research suggests New Zealanders want their new services to be free of advertising.
– Low initial audience share would not make the costs of getting the revenue worthwhile.
– Advertising would cannibalise the existing TV ONE and TV2 revenue.
– Public Broadcasting wouldn’t be improved, since the new channels would face the same dilemma as TV ONE and TV2—foreign content gives a better commercial yield than the much more expensive local content.

Will this investment stay within the digital services or could it cross-subsidise activities that are not performing?

It will stay within digital services. The [$79 million] Investment in TVNZ [spread over five years] is to deliver new services – not build overheads. And TVNZ will be accountable for that investment, with a clear identification and apportionment of costs. However the new ways of operating and new technology that are necessary for the new services will feed efficiencies across all of TVNZ and are expected to be beneficial for our entire operation.

Will viewers get value for money?

Depending on which of the services we are talking about, 60% to 80% of the operating budget will end up where it should—on screen. That is good value for viewers, and a good investment in public broadcasting and national identity.
Why not fund the new services through TVNZ’s existing finances?

All broadcasters have a high proportion of fixed cost. The largest variable cost is the local content production budget. Reducing the opportunities for the local production sector when we can increase them, and exchanging growth in national identity for more overseas content is not what public broadcasting is about.

Will the new services be mostly repeats?

No. Across the schedules of the four services [cross check with releases—we are starting two channels but there are four services] that will be available on Digital there’s a 35% average of original New Zealand production.
By comparison with other public broadcasters, such as the BBC, repeat programming will be low. However repeat programming is not necessarily a bad thing. Repeating content—and in digital this can be done by re-shaping the material into a different form—provides more opportunity to view to more people and extends the return on the investment already made.

What happens after five years?

The broadcasting and visual content environment is changing so rapidly it is hard to know exactly where we will be placed in five years. We are planning for a number of options of course, but it would be unwise to make any predictions at this point.

Children’s programming

This strand is just for preschoolers—don’t TV2 and CanWest and SKY already meet this need?

Pre-schoolers and their parents are under-served—the FTA channels can only provide limited space in their schedule for them. And it’s not good enough for New Zealand families to have little choice for their pre-schoolers beyond American material for twenty-four hours a day. TVNZ won’t be giving up its commitment to pre-school programmes on TV2. Research by NZOA and TVNZ indicates a strong demand from parents for pre-school programmes that focus on learning and activity. TVNZ Kids will meet that demand, and the other services will also recognize the need for more “family friendly” viewing.

Family viewing

But isn’t “Family viewing” already catered for under TV ONE and TV2?

The new services will also reflect some elements from within the TV ONE and TV2 schedules. The new services extend those elements, and add new ones. The result is more choice and more opportunity to view, without the new channels being driven by commercial imperatives. The new services are designed to complement TV ONE and TV2, to offer greater accessibility, more choice and greater control to the viewer who can decide when and what they watch.

Arts and Drama

What sort of an audience are you expecting for this strand?

We’re responding to the view that many more people will watch New Zealand stories and the coverage of artistic and creative activity if they can be accessed in prime time. Public broadcasting is about all aspects of national identity. And national identity is inclusive—not exclusive.

24-hour News and information

What extra benefit does this give when there’s already plenty of news and information programming around?

This is the one service, above all others, where the public broadcaster needs to lead with a local perspective. TVNZ has a degree of obligation and accountability in the provision of an independent and impartial service that exceeds the standard requirements of accuracy, balance and fairness that apply to other commercial and foreign-owned broadcasters. As well, research indicates the main audience group identified for the news, information, documentary and sport channel is, in fact, less likely than any other group of viewers to be paying for subscription services.

Will TVNZ use this channel for major sports coverage?

SKY’s financial position has enabled it to dominate movie and sports rights. TVNZ will be able to offer much longer coverage of sports to which TVNZ have the rights than on their existing channels. The same will be true of major public events and national celebrations—they will get more coverage.

What about international reporting and analysis?

The proposed schedule will provide more of it, in more depth, presented with a New Zealand perspective, and in partnership with respected international public service broadcasters.

Why not take some international service full time?

Several reasons:
– TVNZ is the public broadcaster and has different priorities to those of a purely commercial operation.
– TVNZ can offer far wider coverage and understanding of the issues that matter to New Zealanders.
– TVNZ doesn’t intend to hand over its obligation to extend national identity, citizenship and public understanding of issues here and abroad to any foreign-owned broadcaster.

What will be the difference between what we have now and the new channel?

The new channel will have regular scheduled news bulletins across 18 hours a day, with the ability to deal with major events when needed. That is quite different from the “one-off” bulletins on TV ONE. In term of style and story selection there will also be differences.
This is not a 24-hour continuous “rolling” news service like CNN or Fox or SKY News. It will be a broadly-based factual service that will also include current affairs, sport and documentaries. It will have the time to develop major issues and stories with depth and analysis. Editorial priorities and on-air presentation will not need to take account of the need to attract mass audiences at particular times.

Are you intending to put all TVNZ’s public broadcasting programming on the digital services , so that TV ONE and TV2 can go fully commercial?

Absolutely not. TVNZ is a public broadcaster, and its local content will continue to be an integral part of the existing channels. Many commercial factors influence what TV ONE and TV2 can achieve, but the clear intention here is to expand public broadcasting.

What opportunities will there be for the independent production community from the launch of new digital channels?

There should be plenty of opportunity – we want as much local content as we can afford. Clearly, Broadcasters and the production sector will need to find new ideas, new ways of doing things, and new ways of doing business in the digital broadcasting era and today’s decision will no doubt accelerate that process for the whole industry.

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About the author

Co-founder of Throng. Favourite TV shows recently: Homeland and The Newsroom.
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  • Tui

    So the two new channels won’t be on SKY?