Is it time to change the way we fund TV production in NZ?

I believe it is now quite clearly time for a change in the the way NZ on Air funds Television Production in New Zealand, or at the very least it’s time for a structured and government sponsored public forum and debate, whereby the formation of a new funding model could be seriously discussed.

NZ on Air was set up to cater to a completely different TV landscape. Eric the fish has long since been flushed down the pan to the great fishbowl in the Sky. (I refer to a metaphoric fishy-afterlife and not Mt Wellington)

I used to argue that as the State Broadcaster, TVNZ should simply get all the money with a clear remit given by Statute/NZ on Air for the programmes that it is required to provide from the funding. However come September, when TV changes across the country to a fully digital model, why doesn’t NZ on Air just take a FREEVIEW UHF and a FREEVIEW Satellite Channel and a channel on SKY and broadcast themselves?  This would mean their content is available to ALL New Zealanders and would surely satisfy any questions regarding accessability.

The transmission costs would be easily covered by NZ on Air’s present administrative costs.

If this was to occur NZ on Air would cease to be beholden to the networks, a situation which is completely unnecessary and simply causes confusion as to who is actually deciding where taxpayers money should, or can, be spent. On such a channel you would not have to broadcast 24/7 as advertising revenue isn’t an issue, although it could become an additional revenue stream. Given time and the correct licensing, a NZ on Air channel could build up a significant back catalogue and extend its hours of transmission.

One simply has to look to other countries who have gone to a digital model and you will discover that such channels go to air at 7pm and shut down at midnight.

It’s time that the Government explored ALL options! However,for this to happen they need to call for submissions and listen to those who have a significant knowledge and insight into broadcasting. At present it would appear that they are only listening to what often amounts to the self-interest of those who are employed by the state broadcaster. Many of whom have very little, or no experience in broadcasting outside New Zealand, and whose main goal is to simply maintain the status quo – whereby they can retain their positions and generous salary packages, while contributing very little to the betterment of broadcasting in New Zealand.

The UK has now converted to a fully digital service coupled with their much faster broadband service. The offering to viewers has changed immeasurably. In the UK, both broadcasters and the viewers have embraced the change, unlike NZ where the state broadcaster is clinging on to the crumbling cliff-face that was last century’s TV.

It is only a matter of time until these people lose their grip and plunge to the depths below. I ‘d just rather they didn’t take the audience with them.

When senior programming executives can be quoted as saying ‘I hate my job but I am simply hanging in for the salary’, it’s time for radical change !

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About the author

Nigel Godfrey

Nigel Godfrey has vast experience in the television industry: working for Thames Television (UK), Channel Ten (Australia), The Australian Film and Television School, TVNZ and Southern Star. He worked on The International Final of Miss World broadcast live from The Royal Albert Hall to an estimated worldwide audience of 500 million and the opening ceremony of The Commonwealth Games in 1990. He has enjoyed a variety of positions including numerous acting roles on television, film and stage, senior floor manager, directing, writing and producing hundreds of hours of broadcast programming and television commercials. Nigel was instrumental in the set-up and operation of New Zealand's first regional television station CTV, and founded Eureka Productions.

Nigel has worked with TVNZ on Masterchef, Idol, Stars in their Eyes, So you Think you Can Dance, Deal or no Deal and countless other primetime franchises.

NZ highlights include producing the 2009 telethon, The New Zealand Variety Show, children's show "Y", Sky Scene, The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

When he does have any time to spare he’s normally watching TV or spending time with his partner and 3 daughters at his home in Auckland.
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  • John Barnett

    NZ On Air is not a broadcaster and it’s not a producer, it’s a funder of New Zealand programmes. The dynamic tension which exists in the NZOA model where producers have to first ensure that their programmes are going to be broadcast (ie. seen by a local audience) and then seek funds from NZ On Air ensures that no NZ On Air money is wasted on ideas that won’t reach any audience.

    Regan wants NZ On Air content to be “available to ALL New Zealanders”. It is. When it plays on TV One, TV2, TV3, FOUR, Prime, Maori TV it is available, free, to all New Zealanders.

    NZ On Air is not beholden to the networks. The networks have to go cap in hand to NZ On Air.

    The suggestion that NZ On Air’s admin costs (2% of its budget) is sufficient to cover the transmission of this guaranteed-to-fail channel is totally naive.

    Presumably someone has to assess the myriad of programme proposals, select ones that it individually likes, contract for them, oversee their production, plan the transmission schedule, market the shows to the public and deal with the howls of outraged viewers when they get it wrong. But Regan’s just allocated that budget to the transmission.

    He suggests that many of the decision-makers have “very little or no experience in broadcasting outside New Zealand”. Goodness me, I thought it was called NZ On Air. And that its responsibility was to New Zealand audiences. And who better to make those decisions than people with broadcasting experience inside New Zealand?

    Comparing New Zealand’s television transmission scene to the UK is also naive. A population of 60 million people vs one of 4 million sets the parameters for the services and infrastructure in each location.

    John Barnett, Chief Executive
    South Pacific Pictures

    • Right with you John, making NZ on Air a separate entity will not solve any problems. It’s not even going to create any competition or revenue for anyone. And who cares what the UK does, it’s simply not scaleable to a country the size of ours

  • Regan, all this is going to do is create two (2) state braodcasters. Then the government would have to toss up between TVNZ and NZ on Air. They’d naturally stick with TVNZ because they make money from them, It’s not going to solve any problems whatsoever

  • Guest

    Please note the author of this post was incorrect when posted, the author of this post is Nigel Godfrey, not Regan Cunliffe.

  • First of all, NZ On Air is pain in the arse, because they fund shows that don’t need to be funded, (at least that’s my opinion), and really it’s time to have a more reasonable funding system. We don’t need NZ On Air anymore.

  • nigel godfrey

    It appears that some people don’t even like the question – ‘Is it time to change the way we fund TV Production in NZ ?’ even being asked. What NZ on Air is or isn’t at the present time is a complete irrelevance to the debate that I wished to prompt. Nowhere am I suggesting that it should be a producer – however I am putting forward the argument that in a completely new television landscape it ‘could’ possibly be a broadcaster. The ‘dynamic tension’ that John Barnett describes has most certainly worked for his company SPP, whether though that ‘tension’ has delivered the best possible televisual outcomes, right across the board, to viewers over the last 20 or so years is a legitimate topic for discussion. But this debate shouldn’t be about the past it concerns the future. In regard to the idea that NZ on Air product could broadcast on a dedicated channel, John well know the costs of transmission – and they can be calculated in many different ways, however in the scheme of NZ on Air’s overall budget, transmission would not be a stumbling block nor a particularly significant cost factor and the idea that transmission could be covered by the present administrative cost is neither naive nor incorrect. As to Jimmy’s concern that we would have 2 competing channels, I think that an overhaul of the way we fund Broadcasting should include a look at the structure of TVNZ as well. However as an aside, at the present we have a number of competing 100% government funded channels and quite often we see NZ on Air product programmed against each other on opposing channels – a practice that surely should be outlawed. But back to the questions raised. It is, in my opinion, a ‘hackneyed’ argument that here in NZ we are making shows for New Zealanders and that they are somehow utterly different in composition to overseas offerings, after all SPP’s record on selling formats into overseas markets would seem to disprove such an assertion. Incidentally NZ on Air dropped the tag line ‘so you can see more of New Zealand on Air’, a long while ago. I believe that a detailed knowledge and understanding of overseas trends in relation to programming and transmission is essential in the current television environment, that was the point I sought to make in regard to some of those present in programming at our State Broadcaster. The only comparison that I made with the UK is in relation to the perception of the viewer in regard to ‘choice’ since the Digital switchover and in my opinion it is entirely relevant to this debate and does not relate in anyway to population numbers. The ultimate convergence of online and on air, with the increasing take-up of smart TV’s and faster broadband delivery will also change the landscape here beyond recognition. Surely all of these factors are relevant discussion points in relation to a funding model which hasn’t significantly changed since the 3 channel environment for which it was set up. I am not advocating that NZ on Air becomes a broadcaster tomorrow, in a fully digital environment why couldn’t we talk about NZ on Air product being RE-broadcast for ALL New Zealanders. A little like TVNZ Heartland, where at present programmes that were largely paid for in full by the NZ taxpayer in the first instance, can now only be seen again by those prepared to subscribe to a private commercial broadcaster. I am simply suggesting some serious discussion around change. It was not so long ago that John himself came up with an idea for a new State Broadcaster that was so radical in its construction that it was described by some as unworkable and hair-brained, but at least it was entertained and discussed. NZ on Air is unique around the globe – where else do taxpayers fund programmes that often screen on private commercial channels and then any subsequent revenue gained from advertising within those programmes is neither returned to the taxpayer nor the funding agency but it is retained by the private commercial interests. I’ll save you the research NOWHERE ! I’ll end with what I consider to be some interesting stats. In it’s first 10 years of existence NZ on Air spent 700 million dollars and recouped just 7 million. At the same time, and in the years since, a number of private production companies making television programmes in New Zealand virtually exclusively with NZ on Air and/or TVNZ funding have flourished into Multi-Million dollar private commercial concerns. I do wish to make very clear that in my opinion none of these companies have done anything wrong, they have simply worked within the broadcasting funding system that we have, one that I believe should now at the very least have its structure reviewed. And finally I would wish to add, so that nobody is any doubt, I believe that John Barnett’s company SPP is a shining example of an established but still innovative and ground-breaking Film and Television Production Company. In my opinion he himself has proved himself to be a tireless champion of New Zealand TV and Film and he has been responsible for some of the industry’s crowning glories in the last 30 or so years. His generosity of spirit, unparalleled expertise and passion for the industry has seen his company grow into a player of global significance which along the way has nurtured and continues to nurture talent in every single area of the industry. Without question he has quite justifiably earned the respect of everybody working in the business today, not least mine. However John, I simply would like to see open, honest and meaningful debate around the state’s involvement in our industry, the direction of which I feel is neither clear, mandated or anywhere near as productive as it could be.

    • You should have said a lot of this in the original article Nigel, most of what you suggest makes a bit more sense now. But I ask you this: Wouldn’t saving TVNZ7 have been a much better, more simple, and more logical idea than shaking up the whole industry – an industry that will shake itself up in the next decade anyway??

      • nigel godfrey

        ‘should’ have said Jimmy – debates develop … as for TVNZ 7 my opinion of TVNZ 7 was that although it had some original content in general it was very, very poorly programmed and the money that TVNZ spent on their digital expansion as a whole was in one word ‘profligately’ administered. TVNZ enjoyed the distraction of TVNZ 7, while it lasted, as a large number of the interested public completely forgot that the areas in which TVNZ 7 supposedly excelled were areas that TVNZ as a broadcaster on ONE and 2 should have been fulfilling anyway.

        • Fair enough TVNZ should have done better, but if you made NZ on Air its own channel etc etc, all you’d end up with was another TVNZ7.I can’t see it working. There isn’t a large enough market for the sort of content a channel like TVNZ7 or NZ on Air would carry – the reason I know this is because TVNZ7 had its plug pulled, and the trend from TVNZ and MediaWorks over the previous decade (the last 5 years in particular) to more increasingly dumbed down, trashy television, that would have caused outrage if it aired a decade ago (think My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding as a perfect example). The reason TVNZ and MediaWorks air this crap is simple economics – crap content makes more money because there are more idiots with (what I think is) very poor taste in TV than those who are of a higher level of IQ who prefer content with more educational and insightful value.

          So from all this, why not just force the state broadcaster to book 4 out of 5 nights a week, in the 7:30pm – 8:30pm slot (for example) for NZ on Air funded programming only? The catch being that it can’t be reality based for x nights of the week – it has to be a documentary or something? That way NZ on Air can continue trotting along as they are now but with more of their content airing where it should, like you say, be aired – where people will actually watch it

          In this case, why not alter the question to “Is it time to change the way we present New Zealand made content?.” I know I’ve ranted a little, and lost the topic slightly, but hopefully it’s reasonably clear how it all ties back to the main topic