Yesterday I attended a forum on the Future of Public Television in New Zealand held at Victoria University in Wellington that was called after an open letter from academics was released in the wake of the funding cut to TVNZ7.
In attendance were industry stakeholders and interested parties who shared their concerns about not only on the demise of TVNZ7 but also the state of public television in general in this country, while also raising ideas and possible solutions for the future.
While much of the talk centred on TVNZ7 and the government’s decision to cut funding for the channel midway through next year, valid points were also raised regarding local content and the continued dominance of Sky in the New Zealand TV market.
Here are some of the major issues and topics discussed through the forum:
- One of the key points emphasised throughout the day was the insistence that it is not impossible for the government to continue funding a channel like TVNZ7, but that it required a certain level of dedication and commitment. A failure of willpower was identified as the major issue at play, with some going so far as to suggest that finding the $15m of funding required for TVNZ7 was not the issue, but that it had more to do with the elimination of the idea of public television by the current government.
- Of course, Sky Television and its dominance in our unregulated landscape was discussed with emphasis on future regulation of some sort. Sky in the UK was used as an example of a pay TV provider that actively produces and promotes quality local content.
- Exclusive first-run local content was identified as the key to the survival of free-to-air television due to the continued ease with which audiences can access international content both legally and illegally via the internet.
- Both Maori Television and regional television stations were identified as models of successful channels in the free-to-air market.
- Minister of Broadcasting Jonathan Coleman (not in attendance) was challenged by several speakers, who rubbished his assertion that New Zealanders don’t care where their content comes from.
- The fact that New Zealand is one of the only major OECD countries to not have its own public television channel. It was noted that Maori Television is the closest channel we have to filling this role.
- Looking ahead, it was discussed in what form public television would be desirable, whether it advances as a stand-alone anchor channel similar to TVNZ7 or as an increased emphasis on local non-commercial programming spread across several free-to-air channels. There was also talk of looking to the future with not only television in mind but a range of mediums that would engage a wide range of audiences.
Overall, the forum was used positively as a place for future planning and assessment as opposed to mourning the likely permanent loss of TVNZ7 next year. It was underlined that while there is no easy solution to the issue of our lack of public television, it is not impossible in the current economic climate and NZ media landscape to have a free-to-air channel dedicated to local content and not controlled by the advertising dollar and ratings figures.