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Regional TV Public Funding

05 May 2005

R E G I O N A L . T V . P U B L I C . F U N D I N G


The TV Next Door

Broadcasting Minister Steve Maharey announced this week that $3.5 million will be invested over the next four years in the first-ever government funding of regional television. Potential recipients were quick to applaud this newfound largesse, the first crumbs to fall their way from the public trough since regional television was made possible fifteen years ago. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that around $900,000 a year will be made available for the country's small but perfectly formed regional operators to somehow spend amongst themselves, though allocation criteria have yet to be invented.

In the same week we note that Television New Zealand gouged out a profit of $30.7 million for the second half of 2004. Hmmm - as Micawber might have noted, "Annual income sixty million dollars, annual expenditure nine hundred thousand dollars, result happiness" (for Treasury, anyway).

Dare we take inspiration from the current wave of political billboarding, which suggests that funds raised from petrol taxes ought to be spent on a related benefit, roading? Under this User Spends principle, a decent dollop of TVNZ surplus cash could be spooned straight into the begging bowls of undernourished local operators. The wondrous TVNZ charter - most specifically the bit that promises "programming that serves the varied interests and informational needs and age groups within New Zealand society, including tastes and interests not generally catered for by other national television broadcasters" - could become more than lip service if profits generated by television stayed with television.

A research project commissioned by NZ On Air in 2003 concluded that most regional television audiences were keen to see local news, current affairs and sport covered on their regional channel; and the limited amount of research commissioned by local operators themselves over the years clearly demonstrates that those are the programmes that attract an audience on regional channels.

Those amongst us doddery enough to remember NZBC regional shows such as Town & Around and its local equivalents also remember the fascination and sometimes morbid curiosity with which we greeted the exploits of our neighbours. The imperative to network has led to homogeneity and "one point of view fits all" editorial content, to our cultural deprivation.

Before the usual gang of suspects gets to hijack this new funding for coverage of hip-hop tours, NCEA-approved non-achieving initiatives and GE-free televised monologues, let's set some ground rules. For once, NZ On Air has research showing what audiences like to watch. Let's break the mould and give 'em what they want - the aforementioned truly local news, current affairs and sport.

On the smell of an oily rag regional channels managed to give us 4497 hours of first-run, locally produced programmes in 2004, according to NZ On Air statistics. Meanwhile the three free-to-air networks between them could only manage 5231 first-run local hours, despite something like sixty million dollars in NZ On Air funding.

Imagine what the regionals could do with some real money ...

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Mirchee TV

Further to our comments on regional television: now ethnic broadcaster Mirchee TV is in the midst of launching a digital subscriber TV system in Auckland, featuring Bollywood movies and other ethnic community programming from around the world. Mirchee has taken over ihug's IDTV frequencies, and has launched test signals for 6 channels from the Sky Tower. Demand is reportedly strong for subscriptions, with the waiting time for new installations now 2-3 weeks.

The first channel, Mirchee ONE, due to launch at the end of May, is planning to air local shows, serials, live news from India and a combination of Zee Action and Classic movies. The company plans to produce local shows which deal with everyday common problems of migrants, as well as game shows and shows which feature live viewer interaction.

As the new operator notes, large numbers of Auckland 's multi-ethnic population are unserved by current broadcast offerings; Mirchee aims to redress that shortfall and "become the city's multi flavoured, dynamic voice".

It's an ambitious undertaking, but one that's indicative of an unmet need in the country's most diverse community.

A Failure Of Intelligence A new study into New Zealand companies' use of Competitive Intelligence (CI) suggests little has been learnt since the last major study in 1997. AUT Faculty of Business researcher Brent Hawkins found that very few New Zealand companies invested in an integrated competitive intelligence system.

The most common source of competitive intelligence? Informal rumours.

36% of surveyed businesses used informal rumours regularly and 30 per cent used them continuously as their main source of competitive intelligence. Not a good look for New Zealand companies in terms of their understanding of competitive intelligence.

One of the objectives of the AUT study was to assess the degree of strategic planning of New Zealand companies through observing use of competitive intelligence. The reality: only around 10 per cent of New Zealand companies had a formal integrated competitive intelligence unit.

Even more alarmingly, 13 per cent of the senior managers surveyed did not know what competitive intelligence was.

Overseas studies indicate that in many countries the use of formal integrated competitive intelligence systems is between 15-35 per cent.

So, for the benefit of those of us whose competitive IQ is, umm, underdeveloped, here's some quick Competitive Intelligence background information to consider:

Why monitor competitors?

By knowing our competitors we may be able to

* predict their next moves; * exploit their weaknesses; * and undermine their strengths.

Customers usually know the differences between companies - their good points and bad points. They know that company A is cheaper than company B and that company C has a better after-sales service. For a business to operate in a market and not know the same, and more, is tantamount to giving up the battle without even starting.

So what's involved? There are six stages in monitoring competitors:

* Choose what to collect and from which sources to collect it; * Collect the information; * Convert that information into intelligence; * Collate and catalogue it, integrate it with other pieces of info and analyse and interpret it; * Communicate the intelligence to those who need to know it; * Counter any adverse competitor actions - i.e. use the intelligence.

Jay E. Paap of Paap Associates offers a checklist to help with the CI process. We've adapted it thus:

Stage 1: Choosing - develop an intelligence plan

* What information is needed and how can we find it? * What do we think we know that we would like to confirm? * What don't we know that we need to know? * Assign responsibilities * Develop strategies * Do homework (on people, terms, other sources) * Determine what info should be safeguarded and what can be shared

Stage 2: Collecting (in this example, from Trade shows and conferences):

* Learn about new products or services being offered or hinted at by competitors. * Assess the reaction of others (e.g., customers, competitors, vendors, and consultants) to these types of products or services. * Understand the underlying technologies that support their current and projected offerings. * Gauge their technical sophistication compared to yourself, and the best in the world. * Estimate the level of effort being applied, and the timing of anticipated advances. * Determine the sources of an organization's technical know-how. * Assess any interest in partnering and existence of current alliances * Identify the customer needs they seek to satisfy.

Stages 3-5: Converting, Collating, Communicating - share what you learn

* Debrief the show attendees and update targets and needs.

* Do not discuss what you found where other parties can hear. * On return, quickly set up briefings with those needing the intelligence. * Focus on interactive sharing - not on written reports.

Stage 6: Countering - act on the information

* Validate the information if necessary. * Assess viability of existing activities and plans in light of the new intelligence. * Benchmark your organization's operations against those of your competitor's. * Reverse engineer their products and services to probe their quality and costs. * Change plans or operations as appropriate. * Launch an ongoing monitoring effort in selected areas to minimize future surprises.

And a bonus Stage: give feedback to the information-gathering team

* Let them know how their information was used. * The greatest reward is seeing their efforts make a difference. * It provides an opportunity to catch errors in interpretation. * Feedback enhances the effectiveness of future scouting missions.

Apart from shows and conferences, where else might you gather competitive intelligence? A few thought-starters:

* Searching the Internet as well as proprietary online databases is an obvious place to start, but requires time, patience and a degree of searching skill. In addition, most of the data you'll find has been publicly released (even if you weren't aware of it) and thus may not be particularly valuable. *

Government agencies and public records can yield valuable data, but may often require excessive lead time. *

Some types of data that are not widely available from databases can be procured by contacting the competitor itself or from investment community sources and annual reports. *

Surveys can yield plenty of data about competitors and products, while interviews can provide more in-depth perspectives from a limited sample. *

Drive-by and On-site Observations of the competitor's [full or empty] parking spaces, new construction-in-progress, customer service at retail outlets, volume and pattern of suppliers' or customers' trucks, etc. can yield useful CI information about the state of their business.

And a final thought: introduce Defensive Competitive Intelligence, which involves monitoring and analyzing your own business activities as the competitors and outsiders see them. The business you save might be your own!

.

Top Ten Global Food Trends Food trends once primed to focus on families are reshaping as baby boomers become empty-nesters, and health-related products are booming worldwide, according to the Institute of Food Technologists. Health became a key driver to the world's food marketplace in 2004 and do-it-yourself doctoring is one of ten major trends shaping today's consumer choices. Here's the Institute's round-up of the Top 10 Global Food Trends:

1. Quick Fix - Time to prepare food is still at a minimum, so a limited number of side dishes are prepared with entrees and ease of preparation is a major factor in eating at home.

2. Drive-and-Go - Takeout service at full service restaurants is growing, and the combination of stress with a sense of entitlement is leading consumers' drive for more upscale foods.

3. Inherently Healthy - More people are eating more fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and yogurts.

4. Fancy - The US premium foods market is projected to grow to nearly US$100 billion before 2010. Wine and liqueurs are finding their way into crackers and drinks, and products for cocktails are hot.

5. Farm-Friendly - Foods deemed to be closer to the farm are capturing consumers' dollars.

6. Layered Flavours - Layering flavours is sending sales of food such as cheeses, condiments and ethnic foods soaring. Exotic fruit flavours such as starfruit, dragonfruit and Kaffir lime continue to grow.

7. Grazing - Seven million vending machines are in the U.S. with 100 million daily customers and more healthy fare to choose from. The low-carb snack category is falling, but smaller portion sizes are gaining and gourmet snack selections are strong. Health-oriented fun kid snacks will be well received.

8. Low-, No- and Reduced - With low-carb interest waning, consumers are returning to watching their fat and calorie intake. Low-fat tops the many health claims consumers now seek out.

9. Do-It-Yourself Doctoring - Shoppers are trying to manage or treat conditions through diet. Whey peptides are playing a role in Europe in beverages formulated to reduce blood pressure.

10. Global Gangbusters - Convenience and ready-meals are accelerating worldwide. Fresh, chilled, ready-to-eat products are emerging domestically and dominate the United Kingdom, commanding 25% of the food market, excluding beverages. More flexible packaging (e.g. pouches) is appearing. A majority of Southeast Asians eat take-out at least once a week, even more than Americans.

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