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A Momentous Day for TVNZ

14 November, 2006

A Momentous Day for TVNZ


The Government’s decision to provide six years of special funding for TVNZ to establish two new digital channels has been applauded by Chief Executive Rick Ellis.

“This is a momentous day for TVNZ. It is the key factor that will enable us to move confidently into the digital future, alongside the independent production community, to pursue our goal of providing the best New Zealand programming wherever and whenever New Zealanders want to see it.”

“This investment means we can go full ahead on creating the kind of channels that will be of such clear value that New Zealanders will embrace digital technology with enthusiasm, to the great benefit of the country as a whole,” he said.

“We know that viewers want more choice and more freedom about when and how to watch. We know they want more shared family viewing, and we know that they want commercial-free services. We can now deliver on all these things in a way that significantly reflects our national identity.”

Mr Ellis said the rigorous processes involved in reaching the funding decision had been no easy ride for TVNZ.

“We have been challenged repeatedly to validate our plans. I see it as a mark of confidence in TVNZ that the Government has accepted our expertise, and acknowledged that TVNZ, as the public broadcaster, has the commitment and motivation to take the leadership role in opening up the potential of free-to-air digital television services for New Zealanders.”

Mr Ellis said the economic reality was that TVNZ would need assistance to launch commercial-free channels of the calibre that would truly expand public broadcasting, while at the same time maintaining the influence and performance of its core channels, TV ONE and TV2.

However TVNZ would be accountable for that investment, and the public would get value for money.

“Depending on which of the services we are talking about, between 60 to 80 per cent of the operating budget will end up where it should be – on screen.”

“With the support of FreeView and the independent production sector we are confident we can launch these channels late next year and early in 08, and make New Zealand’s digital broadcasting future a reality.”

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14 November, 2006

IT’S A FACT - AROUND THE CLOCK

TVNZ has chosen a 24-hour, seven days a week news and information and sport channel as one of the two new channels that will be launched following today’s announcement of Government support.

The new channel, as yet unnamed but with the working title ‘News 24’, will carry News, Current Affairs, Sports and documentary content, covering breaking news and extended coverage of events important to New Zealanders including sports and diverse cultural events that make up New Zealand life.

It will not have spot commercials, but will carry some sponsorship.

At this stage it is expected the channel will contain about 80% local content, and 20% international – with 50% being original material.

It will feature a News bulletin every hour, on the hour.

TVNZ’s other factual programming, including Maori, Pacific and special interest content, will also be presented in prime time slots throughout the schedule.

As plans are finalised in the next few months more detail of the schedule will be available. These scheduling decisions will take account of a key objective of public broadcasting – accessibility and relevance for all.

TVNZ’s Chief Executive, Rick Ellis, says there is still a lot of work to be done on the logistics around integrating the new service with existing resources, but all effort would be directed into getting the channel on air in the shortest possible time.

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14 November, 2006

THREE SERVICES IN ONE

New Zealand’s parents and viewers with a serious interest in the Arts are expected to warmly welcome TVNZ’s second digital channel, which aims to reach three specific audiences at different times of the day.

The as yet unnamed channel, which has the working title TVNZ Home, will broadcast first to children, then to families, then to viewers with a strong interest in Arts and Drama.

From 6 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon, Home will provide commercial-free, quality programming for pre-school children that is safe, fun and educational, with a New Zealand focus.

From 4 to 8.30pm it will provide entertainment and factual programming, 80% of it New Zealand-made, that the whole family can watch together. There will be no commercials.

And from 8.30 to midnight it will provide a showcase for Arts/Drama/Comedy and Documentary programming for an adult audience, with opportunities to showcase New Zealand film and to cover cultural events and performance. Again, there will be no commercials.

TVNZ Chief Executive, Rick Ellis, says the channel will offer the first opportunity to meet the needs of those, including young children, who have previously been under-served in the New Zealand television market.

“The children’s strand will be the place to which every New Zealand parent can turn, with confidence that they will find programming they can trust, that is free to air, and that reflects our particular Kiwi heritage. This is exactly what we should be doing, as New Zealand’s public broadcaster,” Mr Ellis says.

“In the same way, the family strand within Home will meet a demand for safe, family-oriented programming that supports shared time together.”

Mr Ellis says the third strand, to be broadcast later in the evening in adult viewing time, will be slanted towards New Zealand material with an emphasis on thought-provoking content, and with room for the avant garde.

“In one channel, we are engaging with three very different audiences who will find their interests catered to as never before. This is a very substantial leap forward in our role as a public broadcaster,” Mr Ellis said.

“However this does not mean that public broadcasting will disappear off the screens of TV ONE and TV2. Quite the reverse--we will take every opportunity to develop our public broadcasting contribution on every channel. The New Zealand public own us. TVNZ will provide universal access to the public broadcasting value we provide.”

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TVNZ Digital Services
Questions & Answers

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.


ENDS

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