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Television production in the current environment

Hon Steve Maharey
19 November 2004 Speech Notes

Television production in the current broadcasting environment

Speech to the Screen Production and Development Association conference, Hyatt Regency, Auckland

I’m very pleased to be invited to join your conference again this year.

I am of course sharing the platform with my colleague Jim Anderton. Jim’s focus will be largely on film and what the screen industry contributes to economic development and well-being.

Though these are not insubstantial benefits, we both agree that the potential of your industry offers much more.

My focus is on what broadcasting contributes – and can contribute in the future – to cultural and social development.


Vital role for the screen industry

It comes as no surprise that there is such a large gathering here today. You know the business you're involved in is important. That's what New Zealanders are telling you as well.

This year 90 percent of us regularly watched documentaries you made reflecting our issues and stories. bro'Town and The Insider's Guide to Happiness not only attracted enthusiastic audiences and critical acclaim, but also provoked lively conversation in offices and work places across the nation. NZ Idol was a knockout success and Country Calendar is, after all these years, still a firm favourite.

Our nation is maturing. It is growing in cultural confidence. Your industry plays a vital role in tracking and expressing this evolving sense of ourselves as a people.

Television matters. Television with a social and cultural purpose matters.
That is why I'm pleased to be here to talk to you about how best the government, broadcasters and the independent production sector can walk the same path.

New Zealand broadcasting environment

I take this approach because it’s the essence of the case for a strong New Zealand public broadcasting presence – and as Minister of Broadcasting I have some strong views about the necessity of that presence.

A broadcasting environment with a strong public service component is one that contributes substantially to cultural development and equity.

To be relevant in this sense, a public broadcaster must operate on principles that fulfil public service aims – such as universality, providing for minorities (who are less powerful as audiences in a commercial sense), ensuring independence and autonomy, producing high-quality programming and encouraging creativity.

These principles have underpinned our work to date, and our continuing consideration of how we should proceed in our broadcasting programme of action.

The broadcasting environment has changed significantly. In a moment I am going to spell out some of the specific areas that have been the beneficiaries of heightened government involvement.

Working towards shared goals

Let me talk broadly for a moment, though. Let me assert that yours is an industry that this government has taken very seriously. We have taken note of the nature of your work, the quality of your work, and the potential of your work. We have gone quite some way in being partners with you in your ongoing development, and in the provision of new opportunities.

You are a talented and energetic bunch of people; I appreciate all you contribute. In the past year you have stretched creative boundaries with programmes like Eating Media Lunch and Facelift; you have given our kids Squirt, Studio 2 and What Now – engaging alternatives to overseas children's shows; and you have breathed new life into well-loved stories and personalities with the New Zealand Festival documentary series.

I am confident that we can continue to work effectively towards shared goals. I think that I can reasonably hope for your reciprocal confidence in the good will of this government – good will that is evidenced, I believe, by what we have achieved to date.

Government's achievements for television broadcasting

Funding for television programming has increased by $75.5 million over the last five years. This includes funding to NZ On Air and Te Mangai Paho for television programmes, to TVNZ for the Charter, and to Mâori Television.

Signature Television is now becoming a reality: The New Zealand Film Commission, NZ on Air and TVNZ have established a partnership to develop and finance up to four 72-minute features over two years for prime-time broadcast on TV1 or TV2.

The government review of its screen funding agencies has resulted in the formation of the screen co-ordination group, comprising key players in the field.

The Screen Council, established to increase foreign earnings, is also charged with developing a ‘Screen Mark’ quality assurance tool for industry training and qualifications. As Associate Minister of Education I'm keen to be kept informed on how Screen Mark develops.

We are also looking ahead, of course, on a number of other fronts.

Programme of broadcasting work

I’d like to turn my attention to our future programme of broadcasting work, being as specific as a minister who has not yet put the programme formally before the Cabinet is allowed to be.

The broadcasting sector is complex and dynamic. We must respond accordingly – and go on responding – if we are to ensure that broadcasting provides the full range of services that New Zealand needs.

We need now to secure what we have gained. We must make sure our policies are prepared for what is likely to be a period of significant change in broadcasting, domestically and internationally.

As you know, in the second half of last year through to earlier this year I consulted with public broadcasting agencies and private sector interests on what the government’s priorities for the remainder of the decade should be. I issued a paper that took stock of the changes made to date and asked questions about future strategy.

You will recall too that an international conference on the Future of Public Broadcasting was staged in November last year just before your conference.

The result of this reflection and consultation will be a new programme of action – strategic in outlook if not amounting to a single grand strategy – that will extend the direction of our policies into an exciting, challenging future. But it’s a programme that’s likely to be evolutionary and not revolutionary.

There are a few bottom lines and a few areas of obvious interest that I am keen to discuss with you.

Mixed broadcasting economy

One of the bottom lines is a continuing commitment to a ‘mixed broadcasting economy’. We are a small population that cannot generate sufficient funds to support a public broadcasting system on the scale of a BBC. Neither would we necessarily want one. We are evolving a system that meets our specific needs. We are working out for ourselves where we want to go and how we are to get there.

This mixed model best serves our New Zealand society, where privately owned media and production companies can flourish alongside public broadcasters.

Within that mixed model we can also develop partnerships between broadcasters and the creative industries, all the while promoting cultural objectives.

The willingness of radio broadcasters to sign up to voluntary targets for New Zealand music, for example, has resulted in tremendous growth in the percentage of local content on our radio stations – with obvious spin-offs for those who make music in this country.

It has been followed by the willingness of television companies to sit down with producers’ representatives and develop local content targets, as members of the Television Local Content Group.

Strengthening public television

Notwithstanding this, I have another clear bottom line, and it relates to strengthening TVNZ as a public broadcasting institution.

The Television New Zealand Act that introduced the Charter also restructured TVNZ into a Crown company. The overarching objective of the new legislation is to restore the public broadcasting functions that had “disappeared” in the SOE era – functions that are all the more important given the enormous amount of overseas-sourced material – in a variety of media – that confronts the New Zealander consumer.

You’ll all be aware of the requirements the Charter spells out.


They’re basically requirements that will ensure New Zealanders have every opportunity to become well-informed citizens - both national and global - to have their varied interests catered to, to be entertained, stimulated and enlightened.

Expectations of TVNZ

The government holds to a legitimate expectation that all of TVNZ’s decisions, since the passing of the Television New Zealand Act, are informed by the existence of the Charter. We expect the objectives of the Charter to become integrated with the day-to-day operation of the organisation, and we want the organisation to remain robust and stable.

There are areas where the effect of the Charter is already clearly visible to viewers. TVNZ has made major efforts to engage with its audiences.

It has taken road-shows to the regions. It is working with schools to provide media resources. It has relocated to other centres for the production of some episodes of its programmes. Its website now provides ‘added value’ to television viewers.

In terms of programming, current affairs discussions, documentaries and new styles of youth and arts programming indicate that the government’s investment in the Charter is paying cultural and civic dividends.

Given that TVNZ has after all been required to make a major shift from largely fulfilling commercial goals of pleasing advertisers and making a profit, to also meeting public service objectives, these are pretty significant changes.

Increased Funding to TVNZ

I want to make it clear that we will continue to support TVNZ’s capacity to deliver against its Charter through increased funding, expecting it to become in time less driven by the needs of advertisers. In the current financial year the government is providing TVNZ with $16 million for this purpose.

And as Dr Cullen and I have recently announced, the Crown will return $11.4 million (plus GST) of Television New Zealand's $37.6 million dividend for 2003/04 as additional funding to implement its Charter.

TVNZ must apply the additional funding to initiatives that are consistent with the implementation of the Charter. The $11.4 million will be included in a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

TVNZ will continue to receive funding because it has obligations that the commercial sector does not. It needs some certainty in order to plan and deliver against its Charter. The beneficiaries are not only the viewers of New Zealand – but, of course, your own businesses.

Increased funding of TVNZ creates another set of opportunities for you – not only for funding but also for extending your creative and technical skills. TVNZ will be looking to independent producers for the fresh ideas and innovative programmes that more funding makes possible.

TVNZ's responsibilities against its Charter funding

Indeed, the 2004/05 Memorandum of Understanding includes a provision that TVNZ will use its best endeavours to support the talents and creative resources of the independent film and television industry. This outcome is specified in the TVNZ Act. It is a clear obligation and I will be paying close attention to how those best endeavours play out in your dealings with the company.

For all my confidence in the organisation, I am keeping a close eye on TVNZ to make sure that those cultural and civic dividends I spoke of continue to be paid. I receive detailed reports about the expenditure of the Charter funding.

It is harder, of course, to develop quality measures that apply to the performance of the organisation as a whole - this is an issue that is being grappled with internationally, and one with which my officials and I will continue to engage.

Right now, I’m heartened by the response of critics to TVNZ’s programming. There is a more confident feeling about the direction that the broadcaster had taken – and a little more silence from those who once said that the Charter would not make a difference. It’s all part of the ongoing process of change – the same sort of evolutionary process I talked about earlier.

Contestable funding through NZ On Air

Here’s another bottom line: though government is providing funding to TVNZ, contestability of funding – through NZ On Air - will remain a key component of the broader broadcasting approach. The functions of NZ On Air may need at some point to be adjusted, in order that it is able to keep pace with digital developments.

But the fundamental premise on which it operates - that as an independent agency it allocates funds to independent producers – will not in any way be altered. The level of public funding will not be diminished – indeed I intend to make every effort to increase contestable funding – and it will continue to be allocated to NZ On Air.

Some of New Zealand's most popular television programmes have resulted from this process.

NZ On Air's investments with TV3 include The Strip, Mataku, Sticky TV and bro'Town, and the music channel, C4, for promoting local artists.
The success of this intervention has undoubtedly encouraged Canwest to itself invest in locally made programmes. And now that Prime TV is eligible for NZ On Air funding, I look forward to seeing a greater New Zealand presence on its network.

If I can reiterate my message to you from last year's conference, I do not intend to take any of NZ On Air's contestable funding and give it to TVNZ.

In our mixed economy of broadcasting it is appropriate, indeed desirable, to promote local content across a range of broadcasting media. I must emphasise, however, that the public broadcaster has a special place in our landscape with obligations and responsibilities that include, but are not limited to, the screening of New Zealand programmes.

Securing television funding into the future

How much funding in the future? Well, that question anticipates one of the issues I believe we must grapple with as part of the broadcasting programme of action: What is the ‘right’ level of funding for our broadcasting agencies, and how will we recognize it?

I envisage that, notwithstanding the significant increase in broadcasting funding that has taken place under this government, more funding will continue to be sought. I acknowledge, for example, that TVNZ is still highly dependent on advertising revenue, compared to its sister public broadcasters in other countries. We must make certain that we have in place a robust basis for making appropriate funding decisions.

Securing local content into the future

And there are, of course, other questions we will be asking. For instance, where is globalisation taking us? The process of globalisation will not stop, and its impact is felt, seen and heard most graphically in broadcasting. Global media ownership and new digital technologies might reduce the viability and focus of local programming – unless New Zealanders are alert to preserving and developing our capacity to reflect our culture.

There are clear implications here for our policies on the strengthening of local content and local production, and the entrenching of the public broadcaster model.

What does the growth of subscription TV mean for New Zealand? Pay TV has now secured a base in 40% of New Zealand households. Its multi-channel, digital services and content selection (dominated by commercial, global offerings) are currently leading viewer expectations.

Unless free-to-air broadcasting offers additional, and eventually, digital services as soon as possible, New Zealanders’ access to public broadcasting may be compromised.

As I said, you will hear more on this from me as time goes on. As always, I want to hear from you, too.

But I do think, also, that we've got quite a lot to be going on with.

Conclusion

New Zealand is fortunate to have a dynamic, experienced independent production sector, a rich pool of talent from which broadcasters can draw innovative ideas and the technical skills to realise them.

I know all of you who make up the sector are incredibly committed people. I believe that together we are creating the right mix of talent, infrastructure and opportunity. Together – the government, broadcasters and production companies - we can increase the amount of high quality, original, challenging local content.

I know that sudden or rapid changes aren’t possible, and indeed are not desirable. There will be inevitable creative tensions along the way. I encourage you – as I have encouraged TVNZ – to grasp the opportunities brought about by co-existence in this new environment.

New Zealanders will be better off with productive collaboration between Television New Zealand, NZ On Air and independent producers and production companies.

A secure independent screen production industry is as essential to the future well-being of New Zealand television as is a strong public service broadcaster with a clear sense of its mission.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. I look forward to responding to your questions [after we have heard from my colleague Jim Anderton].

ENDS

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