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Maharey - Taking up the challenges

2 June 2005

Taking up the challenges

Speech for Broadcasting Seminar, Auckland

Introductory comments

Welcome to today’s programme.

In November 2003, many of us came together for A New Future for Public Broadcasting.

Through this event we tapped into international and local experience and considered how we could continue to strengthen public broadcasting in New Zealand.

The output from that conference helped shape the Broadcasting Programme of Action and provided an important resource for the sector and the general public.

Taking up the Challenges is a follow-up to that conference.

Why we've chosen to focus on television

Today we have chosen to focus specifically on television - as distinct from other forms of broadcasting.

Not surprisingly, the spotlight in recent years has been on the big screen as New Zealand film has achieved phenomenal international success.

But while Kiwis have celebrated the achievements of Peter Jackson and other filmmakers overseas, the small screen has quietly undergone its own revolution in New Zealand.

Television in this country is now at a watershed. We have been through a period of considerable change over the last five years, with the re-establishment of Public Broadcasting and the expansion of commercial television across a number of new channels and services.

As we move rapidly into a new era of broadcasting we have a major opportunity- through the television industry - to strengthen and enhance our sector for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

The focus of today

While we have a great deal to celebrate in the television industry - this is intended to be a day of work.

It is an opportunity to put our heads together as an industry – after a period of considerable change - and work out how we can contribute to a strong and prosperous future for television broadcasting in our country.

There are a range of issues that we need to address as an industry if we are to move forward – these are not issues the government can or will consider on its own – they are issues for the industry as a whole.

As business leaders, broadcasters, academics, politicians and public servants it is in all of our interests to work together towards a shared vision and objectives for New Zealand's broadcasting sector.

Current issues

The implementation of public broadcasting initiatives has not had the dire consequences predicted by some. Public Television broadcasting is thriving – alongside a successful commercial industry. We now have a diverse and responsive broadcasting environment, with appropriate regulation and a good balance of services.

This is a strong platform from which to look to the future, and that is what we are here to do today.

In the workshops today we will be covering a wide range of issues.

We will discuss things like the assessment of quality and its importance or relevance: the practicality and cost implications of delivering diverse local content genres and how we address training to ensure the right skills are available from writing to post production.

One issue, which will be covered in the “Growing the Market” workshop, is the challenge of growing the industry - including exports - in the face of international competition and increasing production costs.

The workshop on “Fragmentation and the Digital Future” will be confronting the changing face television as a result of new technologies, multi-channel offerings and the challenge of competing for viewers against alternative entertainment like Internet, gaming machines and DVD's.

How to sustain local content in this increasingly global environment, and how to ensure it continues to be appealing and informative, and how local content targets are working are more questions that will be asked today.

Success stories

As we look back over the last decade, there is no shortage of success stories.

From just two channels in 1998 we now have six national free-to-air channels, substantial pay TV offering and our independent regional broadcasters.

New Zealanders are enjoying our local product and calling for more.

And Signature Television is coming closer to our screens with submissions now being sought for this exciting new initiative.

Success of networks

In the free-to-air sector, alongside TVNZ, CanWest and Prime make a dynamic contribution to the diversity of television programming available.

TVNZ is making notable progress in implementation of its Charter, and a more dynamic and inclusive approach is now visible across both TVNZ channels.

TV 3’s news and current affairs are highly valued by New Zealanders, and have demonstrated that competition is good for public and private television alike.

C4 has quickly developed a strong following and is giving significant airplay to New Zealand music.

Prime too is achieving encouraging ratings, and with its expanded coverage is set to increase its impact in New Zealand households.

Mâori television

The Mâori Television Service has established itself quickly, gaining critical acclaim and a growing audience of Mâori and non-Mâori. It adds a rich new component to the broadcasting sector, recognising and enhancing the essential place of Mâori culture within our society.

Regional Television

Another important part of the mix is regional television, which provides valuable diversity by reflecting community concerns and interests.

This is a landmark year for regional television with the first-ever government funding allocated through Budget 2005.

The decision has been received well by the industry, which is working with government and NZ On Air to come up with a durable policy for the most effective use of the new funding.

Changes in the landscape: digital technology & globalisation

While much has been achieved, the challenges facing the industry now are probably the most important ever to have been faced.

The digital revolution, globalisation, and the rapid growth of pay TV are all causing increasing fragmentation of audiences and placing traditional revenue business models under stress.

While the growing range of choices is exciting, there remain many questions as to how the principles we have established in broadcasting might apply in a world where technology has a life of its own.

One thing is certain: public and private broadcasters alike face similar challenges

These include harnessing new technologies and developing new business models and new more innovative services.

If there is a key message I want to convey to you, it is this: strategic and collaborative long-term thinking across the sector has never been more crucial.

The time for hard thinking about the future is now. And thinking not just about next year, but about ten years out.

Government and digital issues

This challenge applies to government too.

While the onus is on those in the sector to lead the changes, government, will continue to engage as we seek to create the best conditions for building a strong and dynamic broadcasting sector.

This government remains committed to the undertakings we made back in 2003, to make available suitable spectrum and to work collaboratively with the broadcasting industry to facilitate timely investment and the necessary planning for a digital future.

Impact of television on society

There is also the question of the impact of globalisation and digital technology on the way in which New Zealanders experience television.

I believe television has an intrinsic social role and influence in the community.

Given the size of the industry, television has an extraordinary impact on New Zealand culture and sense of community. It reflects who we are, as well as many of our aspirations and attitudes as a society.

Until recently, the analogue transmission has limited the possibilities for diversity of programming.

While Television has been a shared experience– it has not been a forum of choice and diversity – that reality is now changing and changing rapidly.

This question is, with increasing scope for diversity – how do we ensure that television still has a heart, that it remains cohesive, looks at the needs of all New Zealanders and continues to add something to our lives?

Inevitably, the wider the choices and the more fragmented the audiences, the less clear it will be as to how we continue to achieve this.

Local content

One important aspect of the social function of television is its ability to reflect our own culture through local content.

The government has emphasised the importance of local content, through the TVNZ Charter and through increased funding for television programming of $75.5 million over the last five years across NZ On Air, Te Mângai Pâho, TVNZ and Mâori television.

But what local content should we be measuring? The Television Local content group and New Zealand on Air have done some good solid work with the Free-to-Air broadcasters to not only set targets, but also report results in a comprehensive manner that enables a more informed assessment of diversity.

NZ On Air

NZ On Air’s contestable funding role is a key component of the government’s vision for local content.

Government has demonstrated its commitment to local content by announcing additional New Zealand on Air funding of $5 million per annum to maintain levels of local television programme development, as well as television and radio archiving.

It is clear that NZ On Air is doing a good job for New Zealanders. Its latest Public Information and Opinion Monitor survey shows that the majority of New Zealanders (79%) feel that NZ On Air supports programmes and activities that are important to New Zealanders.

Commitment of broadcasters to local content

The success of local content owes much to a broadcasting sector that takes seriously the role it can play in enriching the lives of New Zealanders by screening local productions.

NZ On Air’s recent 2004 Local Content Report , shows that 32.6% of the programmes shown last year on TV One, TV2 and TV3 between 6 am and midnight were local productions. All three channels met or exceeded their agreed 2004 targets.

Significantly, the report shows an increase in local content at primetime with local programming comprising 42.3% of the primetime schedule – the highest ever recorded for the survey.

This year looks just as promising.

TV One and TV2 have set increased targets for 2005 (at 55% and 23%); and TV 3 will be maintaining its 20% target with a lesser proportion of sports coverage.

Prime TV is developing a track record for showing local productions and along with Mâori Television Service are recent additions to the Television Local Content Group.

But is this enough. Or more importantly, is this anywhere near our potential?

A common criticism is that, when compared with other countries our 1/3rd content doesn’t stack up. Yes I know we don’t have the critical mass and therefore the funding available to the oft quoted UK or Cananda.

Then again how to we weight total content hours against quality and diversity? Do we want an environment that churns out low cost local content for the sake of fulfilling a quota – and if we did what affect will that have on the screen production sector, skills development and training? Not to mention the audience.

Screen production sector

Success in the television sector must be driven from both sides: committed networks, and a thriving screen production sector.

Screen production is a success story in itself. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise has estimated that our screen production sector is worth about NZ $1.2 billion annually and As of 2003, around 12,097 people were believed to be working in screen production .

This government takes seriously its role of promoting an environment in which local production companies can operate effectively, and the industry can grow. It has been assisted greatly by the work of the Screen Production Industry Taskforce, and now has a wide range of initiatives in place involving both government and sector.

Significant opportunities for the local production industry are provided by funding through NZ On Air and Te Mângai Pâho, and through TVNZ’s extra funding and increased commitment to local content.

TVNZ is bound, through both its Charter and its Statement of Intent, to support the independent production industry; and will be looking to independent producers for the fresh ideas and innovative programmes that its additional funding makes possible.

Television New Zealand

This brings me to the final topic I want to touch on today, and that is TVNZ itself and its role in the wider television sector.

Government’s support for the implementation of TVNZ’s Charter plays a key role in ensuring our priorities for the television sector are realised. We have moved away from the 90s when TVNZ was seen as a business rather than the provider of an important public service.

We know that if we want television to provide a service to all New Zealanders, including those who fall outside advertising target groups, the solely competitive environment is not the model with which to achieve it.

TVNZ therefore has been given the responsibility, and funding, to look across the spectrum at what services New Zealanders are being provided and ensure that the full range of ages, interests, cultures, and circumstances is served.

TVNZ has made major efforts to engage with its audiences and diversify its services. Many who expressed doubt about the Charter concept have now grown quiet.

That said, TVNZ may need, in future, to send a stronger message about how it is giving effect to the Charter. The nation will, and indeed should, be looking for more from TVNZ in coming years.

In emphasising the role of TVNZ, I by no means want to overlook the fact that it is not the sole provider of what can be termed “public service” television. As I said before, genuine competition provides an impetus for all to focus on excellence.

Concluding comments

On this note, we need to keep this day moving on.

Just to recapitulate on a few points:

Firstly, the New Zealand broadcasting sector is unique. While we can learn from overseas models, we must plan to ultimately put something together that works for this country.

We have a lot going for us: a broadcasting sector where privately owned companies can flourish alongside public broadcasters; and a general strong sense of commitment to quality and to local production.

But we are at a point at which much of what television is contributing to the lives of New Zealanders could slip away. We need to think ahead about how to preserve what makes us distinctive; how to invest wisely in a context of unpredictability and change; and how to foster New Zealanders’ interest in seeking out local content from among a growing abundance of international fare.

While government depends on the energy and professionalism of all in the sector, it also accepts responsibility to listen and to be flexible about fostering an environment that is responsive to the needs for growth and adaptation.

I am looking forward to today’s discussions and the opportunity they present to advance our thinking on some of these issues.

Thank you.

ENDS

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