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Historic year for broadcasting - Trevor Mallard

Broadcasting Minister Trevor Mallard's speech to the Screen Production and Development Association Conference 2007, Intercontinental Hotel, Wellington

15 November 2007
Speech Notes

Historic year for broadcasting

I am pleased to have the opportunity to be here at the launch of the SPADA Conference 2007. The broadcasting portfolio is a new challenge for me, and I am looking forward to engaging on the issues of this dynamic sector.

Broadcasting is an area where I've had some involvement in on the fringes, as minister over a number of years. So I am not completely green but in my second week in the job, I am definitely in what I would call a listening, discussing and watching phase.

As with all my portfolios – current and previous – I tend to work hard on developing collaborative, productive, action-based relationships based on mutual trust and consultation. I am keenly aware that your work and the work of the broadcasting sector in general can be incredibly important to our national identity and reflecting what it means to be a kiwi and our place in the world.

Likewise the sector is also important in terms of its contribution to New Zealand's economic development. As Economic Development Minister I was responsible for making some quite significant changes to support for screen productions last year – which I will talk a bit about later. Suffice to say that I do have an understanding of how important your industry is to New Zealand and in this respect, I think government and the sector have common goals for action.

Broadcasting is an area that has seen significant changes over the past seven years. 2007 has been no exception, and I thought I’d spend some time today touching on a few of the highlights of the year so far.

It’s been a historic year with the launch of Freeview as the vehicle of the future for free-to-air television.

So far, take-up is quicker than forecast and progress with new content is forging ahead. The new channels include TVNZ 6, Triangle Stratos, and Parliament TV; and just round the corner are TVNZ 7 and the new Māori Television te reo channel.

Kordia is testing the technology in preparation for the launch of digital terrestrial television in March. Three quarters of the country will then have the option of high-definition TV, putting New Zealand at the forefront of digital broadcasting technology.

TVNZ 6, New Zealand’s long-awaited advertising-free channel, is also a milestone. It’s early days but there’s been some great feedback already from the public and the media, with two of TVNZ 6’s shows making number one in the Dom Post’s Top 10 picks of the week.

TVNZ 6’s focus on local content clearly has implications for the independent sector. TVNZ has advised that the majority of its commissioning for TVNZ 6 has been external, and TVNZ 6 and 7 will be seeking proposals for several more series in the near future.

As well as launching two new channels, TVNZ has undergone significant change with its recent restructure. TVNZ is expected to operate in a fiscally responsible manner. Continuing with an unsustainable cost model would not have been responsible guardianship of public assets.

TVNZ has made big strides in ensuring a place for public television and free-to-air broadcasting going forward. The development and launch of their strategy “on every screen” was important, but I’m advised that the speed in which they are implementing it is impressive. I’m sure the screen industry will be reassured by their focus as it will have enduring benefits to the sector.

Another significant advance this year has been NZ On Air’s new terms of trade which enables producers to better exploit content. The fact that the new regime was worked out to everyone’s satisfaction ahead of the May target date set by my predecessor is a credit to the very constructive approach of all three agencies involved in the discussions.

This year is notable too for NZ On Air’s celebration of 15,000 hours of funded television content.

Together with Te Māngai Pāho, NZ On Air has been instrumental in achieving what has been a remarkable growth in local content.

In 1988 two free-to-air channels screened just over 2,000 hours of local content. Last year over 10,000 hours of local content were broadcast across six free-to-air channels.

There are now six free-to-air channels which support publicly funded programmes, and these are contributing to the diversity and reach of local content. This is reflected in some encouraging increases recorded in NZ On Air’s recent Local Content Report.

A lot of the growth is also down to Māori Television. The blossoming of Māori screen production has been an exciting trend in recent years.

One thing it has proved is that there is an appetite for Māori screen productions among all New Zealanders. Māori Television is truly delivering on its slogan, “Mā Tatou”, for everyone.

Māori television’s slick and enticing coverage of ANZAC Day over the past two years, and its joint coverage of the tangi of Te Arikinui DameTe Atairangikaahu, have shown how broadcasting can move the nation when events are viewed through a Māori lens.

One measure of the progress of Māori broadcasting is the presence of te reo and tikanga Māori on the small screen today. In 1995, Te Māngai Pāho funded just 190 hours of Māori programmes; in 2007/08, it was appropriated to fund nearly 1,300 hours.

Māori programme makers are able to use their skills on a regular basis, and we have seen some astonishing growth in terms of new Māori programme makers as a result.

There’s a lot of innovation happening out there, and it all adds to the diversity and the unique identity of New Zealand screen production.

We are in an exciting place as a nation. There is a quite conscious and well-recognised move towards exploring what it means to be a New Zealander in a number of creative spaces, including screen production.

Our screen industry is continuing to strengthen in film as well as television. Research shows that New Zealanders value our films both for their individual artistic merits, and for their showcasing of our stories, landscape and culture.

In other words, we identify with our films. And the research showed there is strong support for government continuing to fund them.

This indicates the success of the Labour-led government’s support to the industry since 1999 – in particular establishing the Film Fund and providing the Film Commission with an extra $10 million per year from 2004.

The successes keep coming in a broad range of genres, with Eagle v Shark in the Top Ten for many weeks running; Black Sheep now performing extremely well in the United Kingdom; and a host of excellent new releases with Film Commission support such as The Devil Dared Me To and Perfect Creature.

In July, as Economic Development Minister I announced significant changes to the Large Budget Screen Production Grant. We increased the grant to 15 percent, opened it up to bundles of productions, and introduced a new incentive for post-production, digital and visual effects.

These changes will ensure the grant is an incentive that remains competitive internationally, and which enables us to maintain our high-quality reputation.

Film New Zealand has also been granted a total of $4.8 million in additional funding, over six years.

While our scenery has long made this country a popular shooting location, our competitive edge stems from the creativity, innovation and experience of the people working in screen production.

Creative partnerships can build and expand on these resources, including through co-productions.

We have eight co-production agreements so far including the one signed with Ireland last month, and more are on the way. We’ve recently begun formal negotiations with India, and agreements with Korea and China are being advanced.

The future, of course, is a whole new ball game. The market for screen production remains tough, but there have never been so many open doors for programme makers.

There is some amazing stuff going on already. For instance the Gibson Group’s soap opera “My Story” about four school-leavers: each two-minute episode was available on mobile phone, broadcast on C4 then downloadable on the web.

Or take Taylormade’s the-hub.tv, an online entertainment space for children that also appears live on TV 2’s Studio 2, complete with content posted by users.

It’s good to see people grasping these opportunities and leading the way into this brave new world.

Digital technology is not without its challenges. It will transform the way we all go about our business – as independent producers, broadcasters, telecommunications companies, transmission companies, policy makers and viewers.

The diversity of platforms needs to be matched by the funding mechanisms, and the Broadcasting Amendment Bill currently before Parliament aims to give NZ On Air and Te Māngai Pāho more flexibility to go where the audiences are.

The bill is not prescriptive about how the two agencies apply their money – they will have to develop their own policies on this, and I’d encourage those with an interest to engage with them as they do so.

Among the many issues are those relating to media rights, and the need for commissioning practices to change to fit the new cross-platform environment. How do we ensure benefits for both broadcasters and producers? What would a new licensing model look like? What is the appropriate role of government?

Broadcasters, producers and regulators in New Zealand and worldwide have been grappling with these questions and I’m sure they will continue to get an airing here over the next three days.

Some aspects are being explored in the regulatory review which is being undertaken by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and the Ministry of Economic Development.

You can read the terms of reference on the website, but essentially the review focuses on three points in the value chain: content, distribution and networks. And it looks at competition, standards and copyright issues in the new – converging – environment.

As they say, content is king. Which brings us back to the valuable chance this conference provides to update, up-skill, network and plan how to continue to reflect New Zealand on screen in the coming years.

All the very best for a fruitful three days.

ENDS

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