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Clare Curran: Did Jonathan Coleman sign off the TVNZ SOI?

Did Jonathan Coleman sign off the TVNZ SOI?

by Clare Curran
September 27th, 2011

Jonathan Coleman has been insisting for months that National’s commitment to public broadcasting lies in in NZ On Air’s contestable funding model. National MP Nikki Kaye parroted this in a recent column in the NZ Herald:

--We believe that quality and diversity in local content is best provided through contestable funding which promotes competition for quality, content diversity and the availability of programming across multiple channels and platforms.

In the past year, more than $81 million of contestable funding was made available through NZ On Air for locally made television. The Platinum Fund, which was launched in 2009, provides $15 million in contestable funding for New Zealand television content. This funding gives priority to high-end drama, current affairs, documentaries and special event programming – material that is generally considered to be public broadcasting programming.--

TVNZ’s recent Statement of Intent (SOI) for the next 3 years tells a different story. It might be a commercial channel now, but it’s still the state owned broadcaster. An SOI is technically a contract between the broadcaster and shareholder. Presumably Coleman signs it off. If he did, then he has endorsed what runs counter to his public position on public broadcasting; quality content. The SOI says:

--Notwithstanding the inherent uncertainty of any contestable funding scheme, there remains the risk of potential misalignment between the programming objectives of NZOA with the commercial objectives of TVNZ. This could result in the inability of TVNZ to attract NZOA funding for commercially attractive local programming.

To mitigate this risk, we will engage NZOA to align objectives, agree aims for commercially attractive local programming and address potential revisions to funding criteria.--

What does this mean? TVNZ is going put the heavies on NZoA? Did Jonathan Coleman agree to this?

If TVNZ pressures NZoA to direct a higher proportion of funds toward commercially viable/populist genres then there is going to be less money available for programmes that have a strong public service value but might not pull in a mass audience- such as those on TVNZ7 which Coleman claims can still be funded by NZoA.

And then there’s the bit where TVNZ says its moving further into the pay channel business:

--The challenge is to harness this digital presence to drive revenue growth and other commercial benefits. To mitigate this risk, we will continue to pursue growth in our pay channel business and further grow and diversify our video on demand business.--

and this:

--We will continue to strengthen our position along the content value chain by retaining our mass audience, by forming strategic relationships with both local and international content rights holders, and by increasing funding from NZOA;

Enhance our rights management capabilities to optimise the commercial value from the content rights we do secure, particularly in relation to our multi-platform distribution strategies…--

Well, TVNZ’s a commercial operator now. Let’s not pretend it’s otherwise. But NZ on Air should watch out. And I wonder what further deals are planned with Sky TV?

There’s been a bit of reporting about this. Not much. I guess the RWC is on and all. Grant Smithies wrote a good piece in the SST called Fade to Black which is worth a read.

It’s interesting that Maori TV (which has become the quasi-public TV broadcaster in NZ) has stolen a march on TVNZ with its “quality” broadcasting during this time. What can we all look forward to under this brave new world?

Whatever it is, Jonathan Coleman should cease to pretend he believes in quality public broadcasting.

TVNZ’s reinvigorated commercialism is indicative of a shift in the media environment that intensifies competition for ratings and increases the cost of providing content with high public value but sub-optimum audience appeal. TVNZ’s SOI shows why Coleman’s assurances that the content on TVNZ 7 will still be available is mistaken. Diversity of digital platforms does NOT mean a diversity of content.

Auckland journalist Colin Hogg (who runs the production company which produced Talk Talk on TVNZ7 and had its final show last week) summed it up when he wrote:

--“TV these days is basically programmed by the ad agencies, which is pretty sad,” Hogg writes. “The cultural impact of the loss of TVNZ 7 is that there will be no outlet for shows like ours, or Media 7, or Backbenches. In years to come when we look back for archive of this time, all we’ll find is Motorway Patrol, Border Patrol, Dog Patrol, food shows and freak shows about fat people.”--

We can do better than this.


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