boardroom

Hit pause on RNZ+, urges Mediaworks CEO

Mediaworks CEO Michael Anderson is about to go to war with the Government over RNZ’s planned new TV venture.

“It won’t work and it puts at risk the very thing they want – media diversity.”

Anderson says Labour has failed to think through the consequences of its plan to sink $38 million into a new public service television channel called RNZ+.

“This is one of the most pivotal points for media in the country’s history. We have real scale (audience size) issues in New Zealand and free-to-air TV is going to be really challenged in the next few years. Further fragmentation is going to create very serious stress.”

If this sounds like a man who is worried about the future of his TV network (Mediaworks owns Three and Bravo) then Anderson is frank in his assessment: “Is the business model challenged? Yes.”

Anderson said Three was in the same boat as other free-to-air (FTA) networks around the world.

“We need to look at doing things differently but we need to buy ourselves some runway, we need to buy time.”

The Government, he said, should step back and reconsider RNZ+.

“I’m worried that we could accidentally be wiped into oblivion by a decision that hasn’t been worked through.”

“Government already own five channels (TV1, TV2, Duke, RNZ and Māori TV) in a country of only 4.5 million people.

“I’m not against giving RNZ some more money to continue to develop the platforms it is doing really well on – radio and online – it does a great job. But another FTA TV channel doesn’t make sense.”

Anderson said a better solution to the problem of plurality and diversity in the media was staring the Government in the face.

“I’m worried that we could accidentally be wiped into oblivion by a decision that hasn’t been worked through.”

— Mediaworks CEO Michael Anderson

“Turn TV1 into a true public broadcaster. Make it non-commercial. It will work because without that [sales inventory] in the market TVNZ will be able to charge more for TV2 and Duke and make up some of the lost revenue. “

When Newsroom put it to Anderson that Mediaworks would be a major beneficiary if this was to happen he agreed that it would help the struggling TV arm of the business.

“That is the weakness in my position but it doesn’t mean I am wrong.

“TVNZ has a whole lot of expertise that RNZ doesn’t have, it knows how to make television. You’ve been inside that building [TVNZ Headquarters in Auckland] you know what they’ve got there.”

Anderson admits that it will be hard to get Broadcasting Minster Clare Curran to hit the pause button.

“I am going to write to her and explain why this is wrong. The Government can’t just do this and then let things unfold and expect them to be OK.”

Mediaworks has also hired a prominent lobbyist to push its idea of a non-commercial TV1.

However, Anderson’s chances of changing Curran’s mind are virtually zero.

When Labour announced its broadcasting policy before the election she told Newsroom that the idea of turning TV1 into a public service channel had been considered and rejected.

“I’m not against giving RNZ some more money to continue to develop the platforms it is doing really well on – radio and online – it does a great job. But another FTA TV channel doesn’t make sense.”

“They are just not interested in a public service, they [TVNZ] are fully commercial – we might have been able to change them three years ago, but not now. We would waste years battling with them, and we don’t have time for that. We want this to happen now and we can do it a lot faster by building up RNZ.”

TVNZ and its executives fell out favour with Labour a long time ago. Animosity flared up in 2004 when former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark attacked the state-owned broadcaster over the $800,000 contract it was offering presenter Judy Bailey.

TVNZ management’s failure to fully embrace the non-commercial channels, TVNZ 6 and 7 also angered many left-leaning public broadcasting supporters.

TVNZ 7 was closed in 2012 after three years of operation.

On the other hand, RNZ is considered almost heroic for pressing on under a ‘repressive’ National regime which starved it of funds.

More than a few media commentators agree with Anderson that it would better for the industry if the Government gave TVNZ the $38 million and strong-armed it into devoting one of its main channels to public service broadcasting.

But they will be reluctant to voice that opinion when they know the ship has sailed and Curran has a firm hand on the helm.

Comments

Newsroom does not allow comments directly on this website. We invite all readers who wish to discuss a story or leave a comment to visit us on Twitter or Facebook. We also welcome your news tips and feedback via email: contact@newsroom.co.nz. Thank you.

PARTNERS