Podcast: The Detail

Changing channels - where to now for TV?

The Detail talks to Newsroom's media expert Mark Jennings about the confusing picture of television in New Zealand - and an industry that's dying by a thousand cuts

The days when cartoon animals appeared on screen to signal the end of the day’s programming are almost unimaginable in a world of 24/7 access to a seemingly endless pool of content.

But while viewers have more choice than ever before, all is not rosy in the world of New Zealand television.

MediaWorks is selling its TV arm because it’s not making money, and the Government’s looking at rolling TVNZ in with RNZ in a bid to future-proof public broadcasting in a changing landscape.

Newsroom’s co-editor Mark Jennings pins the industry’s problems on the arrival of international subscription services, preceded by the explosion of Facebook and Google, both of which ate the advertising revenues that once held up the television industry.

“We’ve had Netflix, and now Netflix is kind of being disrupted by Disney + and Apple TV. They’re all starting to arrive in NZ and it’s making the local scene quite confused and highly, highly competitive.

“The squeeze on the businesses is just huge,” he says – and the squeeze is now showing itself in MediaWorks’ sale of its television arm.

He says despite Mediaworks’ best efforts, they just can’t make a buck in the TV game, even though they’ve improved their ratings and made cost-cuts.

Any buyers will be brave, he says.

“The potential buyers are CBS, the big American network. It apparently is sniffing around, I don’t know whether it’s a bidder or not but they own Network 10 in Australia, so they’re in this part of the world and probably understand smaller-scale markets.

“The most logical buyer would still be Sky … it would allow it to close down Prime, because it’s a drag on the market because we have too many TV stations and there isn’t the revenue base to support them all. Prime drags down prices.”

He says if Sky did buy TV3, it would probably pursue more local content, as TVNZ is doing, as this is the only thing local networks have over international subscription services.

But in saying that, Jennings acknowledges only programmes with huge commercial partnerships like The Block have a chance of making money.

If no one buys it, the channel will either go altogether, or MediaWorks will keep it running on a smaller scale, he says.

Regarding TVNZ’s future, Jennings says any decisions won’t happen for a while.

If TVNZ and RNZ are combined, Jennings says viewers will find themselves with very different channels.

“But it will probably be about four years’ time before we see that. There’s a lot of work to do and politicians to be convinced.”

Ultimately, Jennings says media companies will have to consolidate – basically, New Zealand has too many players and too few viewers.

So what then would a consolidated media – hypothetical mergers of RNZ and TVNZ, and Sky and TV3, for example – mean for those watching?

“Viewers are going to have plenty of great content to look at.

“But they’re going to have to get used to paying for it.”

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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