What a mess

My God, the free to air rights issue is a mess, to put it kindly. A fiasco maybe.

I’m someone who actually is supportive of the ambition of to be the free to air broadcaster. But the sticking point is the only 90% coverage. Having 10% of New Zealanders not able to get free to air coverage of the Rugby World Cup we are hosting was never going to be acceptable.

If had talked to other Ministers on the (laudable) ambition for Maori TV, they may have been able to actually help with the bid, by asking the right questions. Instead, we now have two different parties in Government appearing to back competing bids by taxpayer funded stations.

So what do the media say. The Herald reports:

Maori TV chief executive Jim Mather says the channel will continue to fight the Government for the rights to screen the Rugby World Cup, and will use money from wealthy iwi and corporate groups to outbid it.

Well that I approve of!

IRB spokesman Ross Young said the board would be open to increased bids.

I bet they are. They must be laughing all the way to the bank.

The Herald understands the Government’s concern about Maori TV’s coverage relates to fears about small crowds at the tournament, already expected to make a $40 million loss.

The Government and Rugby Union can make money only from ticket sales, and are worried about how these would be affected without the hype can generate.

Well then TVNZ should have put in a bigger bid initially – possibly with support from the Rugby Union.

But Mr Mather said this was “throwing Maori TV the crumbs” and there was little chance of it being involved. The value to Maori TV was in having the exclusive rights, requiring viewers to switch over, rather than staying behind the major networks.

And this is the big pay off for Maori TV. It can take years for people to get used to checking a channel out. A month of people swapping to Maori TV for the RWC would probably leave them with a lot more viewers after the cup.

So what is the so called Govt plan:

– TVNZ leads bid to show the 16 most important games live and free-to-air, backed by Government money.

– TVNZ will show six games – two of the All Blacks’ pool games, the semi-finals, final, and third/fourth play-off.

, which has put up some of its own money, will show six games – the two other All Blacks pool games, the semi-finals, final and third/fourth play-off.

If it wants, Maori TV can put up money and simulcast the games TVNZ and TV3 are showing. It can also show the balance of the 16 games that the networks do not want.

The challenge for Maori TV is how they can do a bid that covers more than 90% of NZ.

Patrick Gower writes:

Remember the utter shambles as the All Blacks bombed out of the last Rugby World Cup because they could not organise a simple drop-goal in Cardiff?

If the failure to do the strikingly obvious that day left you horrified, then best to cover your eyes before watching the Government’s bungling of the free-to-air television rights for the next Rugby World Cup. …

TVNZ’s involvement is necessary because it has the reach and numbers to hype up the tournament over the next two years and get people through the gates, with ticketing the only way the Government and Rugby Union can make money and stem losses.

Maori TV can offer unique cultural and language elements as well as the flexibility of scheduling to be able to show wall-to-wall coverage without having to break for regular programming like the nightly news.

Surely getting the two together as co-broadcasters months ago and bargaining with the IRB was the obvious solution?

That would have been nice.

chips in:

The political debacle over the Maori Television Service bid for Rugby World Cup coverage rights has soured relations between National and the Maori Party more than anything else in their one-year partnership.

Yep, and it was al avoidable if Ministers talked to each other earlier on.

The Herald editorial proclaims:

The saga of Maori Television’s bid for the Rugby World Cup’s free-to-air broadcasts has taken a bizarre turn with the Government’s decision to fund a higher bid by TVNZ. The International Rugby Board, seller of the broadcasting rights, must be wide-eyed in wonder and glee that it stands to gain from a contest between two bids financed by New Zealand taxpayers. …

But it has taken a quite disturbing degree of fright at the prospect of Maori Television winning the free-to-air rights. Certainly, the Government had a right to be aggrieved that its coalition partner, Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, did not consult National ministers before approving $3 million from his department, Te Puni Kokiri, to finance the bid.

The general rule of thumb is you should consult your colleagues on anything you would expect to be consulted over.

But if the taxpayer must contribute, why not through Maori Television? It is building a strong presence as a public channel for ceremonial events such as Waitangi Day and Anzac Day. Its coverage of the funeral for Sir Howard Morrison was deeply admired by all who caught it. TVNZ seems no longer interested in this sort of occasion either.

Maori Television was offering World Cup commentaries in English and Maori, from familiar faces and new. It aimed to popularise some Maori phrases through the English telecast, meeting its state-funded mission. On recent evidence it would do a conscientious and fine job. Surely a free-to-air partnership can be forged that would meet all concerns and save the taxpayer this ridiculous double bid.

I agree.

And Tracy Watkins:

In effect, we’ve got government ministers bidding against each other – and ratcheting up the cost for taxpayers as a consequence – to suit their own political purposes.

On the one side is Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples who gave Maori TV the green light for a $3 million-plus bid in a nod to his Maori constituency.

On the other are senior ministers Bill English, and Murray McCully, who’ve given TVNZ and TV3 a nod and a wink that the Government will step in with whatever it takes to win the bid over Maori TV – presumably after concluding that their own constituency won’t take kindly to having to tune into Maori TV to watch world cup games.

I don’t think that is the issue. If done in the right way, I think one could have got the Government quite supportive of the bid. The bigger issue is achieving greater than 90% coverage, and also using TV to boost ticket sales.

The script writers for Yes Minister couldn’t have come up with a more absurd plot.

It would be a great script!

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