Tracy Watkins at the Dom Post reports:

Public broadcasting channel 7 is to be wound up after just three years.

The commercial-free channel has cultivated a niche audience since its inception but Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman confirmed yesterday its funding would not be extended beyond next year after it failed to live up to expectations that it would support itself over time.

This is not some spin made up by National. Here is what then Broadcasting Minister Steve Maharey said in 2006:

The government will support TVNZ’s proposal to move into the digital era with funding of $79 million over the next six years, Broadcasting Minister Steve Maharey announced today.

“The government is backing TVNZ’s plans to strengthen its public broadcast offering as it makes the transition to free-to-air digital,” Steve Maharey said. …

Funding for TVNZ’s digital content proposal will be released to TVNZ over the next six years, with the intention that the services become self-sustaining over time.

So Labour never promised to sustain taxpayer funding of TVNZ7. The funding was for a transitional period, and the sad reality is that the viewing numbers for TVNZ7 were miniscule.

I’m personally a big fan of some of the shows on TVNZ7. I think Media 7 and Court Report are important shows, as they are about scrutinising the actions of powerful institutions. Likewise Backbenchers plays an important role in having MPs actually debate issues of the week with each other. I think NZ will be the poorer, if these shows disappear.

However that doesn’t mean that a dedicated TVNZ7 channel was the best way to have shows like that on TV. I believe that the value associated with channels is rapidly declining in a Tivo and My Sky world. I record programmes I want to watch – I don’t view channels anymore. I record content from One, Two, TV3, C4, Comedy Central, TVNZ7, Stratos, History Channel etc. Half the time I don’t even have any idea what channel something has played on. And the future will be more and more people like me – choosing content not channels.

So for me, the challenge is how to keeps non-commercial shows like Court Report, Media 7 etc on the airwaves, without TVNZ7. In my mind, there are two ways forward:

  1. As previously advocated, set up a unified public broadcaster like the BBC or ABC. Sell of TVNZ to generate the capital for the “NZBC” and use the current operational funding for Radio NZ, Maori TV and NZ on Air for ongoing costs.
  2. Have TVNZ apply to NZ on Air to fund the shows from their contestable fund. I would hope that the shows would have a reasonable chance of success. In an ideal world it would be nice to be able to increase funding for NZ on Air, but that is unrealistic in the next few years. We just have to get back into surplus first.

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