TVNZ7

April 7th, 2011 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

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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37 Responses to “TVNZ7”

  1. ben (2,414 comments) says:

    David, how is this not a free ponies proposal? The very same argument you make here could be mounted for almost anything. What is special about television shows you (and, by the way, I) find interesting that justifies funding? I would say nothing. The opening paragraph of your post said it all: the number were miniscule. Which is to say $10 worth of capital and labour were being spent and only $1 of value was created. Doesn’t it automatically follow that New Zealand is the poorer for these shows, and that when labour and capital is reallocated to value-adding activities, New Zealand will be the richer without them?

    Now, you might respond and say there’s a public interest here, that there is something special about political information. But then that argument can be made for almost anything. And running things at losses is obviously not sustainable in any general sense. I’m struggling to see a reason for an exception here.

    Yes I am sad to see these go. But I can hardly demand other people pay for my free ponies if I am not willing to see everyone else get theirs – and if everyone gets their ponies then New Zealand will be a state run quagmire, and poor, and not a nice place to live. I’m just wondering what the principle is that sees a general objection to state provision but then a call for state funded broadcasting.

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  2. KiwiGreg (3,211 comments) says:

    Without wanting to be rude about it, it seems you are a fan of shows with limited viewer appeal and therefore no commercial viability. So your solution is we should pay so you can watch.

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  3. Neil (570 comments) says:

    DPF I find your support of Back Benches rather strange.
    I find that a pathetic programme headed by biased presenters trying to appeal to the “latte”,progressive set. The very location in a bar, which seems to be pretty well set up by the Greens and Labour, does little to engender good discussion.
    TV7 has appealed to the fringe elitist element rather than mainstream.
    Far better if TV1 could start political programmes at a better hour than it currently does.
    Hopefully Coleman will junk the charter and start serving the needs and interests of mainstream New Zealanders

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  4. gazzmaniac (2,319 comments) says:

    Nobody cares about all the other shows, but Backbenchers actually has a pretty big following outside the “beltway”. It’s a great informal and entertaining way for people to keep in touch with what Wellington is up to. If all the rest of the channel’s shows apart from one was to be abolished, it should be backbenchers that is kept. Perhaps it could be moved to TV1.
    I’d also suggest that a lot of people, including many older people (ie Mum and Dad) still use a VCR for recording and have a SD CRT TV. Channel viewing far from dead.
    Just putting it out there.

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  5. BeaB (2,080 comments) says:

    “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.”

    And most of us are the same so no need any more for state-owned TV.

    Last night I watched a three hour evening programme of my own choosing from My Sky. Apart from the news (and I can bear only a very little of Barbie and Ken) I rarely watch a programme when it is actually scheduled.

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  6. Bill Ralston (8 comments) says:

    One important point here. The $79 million so far used to support TVNZ7 (and6) wasn’t direct government funding. Several years ago TVNZ raised an $80 m loan, passed the money to government, had it ring fenced and then drip fed back to fund the digital channels. the $80m has now run out – lord knows where the missing $1m went.
    TVNZ could continue to borrow to support TVNZ7 and fund the finance costs through its commercial revenue from TV ONE and TV2. Of course, this would reduce the dividend it pays to government but the bottom line is that TVNZ7 does not require direct government funding, TVNZ can pay for it through its other revenues. This was always the intention.
    TVNZ7 is ending not because “the government won’t fund it” but because TVNZ cannot or will not come up with the cash.

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  7. Bevan (3,965 comments) says:

    Or: On Demand streaming of the shows to your TV.

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  8. gazzmaniac (2,319 comments) says:

    Bill – I guess whether that’s a good option depends on what TVNZ should be doing. If they’re a public service broadcaster (that happens to make money) then that’s great, but if it’s a commercial venture then no. What needs to happen is TVNZ stop being used as a political football and a decision made on what it is. If it’s commercial, get it into a profitable position then sell or float it. If it’s a public service then make it so, I think DPF’s idea of a NZBC would be a good model for public service broadcasting, like the ABC in Australia. If part of it is commercial and some public service, then separate the two parts into two different entities. What it can’t be is a hybrid model, because that will always be a football.

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  9. NOt1tocommentoften (436 comments) says:

    TV7 has appealed to the fringe elitist element rather than mainstream.

    Neil – if this is true, then its a concern. But maybe not much of a surprise.

    I enjoy TVNZ 7, mostly because it broadcasts little of the crap that I would have to watch if I viewed mainstream tv every night. I’m fairly sick of reality tv shows based on different professions or roles – Piha Surf Rescue, Border Patrol, Police Ten 7 – and the myriad of crime shows on all the time.

    The Court report and Backbenches are current and topical. And even if I disagree with what they may have to say from time to time, at least I learn more from them than I would from “mainsteam tv”. I get it already – don’t be an idiot at Piha, don’t take drugs into Australia, and CSI will solve every crime every time. What’s to learn.

    DPF – whether or not Labour made this pledge back in 2006 – National is in Government now and has the power to offer more funding. It’s disingeneous to turn around and say this is a Labour decision. Have a think about the reason why people voted Labour out – they were sick of their decisions. If National roles with Labour’s decisions all the time, it will be doing a disservice to all those who voted them in. Nice try to pin it on Labour, but National are in the driver’s seat now.

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  10. gazzmaniac (2,319 comments) says:

    Oh yeah, when was the last time TVNZ made a decent documentary?
    The ABC ones must be reasonably popular because their DVD sales provide an important revenue stream.

    N1TCO – it’s worse on commercial TV in Australia, they have a show called RBT. Yep, an hour of people being stopped and asked to blow in the bag.

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  11. Chris2 (767 comments) says:

    I enjoy TV7 also, but apart from the Electronic Programming Guide, it is all but impossible to find out what is scheduled on the channel because from the day it started in 2006 none of the daily newspapers have published its programme schedule. The NZ Herald daily publishes what is on Sky’s “UK Channel”, but it does not publish TV7. Where is the logic ??

    Even The Listener and TV Guide publications give scant space to TV7′s schedule, about a column inch a day, so there is only room to publish the programme name, not it’s synopsis. No wonder the viewers figures are so poor – no one knows what it is showing on the channel.

    Second point: It’s interesting that Auckland’s Triangle TV / Stratos TV can offer quality public broadcasting with just a handful of staff on shoe-string budget, but the state broadcaster TVNZ needs about 20 staff to broadcast TV7.

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  12. Inky_the_Red (744 comments) says:

    The sad situation is that the government seems to want everyone to use Sky.

    TVNZ has some very good shows on it and they are on at watchable times (not Sunday Morning)

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  13. Pete George (23,257 comments) says:

    I’ve only gone to TV7 for Backbenchers becasue I’ve known where and when, but even that’s at an awkward time if the TV has already been taken tom watch an 8.30 programme. Otherwise TV7 has been hiding in the background, there doesn’t seem to have been a serious attempt to allow it to compete with the commercial channels.

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  14. LiberalismIsASin (288 comments) says:

    There was a TVNZ7?

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  15. Rex Widerstrom (5,327 comments) says:

    Bevan suggests:

    Or: On Demand streaming of the shows to your TV.

    Yes! As DPF points out, most people are time-shifting their viewing anyway. Aside from the news I don’t get time to watch much from the ABC when it’s screened, and I often forget – or am not home to – set my DVR. The answer is the excellent ABC iView site, which has streaming video of most shows up for a week or two after they’ve screened.

    Not all shows alas, because some overseas producers haven’t reached the 21st century, but certainly all its local content.

    But its success is due not just to content, but to the fact that many ISPs have iView as an “unmetered” site. How common is this in NZ, I wonder?

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  16. big bruv (13,548 comments) says:

    Given today’s events (AMI) I now call on the government to pour more money into TVNZ 7, clearly the reason it made a loss was because of a lack of capital.

    While the govt have the cheque book out I think they should write a cheque and purchase TV3, I can see no reason at all why we allow private media in NZ.

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  17. big bruv (13,548 comments) says:

    Hang on……TVNZ needs $15 million and is now a luxury we cannot afford, yet we are still pouring over $50 million a year into Maori TV.

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  18. MIKMS (164 comments) says:

    Was it intentional the ad for out of work designers and video producers was above this post :P

    I’ll be writing to TVNZ and Mr Coleman in the hope they save BB

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  19. EverlastingFire (291 comments) says:

    Get rid of Maori TV.

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  20. Mike Readman (359 comments) says:

    It should convert into a news only channel. NZ needs one of those.

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  21. Crusader (294 comments) says:

    Best thing about TV 7 is Kid Zone in the mornings, keeps the kids out of our hair while we get their gear ready for dropping off in Kindy. (2 days a week only, so don’t worry, they get lots of parental attention the rest of the week)

    Backbenchers is Politics-By-Soundbite. Not very illuminating. Each MP brings their own cheer squad, who would go wild if their idol said anything – or just burped.

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  22. Michael (899 comments) says:

    I thought no-one watched BB – until a colleague at work said he saw me on it. The style of the show is supposed to be more relaxed than a show like Q+A (it’s in a pub) so it’s more accessable to non-politicos. Damian and Wallace are quite balanced, it’s more that the Labour cheer squad turn out more than the National one.

    I think the PBS model would work best with it’s commerical sponsorship and public subscriptions providing the top up to keep it running.

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  23. orewa1 (428 comments) says:

    Please can’t we get rid of TV1 and keep TV7?

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  24. thedavincimode (6,589 comments) says:

    Ralston – “lord knows where the missing $1m went”

    Lunch at Toto’s?

    I haven’t watched it given my tuning inadequacies, but if there is even a whiff of rational and intelligent analysis in the air at TV7, and no whiff of the sensationalist cat roots donkey so babies starve bullshit that has pervaded TVNZ for the last 30 years, then I say keep the bloody thing irrespective of the cost.

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  25. noskire (834 comments) says:

    Flick off TV2, acquire NZPA and develop it into a multi-media news outlet, and use TV1 along the same lines as ABC. Oh, and get rid of Petra too.

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  26. thedavincimode (6,589 comments) says:

    “Oh, and get rid of Petra too”

    don’t you mean get rid of the whole useless fucking thing?

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  27. godruelf (55 comments) says:

    If they can’t afford TVNZ7 get rid of Parliament TV and Maori TV as well.

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  28. Nick Archer (137 comments) says:

    Agree 100% David

    I have this year been working part time and making some good money as a contractor selling SKY TV subscriptions (in an effort to hone my sales skills further and develop my current busineses) and the trends are certainly towards stuff like MY SKY, for ages I have been telling people that things were moving to more online stuff (New Media) and the next trend at SKY seems to be i-SKY http://www.isky.co.nz/ which is free to subscribers and if you have broadband with pretty much anyone other than Telecom and Telstra at present the broadband charges of the content is FREE. SKY haven’t really marketed it just yet (just like they didn’t with MY SKY) as it is in Beta stage (but as everyone knows they are onto it in terms of their marketing) and just watch them push it after the Rugby World Cup…

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  29. Fletch (6,123 comments) says:

    Most of the stuff on TVNZ 7 seemed to be old docos made in NZ that no one really wanted to watch again. The only good thing about that station was the news every hour, on the hour.

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  30. Diziet Sma (109 comments) says:

    Apart from emergencies & local matters do we need more State funded Broadcasting. Wouldn’t that money be better used by citizens for their own desires?

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  31. KiwiGreg (3,211 comments) says:

    “It should convert into a news only channel. NZ needs one of those.”

    CNN, BBC, Fox, SKY, Al Jazheera…what would you do with another news channel? And why would you need the taxpayer to pay for it?

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  32. Richard Harman (7 comments) says:

    First up I’ve got a dog in this fight — we get NZ on Air Platinum funding to produce “The Nation” for TV3 though I suspect we get considerably less per programme than the budget for TVNZ7 shows. In my limited experience producing for that channel, the budgets seemed generous but included a requirement that a substantial amount be spent on TVNZ facilities. This left the thought that TVNZ saw TVNZ7 as a way of fattening its own bottom line and sustaining its fairly plump overheads. There certainly didn’t seem to be much of a committment to public broadcasting. After the ABC series in Australia on the Howard Government ran up substantial audiences there we proposed a similar series on the Clark years to TVNZ7 — but they said they had a policy of not commissioning documentaries. It was also not possible to find their programme listings anywhere. I always suspected that TVNZ was not keen on TVNZ7 achieving an audience because that would have come at the expense of the revenue earning TVNZ One and Two. David is right. As we move to a MySky age it won’t matter where or at what time a programme plays. Thus schemes like the Platinum Fund which will fund public service type programming of any of the main channels will become increasingly relevant. We don’t need another bureauracy like TVNZ or RNZ to get non commercial broadcasting. We are already getting it from programmes like “The Nation” or “Q&A”.

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  33. Damian Christie (13 comments) says:

    @Richard – You’ll be pleased(?) to know your suspicions are unfounded. The Nation got about a million bucks for 36 eps this year, so around $27k an ep, right? That’s more than double what my show (Hindsight) gets. Back Benches also gets, if I can steal your phrase, “considerably less per programme than the budget for” The Nation. I’m not aware of any current TVNZ 7 show having a higher budget than yours.

    Even Q+A gets less per episode than The Nation (1 mill vs about $800,000 for the year), which as Media Watch pointed out, aint great bang for buck, given that Q+A’s audience is usually several times larger than The Nation’s. Still good to have them both there, keeps everyone honest eh.

    (Disclaimer: I’m in bed with TVNZ. Big time)

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  34. Manolo (13,514 comments) says:

    Good to see some money saved by axing this mediocre venture. Any channel with Russell Brown on it cannot be good. :-)

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  35. tom hunter (4,552 comments) says:

    Inside The Meltdown – rented and watched via iTunes several months ago. PBS lefty angle but interesting for all that.

    Inside Job – another doco on the GFC: same issues as with ITM (narrated by Matt Damon as an example) but still worth watching. Will rent from iTunes soon.

    Has the former doco ever been on NZ TV? It’s from the PBS stable, Frontline, which I cannot recall seeing anything from here in NZ. Or how about their science series, Nova? Anything? Ever? I presume the bias is still towards British doco producers such as Horizon, assuming that such hour-long events are still screened on free-to-air in NZ?

    TVNZ7, TVNZ, TV3 – they simply no longer matter. People ask if I still watch TV and the answer is yes. I just don’t watch via the 20th century mode known as broadcast channels.

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  36. kenwestmoreland (4 comments) says:

    All TV is pay-TV, whether it’s funded through advertising, sponsorship, subscription, taxation, or licence fees, and the sooner people get that into their heads, the better. The only benefit of Freeview in New Zealand is that it offers improved picture quality, not a greater choice of content, and once the analogue signal is switched off, all TV should be subscription funded. Even the BBC is involved with pay-TV in the UK as well as internationally, and the idea of replacing the licence fee with a subscription fee is more feasible now than when it was first suggested twenty-fve years ago. TVNZ was originally a shareholder in Sky, so the idea of pay-TV, especially terrestrial pay-TV is nothing new.

    The East Asian satellite TV service, World TV, charges its subscribers $77.99 a month for its stand-alone service – you don’t have to subscribe to Sky if you don’t want to. It offers subscribers ten channels, but a TVNZ pay-TV service could offer the same number at half that cost, and in a language that most people in New Zealand speak. World TV only has 10 000 subscribers, but they pay their own way. Pay-TV services in other countries allow people to pick and choose what channels they want and don’t want, although certain ‘public service’ channels should be included.

    Yes, there are other OECD countries comparable in size to New Zealand that spend more on public broadcasting, like Norway and Denmark. But people there also have to pay the equivalent of $600 a year in licence fees. New Zealand has moved too far away from that model and there is no chance that it can move back to it.

    It’s interesting that Auckland’s Triangle TV / Stratos TV can offer quality public broadcasting with just a handful of staff on shoe-string budget

    Not really, it’s that most of it is overseas programming taken off satellite, and it doesn’t have to pay for it.

    The answer is the excellent ABC iView site, which has streaming video of most shows up for a week or two after they’ve screened.

    Only the answer if you live in Australia, Rex. The BBC is going to offer an international version of its iPlayer funded by subscription, although you can access the UK one using a VPN. I use it on my computer in the UK to watch its programmes (without having to pay the licence fee). VPN services with access US, Canadian or UK content are widely available, but I don’t think ones for Australia are.

    Personally, I find the idea of having to watch a certain programme on a certain channel at a certain time is increasingly outdated, I wouldn’t write off live broadcast TV just yet – it will take a while before we can do that, particularly with older people. And broadband in New Zealand (and Australia) will need to improve before then.

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  37. hans_versluys (2 comments) says:

    “It’s interesting that Auckland’s Triangle TV / Stratos TV can offer quality public broadcasting with just a handful of staff on shoe-string budget
    Not really, it’s that most of it is overseas programming taken off satellite, and it doesn’t have to pay for it.”

    Stratos and Triangle do pay to get onto the airwaves (satellite DTH, Freeview DTT, analogue UHF) without Government support, or a level playing field access to NZOA funding.

    Hans Versluys, Programme Manager, Stratos TV

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