Brian Edwards Media

Who gets the dough when you take part in a TVNZ/TV3 text-in poll? I find out and it ain’t pretty!

'How come there was no Guinness ads in the final? Sure it must be rigged.

You may have noticed that text-in polls are becoming increasingly popular with the major television networks. And you many have wondered just why it costs so much to text one of their programmes, why the charge varies substantially from channel to channel and programme to programme, and just where the money is going.

Leaving aside for the moment that these polls have zero statistical value, you might think that by getting free programme material, paid for by viewers,  they are on a much better deal than you and me. And it might occur to you that if there has to be a charge, that charge should be a) reasonable and b) consistent. So far as I can see, it’s neither.

In recent weeks I’ve seen ‘text-in’ charges of 50 cents, 75 cents and 99 cents.  This week, for example,  it would have cost you 50 cents to answer ‘Campbell Live’s question: ‘Who is to blame for The Hobbit fiasco –  a) the union or b) the film studio?’

But if you watched the Fair Go Ad Awards on Wednesday and wanted to vote for the worst and best television ads, you’d have had to pay 99 cents … twice!

So my first question is: Since the most you can pay to send  a text internally in New Zealand is 20 cents – and considerably less if you’re on a plan –  why does it cost two-and-a-half times that much to send a text to Campbell Live, and why does it cost five times that much to sent a text to Fair Go? Fair Go of all programmes!

My second question is: why should there be any difference in the cost of sending a text to different channels or different programmes?

And my third question is: how much money are we talking about and  where is it all going?   

Well, the answer to the last question obviously depends on how many texts come in. TV3 tell me that Campbell Live got 6,000 responses to last night’s text poll on The Hobbit debacle. They say that, for most polls, between 18 and 20 cents goes to the telco and between 25 and 30 cents to the company supplying the gear to run the poll. So, of the 50 cents,  TV3 says it will be making 7 cents at most . Six thousand times 7 cents = $420.

TVNZ tell me that the Fair Go Ad Awards show received 36,000 texts from viewers, but they refused to tell me where the 99 cents per text went. They say that’s because the telcos don’t want you to know. I’m going to assume that the same sort of deal applies to them as to TV3. So, at 99 cents a pop, 36,000 texts comes to $35,640. Minus a maximum 50 cents per text to the telco and the company supplying the gear = $20,000. Remainder to TVNZ’s coffers –  $15,640. Not bad.

Now here’s how I look at this. When you enter a text-in poll, you are providing the channel with programme material. You’re also saving them a substantial amount of work and money opening letters or responding to phone calls. So why are you paying anything? Why aren’t they picking up the tab? Why aren’t they paying for the gear to make it possible to run the poll? It’s a production cost after all. Next you’ll be asked to pay for the flash new set and the presenters’ wardrobe. And why should you pay the telco more to send a text to TVNZ or TV3 than to send a text to anyone else?

It seems to me that everyone – the TV channels, the telcos and the people supplying the gear – are making a buck out of this. Everyone except the people helping to fill the programme space – you and me. It’s a modest buck admittedly in the case of Campbell Live, but megabucks in the case of Fair Go. Did I say, ‘Fair Go of all programmes!’? I think I did.

Well, since boycotts are in the air, maybe it’s time we stopped paying TV3 and TVNZ for the privilege of supplying them with programme material for a whole range of shows from Campbell Live to Close Up to the Fair Go Ad Awards to a swag of others.  Who knows, they might just have a change of heart.

Did I say ‘heart’?


And a footnote to all of this. In the Campbell Live poll 90% of respondents thought Actors Equity was to blame for the Hobbit fiasco and 10% thought the film company was to blame. Even given the statistical unreliability of this sort of poll, that’s a resounding and deserved indictment of the appalling PR of Actors Equity, the CTU and in particular CTU president Helen Kelly. I have seldom seen groups so out of touch with public sentiment or so incapable of getting across the message they wanted to convey.

At the same time I have considerable sympathy for the Kiwi actors who appear to have been pawns in the hands of their Australian colleagues and who now, I have no doubt, are deeply regretting the way things have turned out. So a couple to tips for future reference:

Too many spokespeople spoil the message;

You have to know what you’re there to say;

You have to have concrete examples of what it is you want;

If you haven’t got a plan, don’t get out of the car.

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  1. I believe the inept actions of the actors’ union has been exploited by Sir Peter Jackson’s ego and Warner’s greed!

  2. Do you think Fair Go would investigate the fairness of phone survey charges? I suspect not but wonder seems a little unfair to rip off their own viewers, even if its voluntary.

    • Do you think Fair Go would investigate the fairness of phone survey charges?

      Well, perhaps they should. But to be fair to Fair Go, the villain in the piece here is not the programme but TVNZ itself. As the TVNZ spokesperson told me: ‘Having deducted the telco and other costs, we take the rest.’

  3. Even if their PR is shambolic I still consider it should be their right to request a union led negotiation.Individual contracting can be extremely nasty . Divide and conquer .The Hobbit was a disaster long before this fiasco.

    • Even if their PR is shambolic I still consider it should be their right to request a union led negotiation

      I’m afraid that and the actors’ position are both naive. As producer of the film, Jackson could not legally negotiate terms with a New Zealand trade union. And really for contractors to seek union negotiation of their terms and conditions seems to me to be a case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. I was a contractor for my entire broadcating career. I chose that relationship because, generally speaking, contractors are willng to sacrifice security for higher remuneration. It also has to be remembered that Jackson has been generous in his dealings with New Zealand actors with regard to this project, a fact which they themselves acknowledge. They have no complaint about him or about The Hobbit. Their acton, whether they realised it or not, was designed to set a benchmark for the industry at large. As I said, they have my sympathy. But in the real world of big-time movie-making, contracts are not sorted out in a friendly chat over a cup of tea.

  4. I have never responded to a text poll and never will. Anyone who does respond deserves to be ripped off for their stupidity.

    As for the Fair Go ad awards they plumbed new depths of inanity; a fitting conclusion for programe that is a shadow of its former self. Kevin Milne is well out of it.

    I doubt very much whether the Australians are regretting the mess they have caused in NZ. I suggest that the interference was blatant and done with the full knowledge of the possible questions and was calculated to serve the interests of the Australian film industry. How fascinating that as the shambles developed Australia was one of the countries pitching for the film to be made there.

    It served as yet another example in a long list of examples (and New Zealanders have very short memories) if you play with dingos you will end up being bitten.

    • I have never responded to a text poll and never will. Anyone who does respond deserves to be ripped off for their stupidity

      I don’t think anyone “deserves” to be ripped off. And nor does responding to a text poll indicate “stupidity”. People enjoy the Ad Awards and want to contribute. I’m simply saying that they shouldn’t have to pay more to text TVNZ or TV3 than for a normal text. And that, in the case of TVNZ at least, profit-taking from this enterprise is reprehensible.

  5. If you’re dumb enough to succumb to usury text charges — then, you’re probably dumb enough to remit money to Nigeria, to claim a Lotto win etc.

    This is all B.S about the Actors Equity, Helen Kelly. It’s nothing less than a smokescreen that Warners have contrived to (a) Give them an excuse to take the production overseas — and Jackson is playing along with the ruse — or (B) Screw the Government for more favourable tax breaks.

    Either way, Actors Equity and Helen Kelly and the CTU, could just be the patsies to take the heat, should production go offshore. They would’ve been set up, very nicely, to cop the blame.

    Notwithstanding the economic benefits for the country (tourism, employment, existing businesses reaping benefits from LOTR), in an artistic sense: who really gives a toss as to where the film is made?.

    Jackson’s ‘talent’ is to elevate the technique of
    filmmaking above the actual narrative. Meaning, it’s heavy on CGI, to become mind-numbing eye candy dreck. He ALWAYS robs the novels of its essence, with his heavy-handed use of “special effects”.

    If the Hobbit gets hobbled, I’d be the first to kick away his crutch, and deliver a swift one to this goblin’s cajones, while sprawled on the ground.

    • If you’re dumb enough to succumb to usury text charges — then, you’re probably dumb enough to remit money to Nigeria, to claim a Lotto win etc.

      See my reply to Ben. Thanks too for your usual quietly reasonable summation of the issue re The Hobbit.

  6. Although I agree with most of Merv’s statement ,I draw the line at kicking a man when he’s down.

  7. It is vital to a proper understanding of The Hobbit controversy that people are made aware of the fact that NZ Actor’s Equity’s policy has always been to negotiate privately.

    From the very beginning this entirely sensible negotiating practice has been consistently attacked and undermined by Sir Peter Jackson.

    It was Sir Peter who first went public with an open letter castigating the union’s position.

    From that point on, I agree, Brian, NZAE have been on the back foot in PR terms.

    But if they were naive, it was only in the sense that they continued trying to negotiate in good faith with a man who does not appear to grasp the concept.

    Sir Peter’s latest broadside – “Campbell Live” and all – came after an amicable agreement had apparently been worked out with Warner Bros executives, who were on the point of departing LA for Wellington to confirm the film’s location in NZ.

    I’m not sure, Brian, as a skilled PR practitioner, how you would have handled this sort of situation.

    What is the correct response when the other side keeps lashing out in public and destroying all the good work that has been done to resolve the situation in private.

    NZAE definitely needs some tuition in the field of managing public perceptions, but given what they were up against, and who they were up against, and the news media’s general unwillingness to seriously challenge Jackson’s version of events, the actors always were on a hiding to nothing.


    • It is vital to a proper understanding of The Hobbit controversy that people are made aware of the fact that NZ Actor’s Equity’s policy has always been to negotiate privately.

      Chris, my understanding is that the producers were advised by the Attourney General that under current legislation contractors (and actors are always contractors) are prevented from negotiating collective agreements. If this is indeed the case, then attempting to do so would be against the law. Even if it isn’t the case, it would be a bold company that challenged the ruling of the Attourney General.

      What bewilders me is that if such a negotiation would be against the law, why not just say so and be done with it? Then all the other faffle would have been irrelevant and this whole fiasco would have been prevented.

      That said, it’s a law that ought to be repealed. It puts contractors, particularly in the film and television industries, at a real disadvantage – actors, directors, crew, writers. These days they have to take what they’re offered or they don’t work.

  8. Chris – so that was a ‘private’ global boycott published on the Screen Actor’s Guild website then?

  9. I have long wondered about those TV txt charges, and, partly due to (as you note) the surveys’ statistical unreliability and partly due to a suspicion that it’s a rip off, I’ve never participated in one yet. Having seen the what you’ve managed to find out, I’m glad of it too!

    This story would make a great scoop for the print and some electronic news media (obviously TV will not touch it with a bargepole!) – unless they too have been involved with profit-making txt-based audience surveys, in which case they too will no doubt keep schtum.

  10. One theory as to why WW1 started has to do with the fact that back then mobilising a mass army early through the relatively new comprehensive rail systems conferred enormous advantage. But once that step is taken its very hard to stop and the whole thing takes on a life of its own. One can picture the European powers a couple of years into the war scratching their heads and wondering how it got to this.

    The Hobbit gives me the same impression. Actions taken by a variety of players which taken individually don’t look too extreme and all of a sudden we are all sitting aroud wondering why NZ just lost $500M of economic benefit. Sometimes that happens in life. Events just take us where we never expected to go. One of the reasons I never take anything for granted.

  11. Why would actors always be contractors?Perhaps this may help in determining their employment situation.Or perhaps not.

  12. Can somone tell me why Ms Kelly described Peter Jackson as a ‘spoilt little brat’ on Newstalk ZB?

  13. @ Gerard: “Can someone tell me why Ms Kelly described Peter Jackson as a ‘spoilt little brat’ on Newstalk ZB ?.”

    Because that’s precisely what he is.

    On the Hobbit fiasco, I completely agree with Chris Trotter, Merv, JohnO, PJR and others. I’d advise people to take a look at Gordon Campbell’s sophisticated, in-depth alternative to the mainstream media’s spin on the issue.

  14. @ markus: Warners are here in NZ, on Monday. They come, knowing they hold all the trump cards. They, now, know — that 87% of the population are blaming the unions for the furore. What it tells them, is that such is the desperation of the populace to have the film made in NZ, that their PM gets involved in the negotiations? Their own friggin’ PM for God’s sake.

    Warners can not only sense the desperation, they can smell it as well as taste it. These honchos would’ve done their homework on our business nous. They would be well aware that the NZ Government — by way of our own ‘Alfred E. Neuman’ incarnate, that idiot-savant Dr. Michael Cullen — bought back NZ Railways from Australia’s Toll, at 20-times-more than its actual worth. Which was akin to buying a clapped-out 1970 Austin Allegro, thinking that it had the value of a brand-new Mercedes AMG SL 63.

    I betcha, they also know that Rupert Murdoch — with his 20th Century Fox being a subsidiary of News Corporation Ltd — was able to flog off his vey sick flying pig, named ‘Ansett Australia’, to a bunch of not-too-bright yokels from NZ’s Brierley Investments; for a ridiculously-inflated price. Weeks later, the Brierley boys were all sucking kumaras, and Air NZ needed a Government rescue to stave off bankruptcy.

    What it tells the Warner crew, is that NZ is not only a Land of Sheep, but their political and business leaders behave like lambs to the slaughter. Jostling to get to the front of the queue of the abattoir’s entrance. They aren’t that bright when it comes to negotiating a good deal.

    John Key, may well have the pedigree of an international banker, but he’s bound to take the course of least resistance when ‘negotiating’ with Warners. He’ll take the populist route, reaping the country’s acclaim as the “Almighty Saviour”, should the film be made in NZ. Besides, Key has nothing to negotiate with, because all his cards have been revealed. He won’t be so much negotiating as pleading. The best he can hope for, is that Warners allow him to keep his shirt on, as they proceed to trod on his back. He’ll be too intimidated to make a trade — of further tax concessions for a share of future box office receipts and any residuals thereafter. He’ll be totally “out-gunned”.

  15. I can’t entirely work out the ‘who’s to blame ‘scenario but it seems to me the film is in trouble regardless of Actors Equity. It has been around for a good while: original director was announced with a good deal of fanfare and eventually resigned with a good deal less. .
    The budget seems to be obscenely high and I’ve heard it’s to be two films, not one, which means we will have to go twice (pay twice etc) I hope I can be corrected on this as I’m losing interest already. Makes ‘Gotterdamerung’look appealing.

  16. This looks more ridiculous by the minute.Because the term non binding is used in the negotiation it becomes legal to jointly negotiate a contract as an independant contractor.Have I read this right?Is this just a form of lip service to the law?

  17. The union thing is just a red herring, this has less to do about industrial-relations uncertainty as it has to do with other underlying issues. NZ is not known for having militant unions.

    It’s like when David Lange put a nuclear ban in place, when he became PM in 1984. Dianne Sawyer from CBS’s ’60 Minutes’ came all the way down here to interview Lange as to “How dare he” block the U.S.A’s nuclear navy. She was very disrespectful by being crass and indignant. Same is happening here. We must learn to keep our little Hobbity mouths shut when it comes to Hollywood’s mighty movie moguls. They are Royalty, we are the Great Unwashed.

    Be thankful for small mercies, you ingrates!

  18. I find it endlessly fascinating that mud is being thrown at relatively poorly paid actors and their ilk, while the practice of extremely generous corporate welfare doesn’t seem to raise eye brows.

    How many jobs would small-business-owning-mugs create if they only had to pay half their tax bill? I guess we’ll probably never find out.

  19. So John Key and his crew earbash us about wanting us to “catch up with Australia”. When offered the opportunity to ensure New Zealand actors are paid at a commensurate rate with their Australian colleagues, however, they can’t backpeddle fast enough to alter our laws to suit US business tycoons instead.
    Our people are being encouraged to underbid other third world economies so that a US corporate will throw us a tiny bone, or a few crumbs. Good dog. It’s a race to the bottom for New Zealand workers.
    People were expecting something else when they voted National? Have they learned nothing from history?

  20. The position the actors’ union has attempted to take is not a new one. They tried it on the last series of Outrageous Fortune, The Cult, This is Not My Life and other NZ dramas, and all of the producers told them to take a flying leap and they said, “oh, OK then.” So why did they think they could try the same thing on the biggest film in the history of the world and get a different result?

  21. Kilobucks, Brian: kilobucks. Mind you, if they do this more than once a week it will be megabucks little more than a year.

    As for the Hobbit thing. Well, I’ll no doubt go and see the movie(s), but what a beat-up! There never was much prospect of industrial action, and Sir Peter must have known this. So what is going on? Is this a cat’s paw for more Governmental moves towards bondage of ordinary workers? Methinks me smell a large and hairy rat, here.

  22. I’d like to congratulate Vibenna for asking the tough question that all the conspiracy theorists here like to ignore.

    As to the texting issue. I agree with BE that talk of “deserving to be ripped off because of their stupidity” etc. is way overdone. After all, it’s a voluntary exercise, it’s a tiny amount of money and the people spending it are expecting nothing except a tiny little bit of fun and a feeling of being involved in something. It’s the genius of capitalism in microcosm – a willing buyer and a willing seller!

    Whether the TV company should bear all the costs as BE suggests is another issue. The sums involved in this case are pretty small beer really, and I wouldn’t get exercised much either way. It is an interesting case study in a much bigger story really; How the field of new media applications and content is burgeoning despite the difficulties in finding funding models that work.

  23. Vibenna’s question was so tough, I didn’t even understand it.

  24. What’s hard to understand ? Vibenna was pointing out that the Trotters of this world with their “Boo hoo, the poor actors only wanted a friendly chat” are ignoring the fact that implementing a global boycott is a strange way to initiate a friendly conversation!

  25. I formed the impression that events had taken a somewhat different course. There was a certain amount of Unionist sabre rattling from across the Tasman, the MZAE surged around Warner Bros to assure them that any industrial disturbances were not on their agenda, it appeared that all was resolved, whereat Sir Peter stuck in his oar and muddied the waters.

    Is that a fair summary of events? As I’ve remarked earlier, there was never any real propect of industrial action (My estimate of the likelihood was on a level of the US finding WMD in Iraq. They might if they planted them there)…

  26. Think of how retarded the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.

    Sent from my iPhone 4G

  27. I see that Radio NZ’s Mediawatch programme is grasping the nettle and addressing the topic of audience-pays polling on next week’s programme (7 November). Let’s hope they give you and your blog posting due credit – or maybe even interview you as part of this piece.

    • I see that Radio NZ’s Mediawatch programme is grasping the nettle and addressing the topic of audience-pays polling on next week’s programme (7 November). Let’s hope they give you and your blog posting due credit – or maybe even interview you as part of this piece.

      No invite so far, Kate.

  28. Ion, no that is not a fair summary of events. It’s a downright bizarre summary of events. Vibenna’s point remains entirely unaddressed. The best actual, non fantasy version, summary of events I’ve seen is here;

    (Not sure how to turn that into a clickable link but you can always copy and paste into the browser’s address bar).

  29. “No invite so far, Kate.”

    Why am I not surprised? As another prominent NZ blogger (Russell Brown) has previously noted, mainstream media are all too ready to springboard off the legwork done by bloggers, without giving credit where credit’s due. Harrumph. Here’s hoping RNZ can show more class. (I’m not holding my breath!)

  30. Bill,
    I read a lot more detail in that article, not much of which I hadn’t read before, and of course I did omit the involvement of what might laughingly be described as ‘our government’. I do not see any need materially to alter my overall understanding of events.

    At that, for all the detail contained in the article to which you directed my attention, not the whole story is told there, and its author is clearly as partisan as everyone else.

    One thing I did omit but perhaps ought to have mentioned: the extraordinary degree of hysteria that was generated by this issue. Not even the America’s Cup debacle (I found myself thrust from supporting New Zealand’s involvement to complete alienation solely owing to that execrable ‘Loyalty’ campaign) not even that has matched the ululating chorus against people who, after all, have their livelihoods at stake.

    Pitiful. Truly pitiful.