Brian Edwards Media

TVNZ7: if you want to save it – adopt it out.

Q:        What do you call public service television that almost no-one watches, because almost no-one knows about it?

A:        TVNZ7

Q:        Why aren’t the programmes advertised?

A:        Because they might attract viewers from the commercial channels run by TVNZ.

It appeared to be an inspired plan, to get our state broadcaster to run the two commercial-free channels TVNZ6 and TVNZ7. TVNZ had the infrastructure, the studios, the staff and the know-how. It also had millions of dollars, kindly donated by the Government, to run the channels.

It was in fact an invitation for TVNZ to shoot itself in the foot. 

Our state broadcaster operates with one hand tied behind its back at the best of times. The mixed model that requires it to be mindful of public broadcasting requirements and programming  and at the same time be commercially successful and return a healthy profit to the government, is as daft as claiming someone’s a little bit pregnant. You can be a successful public broadcaster; you can be a successful commercial broadcaster. You can’t do both successfully because their aims and objectives are antipathetic.

Every viewer who switches to TVNZ7 is a viewer who isn’t watching TVOne or TV2. Why on earth would TVNZ  encourage people to switch to it? That would be commercially irresponsible. It’s also a dilemma the network faces every time it puts a public service programme to air, which is why most of them are broadcast in the dead of night or on Sunday mornings. The programmes that make up good public service broadcasting are in the main programmes that networks believe would spell death to the ratings.

I applaud the principle behind Clare Curran’s private member’s bill, intended to save TVNZ7 and force TVNZ to pay for it. But it’s never going to succeed as a public service channel until the divorce is at least decree nisi. Yes, TVNZ could pay to run the channel, but that funding should not be direct; direct funding means control.   The money should be ring-fenced from the annual dividend paid to the government – and that funding should not be direct either. It should be channelled through NZ on Air as is Radio New Zealand’s funding.

Arms length is the only safe place for a government when it comes to broadcasting. The temptation for politicians and ministries to meddle, and the temptation for their opponents to claim political interference is too great. That’s why the NZ on Air model works so well – it distances funding and monitoring from government. (I’m a former Deputy Chair of the Board of NZ on Air, so I’m allowed to be biased!)

The channel itself should be a  totally separate entity, run by a separate organisation. Whether that’s a trust, a government entity or a company is a detail that can be worked out later. What is important now is to remove the channel from the control of TVNZ  altogether – mere editorial independence isn’t enough.

The separate entity could still use TVNZ studios and staff and equipment if need be.  It would hire them, just as private companies do. It would, and should, expect mates’ rates, but it shouldn’t expect to use the facilities for nothing, although perhaps the cost could be absorbed and become a paper addition to TVNZ’s annual dividend.

Our new public service channel could then promote itself and its programming, it could advertise, it could make sure it was prominent in newspaper and magazine listings. In other words, it could become visible to a huge audience that is largely unaware that it exists, or what programmes it broadcasts and when they are available.

TVNZ7 deserves to exist in some form. For goodness sake, do we want to rejoin Mexico as the only country in the OECD without public service television?

But it should not be TVNZ7. It should be PSTV1. That’s the only model that is fair to TVNZ, and it’s the only model that would be fair to us, the public. 

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36 Comments:

  1. Yes, save TVNZ7! But, instead of PSTV1 how bout NZBS a la PBS, SBS…

  2. At last, Brian, some sense!

  3. I can see that I’m going to have to put my avatar on my posts, so that Brian doesn’t get blamed for them. So I’ll start with this one.

  4. Saving TV7 is not what is needed; that doesn’t address the real problem. Why do we have two commercial TV channels owned by the state and no public service television with any worthwhile funding?

    Forget saving TV7 and let’s seek a fully funded ABC type public service channel and use ALL profit from TV1 and TV2 to assist in that funding and any TVNZ directed NZ ON AIR funds to go only to the PS channel. Extra funding, which will be needed, should come from the government purse.

    New Zealand needs and deserves a full Public Service channel, in my view.

  5. I agree, but just add: sell TVNZ. There is no reason for the Govt to be running a commercial broadcasting business.

  6. “sell TVNZ” now thats an interesting idea – assuming you mean sell it off to commercial interests contracted to provide X dollars/year to a Public Service channel – has that been done before?
    If the Public Service channel was a non profit the commercial TV operator could donate the X dollars/year and claim tax credits .

  7. Thanks for that very clear explanation, Judy.

    The way TV7 has been handled has been a bugger’s muddle right from the outset. Our household has been furious that we could not read its programme listings anywhere but the Net. And we are resentful that we will miss its intelligent programmes when it is destroyed. (Little chance of other channels picking up such gems as Back Benches, Talk Talk, The Good Word, Court Report or Media 7. Is there?)

    A lesson in not to run Public Service Broadcasting – which of course the National Government abhor in any case as it does not deliver them unthinking proles with wallets ready for ram-raiding.

    Vent over.

  8. On the subject of funding here, without comment, are allocations for SBS and ABC —-

    The ABC is primarily financed by the federal government through triennial funding arrangements. In 2009—10, total government funding for the ABC was approximately $912 million. For the three years to 2012, government funding to the ABC will total nearly $2.85 billion.
    SBS is funded primarily by the federal government through triennial funding arrangements. SBS’s total funding from government in 2009—10 was $211.8 million. For the three years to 2012, government funding to the SBS is in excess of $650 million.
    Under its legislation, SBS is permitted to broadcast up to five minutes of advertising per hour on its domestic television broadcasting services.

  9. TVNZ in its present form seems beyond repair. Ian Fraser tried, and failed, to balance public and private interests, despite having all the right ideas.

    In any case, starting from the ground up is probably the least worst solution now. The “Radio NZ with pictures” model still has merit, in spite of its imperfections.

  10. In my opinion Radio Nz ticks all the boxes I require from a single radio station.I feel sure that I am not alone in this opinion and a properly funded TV station with sufficient freedom would do the same.Radio Nz with pictures is an apt description on what I would like to see.The BBC on a smaller scale (much smaller)would make a good template .TVNZ ‘S tacky commercial model has seen it dissapear from my veiwing habits.

  11. Tonight’s Sainsbury on racism in rugby is a good example of public service broadcasting. (I jest!)

  12. But wait, its all part of the ‘brighter future’ and what the country can ‘afford’ isn’t it?

    oops, I asked a question after making an ‘assertion’!

    No lollies here Bill.

  13. Funnily enough, it’s Radio NZ National that has replaced TVNZ in our house. Even my children enjoy it, and public service radio without pictures is infinitely preferable to the vacuous wasteland of commercial free-to-air TV.

  14. I don’t know why people think NZOA should be beyond reproach. I can think of more than a few classic TV programmes that simply would not be made had the current broadcasting regime been in place at the time. Some of them hosted by or involving the author of this blog-post.

    I actually think that having TVNZ running a commercial TV1 and TV2 with a non-commercial TVNZ6 and TVNZ7 had things just about right, the trouble was, as per usual, there was not enough funding, and in this overly PC world, TVNZ was not allowed to use its profits from TV1 and 2 to investing in TVNZ6 and 7. For some unknown reason, the money would flow into the consolidated fund, then to NZOA and then back to TVNZ.

    JC: The funding for TVNZ6 and TVNZ7 did not go through NZOA. It went direct to the broadcaster.

  15. Now I have a great big tv screen on which to listen to radio nz. Media 7 and court report tonight demonstrate just why we need tv7. Back benches is great. Is it conceivable we could fundraise enough to stave off the thoughtless, heartless decision to kill it?

  16. It is because we have the worst broadcast television system in the OECD that Sky has been able to expand so far. Shaun Brown valued the freedom that at Australia’s SBS he could spend any profit on programmes, while at TVNZ he had to give it back to the government. Sell TVNZ and create a new Trust-managed entity to end NZ television’s mental lobotomy of the nation – we can’t afford not to.

  17. 17

    Wouldn’t it be lovely if the programmes on 7 (and similar ones elsewhere) which do not have advertising breaks in them dispensed with the promotional breaks? Many of us are still capable of watching a programme all the way through without having to have enforced attention stops.

  18. It’s heartening to see some true interest in TVNZ and public broadcasting and I hope a fair few of you have signed up to the Save TVNZ7 page on facebook.

    I wonder, how many of you appreciate TVNZ7 to the point of door-knocking on your street only – ask if they’ve heard about TVNZ7, ask them to watch a couple of programmes and then, should they like what they see, sign a pre-formed letter asking for TVNZ7 to be funded?

    If such a letter was designed and available for you to run off 30 copies, then distribute to your neighbours, would you use it???

    My 60+ parents had never heard of 7 until I made them watch the 8pm News and Hindsight. Now they get it, and it strikes me that good ol’ neighbourly advice might be an effective tool to combat what Judy accurately describes as a major problem – the inability for TVNZ7 to market itself anywhere but its own channel.

  19. Just watched Media 7 via Public Address as I can’t get it live.
    Brilliant. Heartbreaking. A Program on the non-Reporting of our terrible Prison System.
    And why isn’t this and other important issues on mainstream MSM?
    Follow the money!

  20. High Court WgtnCC Mond 16 April 12. 10am. next to railway mulgrave St. SuperNova Case. ads in satur DomPost personal.14th apr. perhaps on CloseUpTVNZ this monday night. Donald McDonald p312. 04 389 6820 until u get a real person, me. Conscientious not frivolous. Serious important consequence. The purpose of news media.

  21. If Clare Curran bill fails (hopefully not) and if the govt won’t put in (ring-fenced) funding to save TVNZ 7, could not a private trust be set up,to save it ? The model here,of course, is the Auckland Radio Trust -BBC World Service,which saved this Service from local extinction a decade or so ago.
    A well-targeted and -reasoned campaign to save TVNZ7 should attract enough private and corporate fundng to make this possible-even if it is more of challenge than saving a radio service.

  22. So who DOES watch TV1 and TV2? Someone must be, because they’re still operating. None of this debate will make a blind bit of difference until fools learn about the OFF button.

  23. 23

    Wake Up, I confess to occasionally watching “Sunday” and also “Country Calendar” – while waiting for the rugby to start.

  24. Question 1: Why is NZ On Air best placed to administer funding to RNZ and a Public Service TV station? Surely CNZ or MED or any govt dept could do it.

    Question 2: Jim Blackman reports Oz funding to ABC is in the billions. Doesn’t ALL of that come from a tariff on commercial broadcasters? So it’s not costing taxpayers anything? $15m from Sky and any other networks making a profit would not destroy them.

  25. I am getting rather sick and tired of hearing independent production houses moaning about the closure of TVNZ 7. If they really did care (and god knows they milk NZOA for all they can) they should be putting their money together and investing in this vital public broadcasting channel. Better still, why not merge Maori TV With TVNZ 7 and call it Kiwi TV.

  26. 26

    Sharp incisive accurate JC (as always). Doesn’t Brian know those guys asking for money at 3 Lamps are from the Save TVNZ7 campaign? YAT

  27. Judy, I think your explanation of why you think 7 was not advertised well enough is spurious and amounts to nothing more than a conspiracy theory.

    Who do you suppose is responsible for advertising 7? Surely it is 7 that is responsible for advertising themselves. That comes from their own advertising budget. If that budget is not high enough to achieve advertising that you consider good enough, then you need to look to the government to increase that funding. If you expect TVNZ to advertise for 7, then the government must give TVNZ that funding.

    You make another spurious claim:
    “It’s also a dilemma the network faces every time it puts a public service programme to air, which is why most of them are broadcast in the dead of night or on Sunday mornings.”
    Again this falls into conspiracy theory. First of all, TVNZ7 stops broadcasting at midnight and resumes with 2 hours of kids programming at 6am, so I’m not sure how anything can be considered to be broadcast in the dead of night. Do you mean ‘post-primetime’?
    Your next claim is regarding Sunday mornings. Let’s take this coming Sunday as an example.You will notice that the programmes (ignoring the filler) that play between 8am and midday have in fact already air previously in prime time slots!
    Let’s look again at your claim:
    “…every time it puts a public service programme to air, which is why most of them are broadcast in the dead of night or on Sunday mornings”
    So it is disproved that TVNZ is somehow giving these programmes the short shrift. But I really can’t quite figure out is that you refer to ‘most public service programmes’. Surely the vast majority of programmes on the public service channel are public service programmes, are they not? So what does most mean? If by ‘dead of night’ and ‘Sunday morning’ you actually mean pre- and post-primetime then what is your solution? Do you only show public service programming during primetime? Or do you change the primetime definition to between 8am and midnight?

  28. 28

    ccs, I think you’ve misinterpreted JC’s comments as referring to TVNZ7 whereas they actually referred to TV1 & TV2.

  29. I’m not sure what you mean. Could you be more specific?

  30. 30

    “It’s also a dilemma the network faces every time it puts a public service programme to air, which is why most of them are broadcast in the dead of night or on Sunday mornings.” – on TV1 & TV2.

    That was my interpretation.

  31. Alan, I would say that is still a spurious claim of Judy’s and still a conspiracy theory. The reality is that TVNZ has been directed by its owner to operate commercially. IE, ratings rule. If a programme doesn’t rate, then it doesn’t get shown in primetime. That applies to ‘public interest’ programmes as much as it does to ‘commercial interest’ programmes. Why Judy thinks TVNZ would put public interest programmes on TV1 and TV2 outside of primetime viewing hours as some kind of spite for TVNZ7 is beyond me. But she would have us believe that TVNZ is trying to deliberately undermine TVNZ7. That, along with the accusation that TVNZ has tried to sabotage TVNZ7′s viewership with advertising, is a huge claim and needs to have some evidence to back it up.

    It strikes me that Judy’s argument is idealogical more than anything else. If public television is the champion, then commercial television must be the enemy – and that means that TVNZ is the villain. It’s easy to hate TVNZ. They’ve long been a political football and it’s great to blame them for everything. The reality is that it’s not TVNZ to blame for 7 closing down. The fact is that the government is no longer willing to fund it. If Judy needs to have a gripe with anyone, it is that government.

  32. Shuffling the deck chairs again? All this discussion about how to achieve a PBS. There is not the Political WILL to have a quality public broadcasting service. Just one is all I ask. As a nation we have struggled since the scrapping of the Broadcast License fee years ago. Ian Johnston predicted what would happen. The current model is kapput. Though it’s assets are too good to sell outright, to the advantage of Corporate Media interests. May as well shut down TVNZ, and start afresh on a proper independent foundation, removed from political interference. Get SKY to fund it JK! ;) . You can do it! Failing that I will just have to switch TV off and get informed and entertained on line. But Sky is controlling a lot of content. Roll on the next general election for a change of not very much!

  33. 33

    Phil, why on earth not sell TVNZ? Its assets are worth what they can fetch and no more. They are doing nothing now beyond paying a return to the Government which may as well be capitalised rather than have to borrow money.

    It is a mistake also to focus on the delivery medium now since it is about to be transformed by new technologies and the internet. The focus should be on content. Managing NZOA is more important than managing a delivery channel.

  34. If money is tight why not rebroadcast the 2 excellent public service Australian channels SBS1 and SBS2? The cost would be minimal compared to TVNZ7. We could reciprocate by offering Australia the right to rebroadcast the Maori channel and Te Reo channel to service the 100,000 Maori who live in Australia. A win-win for both countries and in the Anzac spirit.

  35. More dumbing down of NZ. When I moved here from OZ,It took me four years to realise 7 was there. OK, so I don’t watch much box! Now I’ve found it I watch more.

  36. 36

    Ross McCorquodale

    We can’t get UHF TV here in this sheltered little West Auckland valley. So in order to actually watch anything other than TV1, TV2, and TV3, and to prepare for digital TV, we put a dish on the roof. I’ve been watching SBS for a couple of years now – their Tasmanian service has been on the same satellite as all the other NZ channels. What a breath of fresh air. Quality programming never dreamed of in NZ. But now they’ve turned it off with no warning. Suddenly I find myself listening to the radio again.

    So I couldn’t agree more that adding a couple of hours a week of NZ content to the SBS channels would have to be not only the cheapest, but also by far the best option. The NZ rights to all those documentaries couldn’t cost all that much, could they?