John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Taxpayers fork out for TV awards

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Paul Henry and Pippa Wetzell at the Qantas Film and Television Awards. TVNZ, which dominated the awards, felt the TV3 production missed key points of its success. Photo / Michael Craig
Paul Henry and Pippa Wetzell at the Qantas Film and Television Awards. TVNZ, which dominated the awards, felt the TV3 production missed key points of its success. Photo / Michael Craig

Television New Zealand opted out of the Qantas Film and Television Awards because of the economy and because coverage of the event did not rate well last year.

But an industry source said that it did pay $150 a head for 100 staff to attend, on top of about 60 finalists.

The source said that the state broadcaster paid $8000 on the bar tab at the do. I guess it would not take too many mojitos and whisky sours to go through eight grand.

But the sour taste over this year's awards raises the question why taxpayers are funding TV coverage for the marketing of the free-to-air television industry.

New Zealand On Air put $114,000 into the TV3 coverage for the awards which were dominated by TVNZ.

It was a very bad year for TV3. I won't get bogged down in the rights and wrongs of the results - my personal choices would have gone for Greg Boyed and Miriama Kamo as the two top presenters.

But to me funding for awards coverage is another example of the way that New Zealand On Air has become a taxpayer-funded cheerleader for the TV industry.

There were also ill feelings because TV3 did not supply some of the footage and because TVNZ felt the TV3 production missed key points of its success.

In the end, TVNZ said it made no sense to make the show - even though it was largely covered by NZ On Air, because it did not rate particularly well last year.

An $8000 bar tab is small fry. It's the $114,000 taxpayers pay to watch the TV industry congratulate itself - that is the problem.

THIRD-WAY NATS

National may have a deeply held ethos supporting the private sector.

But this Government looks unlikely to intervene in state television expansion into the advertising business.

Ad folk have belatedly formed a united resistance to TVNZ moves that some believe amount to developing its own ad agency, making advertorials and buying ad time.

The resistance is more directly aimed at a cut for the commission TVNZ pays agencies who buy time on TV One and TV2.

TVNZ says the change is aimed at helping advertisers but many agencies fear it is a power push from state TV.

It is chasing business while ad revenue slumps and staff and programming are cut.

Broadcasting Minister and TVNZ shareholding minister Jonathan Coleman said he was aware of "rumbles" in the industry. He noted that TVNZ faced a lot of challenges in the current financial market and was looking at ways to increase revenue.

As for ad industry concerns about the state sector - TVNZ pushing further into the private sector creative market - he said that "vested parties" had their views on the matter.

He could not see past examples of TVNZ using its strength in the market to further its cause.

After years when a Labour Government promoted a public service role and worked hard to prevent TVNZ using its dominant power in the production industry, National's relaxed approach to TVNZ expansion is surprising from the private enterprise party.

Maybe Coleman accepts TVNZ claims that its moves are good for advertisers.

Yesterday Communications Agencies Association of New Zealand (Caanz) media committee chairman Derek Lindsay said the industry had a united approach.

Lindsay took issue with TVNZ claims that some agencies had told it that the commission system was in need of reform.

"Despite assurances that proposed changes will be revenue neutral, the Caanz media committee believes this is a TVNZ initiative aimed at improving its financial performance from advertising at the expense of advertisers," Lindsay said.

NO FLY ZONE

The Bank of New Zealand's porcelain piggies have appealed to retail customers but they have an odd look for the corporate and banking business.

BNZ - which dropped ad agency Y&R after four years - is planning the future with sweetheart agency Sugar.

BNZ insists it has not decided their fate but even if these pigs keep flying for a few more months I'd bet they will come down to earth next year.

I hear that the new BNZ boss is determinedly anti-swine and that a review process is already under way.

One adman noted that the pigs had a very good cut-through. Consumers automatically associated the image with the bank and they were a risky but very successful approach.

"But how would you feel making a presentation to Goldman Sachs - or trying to bring in a big business customer" with the cute pigs, asked the adman.

One option for BNZ will be to keep the pigs penned up for the consumer business - but that risks splitting the brand into two, which is a dangerous proposition.

It is understood that price was also a factor in BNZ moving to a smaller agency and the esteemed advertising consultant Mike Knowles - the "K" in the seminal Kiwi ad agency HKM - played a part in the shift, said one ad industry source.

BUN FIGHT

This has been a pig of a year for Y&R chief executive John Ramage who brought the BNZ business to Y&R when he joined from Colenso BBDO.

As well as working on job cuts over the impending BNZ loss, Y&R will also be fighting to retain another high profile account - Burger King.

Tasman Pacific Foods - the master franchise holder for the chain - is set to be bought by private equity company Anchorage Capital Partners. Colenso BBDO - which is on a roll after securing the TVNZ business - is expected to chase the business.

WINDY WELLINGTON

Could Radio New Zealand's problems be fixed by moving parts of the organisation out of Wellington and into Auckland and Christchurch?

A KPMG baseline funding report said RNZ, based in the middle of a tectonic fault on The Terrace, was overcrowded and questioned whether more services could be moved to Auckland.

I'd venture RNZ could also do with a bigger headcount in the South Island.

Alas, spreading RNZ would cost money and Broadcasting Minister Coleman says there are absolutely no plans for any fundamental changes.

I'd argue though that a bigger presence in Auckland and Christchurch might reduce the Wellington-centric view, where water-cooler conversation might centre on an approaching southerly and a ministerial review of the State Services Commission.

MediaWorks chief executive Brent Impey has blasted RNZ for seeking extra funding, saying National Radio gets about $23 million compared to RadioLive which runs on a budget of $5 million to $6 million.

The private sector would say that wouldn't they? I don't mind the idea of taxpayer-funded state broadcasting offering a good, advertising-free option for consumers - a dynamic station that takes risks.

I would also argue that while some question the notion of public radio, commercial television offers a more obvious example where the taxpayer gets a rum deal.

Radio New Zealand has taken on a victim mentality where it is not even prepared to stand up for itself.

It needs a kiss of life more than a breath of fresh air.

Alas, the aim at Radio New Zealand is not on improvements - but on retaining the status quo at all costs.

- NZ Herald

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