John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: World Cup TV scrum far from over

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The big-budget Disney film Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board was filmed in West Auckland because of the area's similarities to parts of Hawaii. Photo / Dean Purcell
The big-budget Disney film Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board was filmed in West Auckland because of the area's similarities to parts of Hawaii. Photo / Dean Purcell

"They think it's all over."

It's a soccer saying, I know, but in the calm after the Rugby World Cup TV rights storm, it seems the perfect sports cliche.

After shambolic handling of the free to air row, politicians could be excused for hoping the rights deal will be done, dusted and under the carpet.

No way. The muddle leading to the Government-brokered joint bid for TV rights led by Maori TV has a long way to go.

Will the International Rugby Board and its agents IMG be willing to accept the Maori TV offer sub-licensed to TVNZ and TV3?

The IRB has an interest in the World Cup being heavily marketed in this country. It wants tickets sold and for TV viewers internationally to see full stadiums; big advertisers who fly in and sit in the best seats also want it to be a splash.

But a combined bid - it is believed to be around $5 million - could have the effect of reducing the IRB's take.

And IMG is paid by commission, believed to be around 10 per cent.

If it came to a game of chicken over who would flinch - between the Government and the IRB - I would bet the politicians have more at stake.

Then there are the advertisers who want a splash in the home market.

It could be messy.

Normally advertisers deal with one broadcaster for sponsorship packages, with IRB core advertisers given privileged access. Now the local free to air audience could be split three ways.

It is understood IRB key sponsor Heineken has already raised concerns.

Advertising media buying consultant Martin Gillman says the Rugby World Cup creates a potential nightmare for advertisers.

Even if the joint deal goes ahead, what about the practicalities of covering the matches. Dozens of broadcasters from around the world will be squeezing into commentary boxes already filled with Maori TV, TVNZ, TV3 and Sky.

There are outs. If the IRB - or even the Commerce Commission - rejected a bid involving multiple broadcasters, as has occurred in the past, one of the parties could drop out.

But the message is clear. The World Cup rights Cluster Funk is far from over.

BRANDING BUGGER

Film New Zealand appointed the brains behind the"Bugger" ad campaign as part of a marketing makeover to sell New Zealand as a film and television location.

Howard Grieve - now with the Assignment Group - has been made marketing adviser to the board for Film New Zealand which was revamped to attract more work to New Zealand.

The government-funded trust must have a good marketing budget to get Grieve involved - he has done some memorable work. But there is uneasiness about some of branding ideas floating around for Film New Zealand.

Auckland film facilities executive Peter Parnham, of Panavision, said a proposal to use the brand "Studio New Zealand" would create confusion as it sought to attract productions to New Zealand with most incoming productions seeing studios as bricks and mortar buildings where movies are made.

Indeed there is already some muddle with the branding of the New Zealand Film Commission - which finances domestic film production and is involved in industry developments.

Internationally the term "film commission" is used to describe film location offices like Film New Zealand.

More messiness.

AUCKLAND V NZ

Strategic changes to Film New Zealand and new faces might improve relations with the production industry's busiest region - Auckland. But tensions remain between Aucklanders and the government-funded agency to attract film, television and commercial projects to New Zealand.

Film Auckland chairwoman Roimata MacGregor said $878 million, or around two-thirds of New Zealand's screen production activity, such as film TV and commercials, took place in and around Auckland last year.

That is partly because TVNZ and TV3 are based here. But the centre of the screen industry is still in Auckland.

MacGregor says Auckland issues have often been ignored by Film New Zealand and that has caused resentment.

Queenstown TV producer Julian Grimmond - recently appointed chairman of the newly refocused Film New Zealand - is unaware of disgruntlement in Auckland. He said Film New Zealand trustees were representing sector groups - such as film, television, TV commercials and online games - and not geographic areas.

But Panavision's Peter Parnham says there is a lack of transparency in the appointment process with representation appearing to be decided by a self-perpetuating body of people appointed to the trust.

Parnham said a Peter Jackson production made in Wellington might cause a blip but most business happened in and around Auckland.

One Wellington film insider suggested Aucklanders had had "ideas above their station" for a long time. The Queenstown-Central Otago region is a notable industry centre, for instance.

CHEERS FOR AUCKLAND

MacGregor whooped in surprise when told Film New Zealand had appointed an Aucklander - Digital Post founder Gary Little - as one of three new trustees.

Film New Zealand had been unsuccessful in the past getting better representation.

Also appointed was Jos Ruffell, business development executive at Wellington-based Sidhe, New Zealand's largest game production studio, and Kevin (KJ) Jennings, who runs the Film Queenstown Film Office.

Other trustees are Wellington-based producer and line producer Julie Elstone, Wanaka-based production accountant Keith Mackenzie, and the New Zealand Film Commission's Sarah Cull, based in Wellington .

Line producer Murray Francis has been invited to continue as a trustee for a further year, to assist with the transition to Film New Zealand's new strategic direction of consolidated marketing and promotional activity.

BOTH SIDES NOW

Joan Withers brings a handy grab-bag of experience to her new role as a director of Television New Zealand.

Withers was on the Sydney-based board of Fairfax, stepping in as chief executive of the New Zealand operations when Brian Evans resigned. Her departure from Fairfax had been pre-arranged.

Withers is also a former chief executive of The Radio Network, a joint venture between APN and Clear Channel Network, during the time it moved from state-ownership.

For an organisation like TVNZ, that has always been isolated from the rest of the commercial media market, her knowledge of other media, and the ad market, may be useful.

Her experience shifting the former state-owned commercial radio network to the private sector could also be handy if National wins a second term and moves to privatise TVNZ, as many believe it will.

Withers replaces Phillip Melchior, one of two TVNZ directors whose term has recently expired. A former managing director of Reuters who returned to New Zealand, Melchior was one of the few remaining members of the dysfunctional board that suffered from political interference under the Labour government.

Also stepping down next month is longtime board member and deputy chairman Rob Fenwick. Fenwick - a former public relations partner of Murray McCully - was a popular member of the TVNZ board and was known as a "Blue-Green" because of his personal support for the Tories while backing commercial environmental initiatives. HANDY HELPMedia trainers and PR folk seem to be taking a bigger role smoothing out corporate meetings and communications with investors.

Back in June the Business Herald questioned the role of ING media trainer Brian Edwards as ING-appointee mediator for meetings with hurt investors.

More recently corporate PR firm Senescall Akers has taken a hands-on role for its client PGG Wrightson.

At a recent meeting over the arrival of new Chinese investor Agria, PR man Barry Akers was even prompting the speakers from the front row of the meeting.

PGW's active approach has also been apparent in its unusual "media clarifications" to the NZX over issues raised by media, without dealing with the media directly.

Back in early September and before the Agria announcement, a PGW notice aimed to reinforce the company's view that it had not breached its banking covenant. The clarification did not mention it would have had it not sought a waiver.

Less than a week later Akers sent a letter to business and rural editors, with PGW chairman Keith Smith again stating the company had "not breached its banking covenants", in a bid to head off unspecified "errors and misinterpretations that had appeared in media".

This week the company was back to the stock exchange with another "media clarification" about its new partner, Agria, facing four class action law suits in America.

Akers said he may have uttered a few things from the front row, but said the PGW team, led by veteran director Smith, did not need coaching. He confirmed the clarifications to the NZX was unusual.

- NZ Herald

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