John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

John Drinnan: A to Z of a challenging year in the media

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The Business Herald's media writer takes a look at the year just gone and what's coming up in 2011.

ACTING UP

Talk about Fantasyland. Sir Peter Jackson depicted the Hobbit dispute as a passionate quest to defy the evil unions and keep the movie in New Zealand.

It was, of course, about money, power and keeping unions out. For producers and actors it was business - part of the old battle for power between capital and labour. But the media have a role in reporting that battle - and their one-sided, naive and simplistic coverage of the dispute was shameful.

With a few honourable exceptions - notably this paper - many in the media unquestioningly backed producers' versions of events and whipped up hysteria in a manner reminiscent of the 1951 waterfront dispute. Not the media's finest hour.

BEGGARS' BANQUET

The Hobbit dispute - and Warner Bros winning an extra $34 million - also illustrated the sense of entitlement in the film industry and in the wider creative community.

It's part of a disturbing culture of entitlement and taxpayer dependency for film, television and music people who believe they are owed a living.

So what if Nana has to wait an extra year for her hip operation?

CIRCUS, CIRCUS, CIRCUS

It is another election year and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has already been gearing up. He'll be attacking the media and paradoxically ensuring that he gets coverage. It's a tiresome media strategy, but an extraordinarily effective one.

DEAR DENIS...

Denis Dutton, a founder member of New Zealand Skeptics, wit, academic and creator of the Arts and Letters Daily website, died last week. Opinionated but affable, he was an approachable intellectual in a country that distrusts academics and will be sorely missed.

EVOLUTION, REVOLUTION

Media companies began the year in trepidation after an advertising slump, but it has ended with cautious optimism. The old business models may be unravelling as people spend more time on social media but old media are not alone - even new media companies are flying blind.

FLY ME TO THE MOON

Taxpayers gave Annabel Fay's record company a $50,000 subsidy while her dad, Sir Michael, put up thousands of dollars to helicopter in commercial radio DJs and a public servant funding executive to their Great Mercury Island hideaway for a promotional gig.

Something is surely wrong when the Government attacks financially strapped public radio as wasteful, but gives subsidies for pop pap to people who can afford to pay their own way.

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS

Sean Plunket left Morning Report and took up a role hosting TV3's weekend current affairs show The Nation. Plunket has a reputation for being difficult to manage and Radio New Zealand was said to be pleased to see the back of him. But he is a great talent - and Radio New Zealand's loss has definitely been television's gain.

HERALD ANGEL SINGS

The Herald made the shift to a racier, more tabloid style on its front pages under new deputy editor Shayne Currie and drops in readership have been arrested.

Elsewhere, APN's magazines division took over the licensing rights to New Idea from Pacific Magazines and New Zealand Woman's Weekly editor Sido Kitchin was poached to ACP's Woman's Day. Sarah Stuart takes over from Kitchin.

IRON LUNG

After capital restructuring MediaWorks and two years of penny-pinching, owner Ironbridge Capital is struggling to improve revenue, market share and profits at TV3 and C4.

And MediaWorks' extensive radio interests have also taken a hit this year. Weighed down by debt and interest payments, MediaWorks faces another challenging year.

One hope is that it will be able to hire Paul Henry for roles on radio and TV. But he would not come cheap, and MediaWorks does not have money to throw around.

JACKSONVILLE BLUES

The Hobbit fiasco made it clear. Wellington - or should we call it Jacksonville - is a company town.

KIDS AREN'T ALL RIGHT

Jokes about incest, drugs, paedophiles and porn. Welcome to early-evening television where struggling TV networks play adult shows and boost ratings. Broadcasters are on a collision course with the Broadcasting Standards Authority with a High Court challenge after it upheld complaints about TV2 show Hung (about a man with a large penis). But the worry is not about late-night screening. It's that broadcasters are cynically showing sleaze to kids to boost ad revenue.

LANGUAGE, LANGUAGE

A sign of the times. In the online world the trendy folk of Public Address voted recently for a sexual insult "twatcock" as its word of the year.

MILE HIGH CLUB

First Air New Zealand had the near-nude body-painted crew. Then there was the perky, potty-mouthed South American puppet Rico. But Air New Zealand marketers stepped back from the "sex sells" mantra for promotional campaigns.

It cut the segment of a video that featured All Black Richard Kahui turning down a request for a kiss on the cheek from a male flight attendant. Which seemed innocuous enough. It's not clear whether the cut was in deference to gay people, All Blacks or people who find gay people offensive.

NICE, NICER, NICEST

The state broadcasters seem to be coming over all nice. Nice guy Simon Mercep will soon fill hard-nosed Sean Plunket's position on Radio New Zealand's Morning Report. Corin Dann and Petra Bagust will take over from Paul Henry and laugh-along co-host Pippa Wetzell on Breakfast. How will Henry's fans cope with squeaky-clean Petra?

OH DEAR, IT'S OPRAH

The Aussies went gaga over Oprah Winfrey and her promotional shows broadcast from Australia wrapped up in commercial endorsements - for the likes of McDonald's. It's a new global industry. Prostrate yourself for global media - and hope the coverage drags in the tourists.

PRIVATE LIVES

Some in the online world believe privacy is dead, and organisations such as Facebook and Google make money from exploiting a database of marketing information. Yet governments continue to impose restrictions on what individuals can and cannot do.

QUEER AS FOLK

Maori broadcaster Willie Jackson has railed against institutional racism at TVNZ. But he laughs off anti-gay tirades from Live co-host John Tamihere. Queer.

RACE RIGHTS

TVNZ would like to pretend otherwise. But Willie Jackson identified the real problem was that the state TV bosses laughed along with the ethnic jokes and only reacted when advertisers got nervous. Henry's complaint that TVNZ encouraged him to be nasty is self-serving. The real problem is with institutional racism at TVNZ and a lack of moral leadership at the state broadcasting company.

SKY EYES 'I'

Pay TV juggernaut Sky TV had a half-hearted launch for its new internet TV service I Sky, with an expanding array of downloaded TV shows and movies linked to uncapped broadband deals. Sky's reticence is understandable - it holds a virtual monopoly on pay TV and internet TV could divert attention from its traditional satellite options.

TiVo appears to have crashed and burned. With Sky's dominance of digital programming rights it will almost certainly dominate online TV the way it does traditional broadcasting.

THREE'S COMPANY

TV3 has been on desperate rations but has been able to maintain two of the key ingredients for television success.

First 7 Days, the Friday night mock quiz show, is one of the funniest shows on screen. TV3 also makes an effort with documentaries, a genre largely deserted by TVNZ.

UNDER THE RADAR

Fingers crossed the Documentary channel will survive its new owners and BBC branding.

Owner Richard Driver recently sold the channel for more than $6 million and the BBC plans to turn it into a New Zealand version of the BBC Knowledge. The hope is it will retain its independent charm. Credit is due to Driver, who created the channel from scratch and is now looking at his next venture.

WALL TO WALL

Thirty years ago many New Zealanders lost sleep about mixing sport with politics. Yet that is what happened with the Government subsidising TV cover of the Rugby World Cup leading to the bizarre situation that local rights are held by Sky, TVNZ, TV3 and Maori. It's not clear whether we end up with wall-to-wall rugby.

YOOF CHANNEL

As MediaWorks pushed its edgy channel C4 to an older demographic, TVNZ is turning non-commercial TVNZ 6 into a commercial youth channel for people aged 18-29. TVNZ bosses will be encouraged by the success of channel Nine's Go channel across the Tasman. But the concern will be that it cannibalises the TV2 audience.

ZUCKERBERG

There's no denying its impact. But Facebook risks falling on its lack of integrity and transparency. At year's end founder and main shareholder Mark Zuckerberg was being repackaged as a nice guy and edging towards an accommodation for a censored version of Facebook for China. They are made for one another.

- NZ Herald

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