John Drinnan 's Opinion

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Media: RNZ touts its news to private sector

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Speculation is rife on what Paul Henry will be doing on TV3. Photo / Doug Sherring
Speculation is rife on what Paul Henry will be doing on TV3. Photo / Doug Sherring

Radio New Zealand is looking at selling news to the private sector and has eyed up an odd-couple contract with the highly commercial broadcaster MediaWorks.

A key issue will be ensuring the state broadcaster does not breach obligations under its charter, says spokesman John Barr.

But another factor may be whether RNZ journalists schooled in public broadcasting can adapt to the short, sharp hits of commercial radio news.

Barr played down progress so far but acknowledged RNZ had looked at the idea.

Well-placed sources said it was more advanced and RNZ had been in discussions with MediaWorks, but these appear to have come to nought.

MediaWorks managing director Sussan Turner said: "We're not in negotiations with RNZ to have them provide us with a news service."

But the news business has been in upheaval with the decision by Fairfax Media - owner of half the country's newspapers including the Press, Dominion Post and Sunday Star-Times - to pull the plug on the New Zealand Press Association (NZPA).

The agency has played an extraordinary role in the dissemination of news in the country in various forms over 130 years.

Initially focused solely on newspaper companies, NZPA has expanded to deliver other services, feeding bread-and-butter content for online news sites such as Stuff.co.nz, nzherald.co.nz, and lately, tvnz.co.nz.

NZPA has been co-owned by Fairfax and APN.

Fairfax believes its readers would be better served by it developing its own internal news network linking its newspapers, rather than sharing copy with all newspapers.

It intends hiring about 15 of the 40 NZPA staff to boost its network.

In many ways the closure signals more intense competition between the two giants of the newspaper world at a time when newspapers are trying to remake themselves for the digital media future.

NETWORK NEWS

APN News & Media is insisting it did not want to see NZPA fall, but foreseeing Fairfax's withdrawal, it has been developing its own network.

The newspaper group - with the Northern Advocate, Bay of Plenty Times, Rotorua's Daily Post, Wanganui Chronicle, Wairarapa Times-Age, Oamaru Mail and The Star in Christchurch - is working with some of the few remaining independent papers including the Otago Daily Times and Gisborne Herald.

APN owns the Herald and its papers dominate in the top half of the North Island. Fairfax newspapers have a wide geographic spread.

Both have geographic gaps in their reach.

APN New Zealand deputy chief executive Rick Neville said the company was developing a network of freelancers to provide nationwide coverage.

One of the other roles for NZPA is to provide news about New Zealand for overseas news services. It is not clear at this stage who will perform this role when NZPA is gone - probably at the end of the year.

There has been speculation about Fairfax's backing for years.

And in February it emerged both parties were concerned NZPA content being sold to websites was counter-productive - providing material that was helping its competitors.

NZPA told people outside Fairfax and APN their news was no longer for sale.

APN says it still holds that position.

But a digital media source said Fairfax appeared to have backtracked on that policy and has been marketing its news packages to services like tvnz.co.nz and other online sites.

It's not clear whether Fairfax's marketing push has extended to MediaWorks radio.

SAFE GROUND?

On the face of it, an RNZ selling news makes sense.

The Government has said it is not paying more subsidies to alleviate RNZ's dire financial state, and earning more is more appealing than cost cutting.

RNZ recently offered cost-cutting suggestions to the Government, and I hear it made an intriguing suggestion to Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman saying it could make a saving by taking services off the Freeview digital platform.

The suggestion is slightly bizarre given that the Government is pushing the move to digital. You would assume that it was a non-starter.

But given this Government's lack of support for Freeview - and its affection for the rival Sky TV - there must have been a danger that the Nats would agree.

WHERE EGOS ROAR

What will Paul Henry do on TV3?

TVNZ's big mistake is that it never really manages its talent and tried to squeeze too much out of Henry.

On TV One's Breakfast he was at times a shockaholic jester and at times a serious and incisive interviewer.

The whole thing came to grief with the John Key interview when the two Pauls converged in an interview with the PM.

What are the options? He could fill in for John Campbell on Campbell Live, but let's face it Campbell Live is not into hard news anymore. You'd imagine there would be fireworks sometimes between the two stars with mighty egos - which could be good TV or disastrous.

The other option might be a light-entertainment show - maybe a travel show.

Henry's overseas jaunts would have to be timed to avoid radio ratings time. He might have to avoid the Indian sub-continent though. What about TV3's comic gameshow 7 Days?

VALINTINE'S DAY

Mark Sainsbury's role as presenter of Close Up is safer than ever now his rival Paul Henry is safely locked in a contract at MediaWorks.

Awhile back it was an open secret that Henry had his eye on Sainso's job and that his boss Close Up executive producer Mike Valintine was Henry's biggest fan.

Valintine is a larger than life character at TVNZ news - a big personality with a girth to match - and with a reputation for making his views known.

This column reported in 2009 that Sainsbury once went directly to chief executive Rick Ellis to raise concerns about ongoing rumours.

That nonsense is behind him now, as Sainsbury seems firmly entrenched and ready for the Rugby World Cup. A number of staff have moved on from Close Up including Louisa Cleave and Hannah Ockelford.

I wanted to speak to Valintine about the exciting period ahead but he is on leave for a month.

ARTHUR'S SEAT

The planned death of NZPA has been particularly bad news for Wellington - whose role as a key player in media is diminishing.

So too has TVNZ's decision to move the advertorial show Good Morning to Auckland and exit the Avalon production studios in 2013.

Once TVNZ headquarters, it will be just a branch office for journalists and advertising sales people.

One source said overheads for Avalon were $2 million a year, but Good Morning has been a nice little earner with costs around $4 millon bringing in $8.7 million in advertising revenues.

That represents even better margins than news - which costs around $40 million and brings in ad revenues of about $60 million.

With the Government insisting TVNZ's sole focus is profits, it's hard to argue the case for continued ownership of Avalon.

But there is something tragic about a national broadcaster that has turned its back on the nation's capital - and anywhere south of the Bombay Hills.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan is the media writer for the New Zealand Herald. A business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s. He is focused on the business side of the digital revolution in media.

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