John Drinnan 's Opinion

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

Media: Rivals face off with new agencies

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Newspaper rivals APN and Fairfax are building new agencies before the break-up of the New Zealand Press Association at the end of next month.

Some industry veterans - such as former Dominion editor Karl du Fresne - have lamented the end of the newspaper co-operative.

NZPA has provided a reliable news service for more than 130 years.

But newspaper chains are promising improvements for readers from the split into two news agencies.

Fairfax says it will mean more competition for news and will be good for readers.

APN says its agency - APNZ - will have more contemporary content with fewer institution-focused stories.

The most interesting aspect will be how more-isolated provincial areas are covered by the opposing networks.

The greatest initial impact may be on news websites, which have a strong appetite for immediate coverage of hard news events and at present access content from NZPA.

Initially APNZ will not be on-selling content for its group, though acting head of content Rick Neville does not rule this out in the future.

Fairfax has negotiated a contract selling some of its content to TVNZ and may extend this in the future.

Neville told staff yesterday that APNZ would be up and running on August 15.

It will supply news, sport, business and lifestyle content to APN New Zealand's daily, Sunday and community newspapers, nzherald.co.nz, regional websites and independent partners.

It will have dedicated news teams in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

The Otago Daily Times will take a lead role for the lower South Island content, with Fairfax's Southland Times the main news competitor down south.

Other independent newspapers, including the Gisborne Herald, Greymouth Evening Star, Ashburton Guardian and Westport News, will provide coverage from their areas.

Neville said the APNZ agency would be less focused on institutions.

"NZPA has done a wonderful job but it is very Wellington-centric - [APNZ] will be younger and more contemporary."

APN's news-sharing agency would reflect its integrated approach servicing nzherald.co.nz, he said.

Fairfax New Zealand group executive editor Paul Thompson said the company was happy with progress so far. It had hired 10 extra staff, with more to be recruited before the end of next month.

But its work developing news hubs for sport and politics had helped. It was not starting from scratch, he said.

"I think it will stimulate competition around stories that is really healthy - each group would be doing their own thing."

With its wide geographic spread of titles there was no danger of it being Wellington-focused, Thompson said.

Separately, Fairfax announced this week that weekday editions of the Waikato Times would be published in the morning from September 5. The Saturday edition moved to morning publication in 2003.

It marks a rare case of one-on-one competition in the newspaper market, with the New Zealand Herald distributed in Hamilton and Waikato.

LOBBYIST AT TVNZ

Eyebrows have been raised over the Government appointing political lobbyist Barrie Saunders to the board of Television New Zealand.

Saunders, a co-founder of Wellington government relations firm Saunders Unsworth, has been appointed for three years.

His appointment is being seen in the industry as a sign that the Government is still considering some sort of change to the role of TVNZ.

Saunders - who had a background in journalism before becoming a political lobbyist - is understood to have actively sought a government post at TVNZ or Radio New Zealand, and has the strong backing of the Government.

Asked if there were any conflict of interest issues in a corporate lobbyist with numerous clients holding the role at state broadcasting, Saunders did not see any.

He was not going to be chairman or chief executive, he said.

HUHU BIG UP

North Auckland animation firm Huhu Studios is negotiating a profit-share production deal with overseas co-producers - a move that would take it beyond its present role servicing overseas projects for a fee.

Huhu recently signed a servicing deal for the United States family entertainment company Big Idea Entertainment to produce five of its popular Veggie Tales videos - part of a series that has been a hit with US parents of preschoolers.

Huhu founder and chief executive Trevor Yaxley said profit-share arrangements for as-yet-unknown co-producers would be a boost for the firm, but declined to spell out the value of the video production deal with Big Idea or name the party in negotiations for a profit share of production arrangements.

The studio employs about 50 people and is based at Snells Beach.

Huhu specialises in making videos for family audiences, especially animation, with the educational publisher Scholastic among clients.

Yaxley said Huhu had been given a boost last year by accessing Telecom's fibre-optic link out of Snells Beach, allowing it to deliver video content.

Media and film data-based businesses are being promoted as likely beneficiaries from the looming roll-out of ultra-fast broadband.

FUNNY PECULIAR

Media love it when New Zild is mentioned on American TV - remember when John Key turned up on The Late Show with David Letterman?

But when The Daily Show with Jon Stewart laughed off Kiwi politics in one of its recent episodes, it was slightly odd to see it reported in New Zealand.

The Daily Show has not been shown on New Zealand television for several months.

Stewart did not rate well enough when it was on free-to-air TV. In any case, free-to-air rights were withdrawn.

But last October pay-TV rights holder Comedy Central also dropped the show for the same reasons - low ratings - although a weekly version runs on Monday nights.

Yet Jon Stewart and The Daily Show maintain a passionate following in this country, presumably from people who watch it online.

I asked the Sydney-based manager for Comedy Central, Mat Brooks, and he said there were no moves to bring back The Daily Show.

"We pay close attention to feedback from our viewers, ratings of our shows and 'chatter' about Comedy Central's schedule and are constantly looking to fine-tune the programming grid to better accommodate our growing audience.

"Comedy Central's content policy is 'quality over quantity' and new titles would result in accelerated growth in our audience number," he claimed.

In my opinion, Comedy Central's arrogant treatment of The Daily Show audience underpins the dangers for pay-TV consumers as pay takes over from from free television.

Weary with free TV canning or ignoring quality shows that did not rate - and seduced by Sky's unregulated sports monopoly - half the country has subscribed to the platform.

Then they find pay TV excluding content that rates too low - and pay extra for MySky so they can rescue gems from the dross of back-catalogue content that makes up much of the offerings.

Is there really nowhere in the Comedy Central schedule - with its tired stand-up specials and 30-year-old repeats - that they could promote and show a daily topical pop culture icon?

Is this ratings-based decision by Comedy Central the future for Sky TV consumers in an unregulated pay-TV market?

BUSINESS TIME

TV3 director of news and current affairs Mark Jennings has dismissed Brian Edwards' trenchant criticism of Mihingarangi Forbes and her interview with EMA head Alasdair Thompson.

Jennings suggested the veteran blogger and media trainer was simply "touting for business" with his blog.

Edwards' blog described the Campbell Live interview published by tv3.co.nz last week as "dishonest" journalism because the 4.18-minute clip showing a confrontation with Thompson did not reflect his views as expressed in the full 27-minute interview published online.

The treatment by Campbell Live was a disgrace, he said.

Edwards, a former journalist and political interviewer, has criticised interviews in other media involving Amanda Hotchin and Darren Hughes. At press time he could not be reached for comment.

- 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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