John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: Sky looks to get Kiwi-fied

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Sky's sports channels are the first to get a new local look with promotions featuring film crews. Photo / Supplied
Sky's sports channels are the first to get a new local look with promotions featuring film crews. Photo / Supplied

Sky TV is tweaking sports coverage with promotions featuring film crews in the first step towards Kiwi-fying its image for viewers.

These vignettes in the broadcaster's sports channels are an obvious starting point since the channels account for the overwhelming majority of Sky local content.

Marketing director Mike Watson said that in two years' time Sky would would look noticeably more New Zealand than it does now.

"Our Kiwi-ness is going to become more important as global players potentially come into the market."

Sky had also encouraged other contracted channels such as the Discovery channel to provide local content, he said.

"It's about telling our story more.

"If you look at the media landscape in New Zealand you have MediaWorks, Fairfax, YouTube and Google."

Sky was considerably more local than they were, he said.

It was listed on the local stock exchange, and while more than 50 per cent was controlled by News Ltd and overseas investors, it did have some local investors.

It produced a lot of sports content and was committed to keeping a local customer service team and would not contract the work out overseas.

Watson stressed that the local push would not change the overseas-sourced content that people wanted to watch.

ABOUT TIME

Sky's local push will be welcomed by the TV production industry, which has long complained that Sky puts little back into the independent sector and should be required to do so.

And for the subscriber who doesn't get the sports channels, it is sometimes difficult to feel any connection with the brands on screen.

It is not clear how much this move is aimed at Sky's own marketing identity and how much it is to avert calls for a levy on Sky to fund a public channel.

Sky is a business with a virtual monopoly and as such it has done what it has to do - maintain its revenue - and there is no requirement for anything more.

I'm not a local content junkie - I'd much rather watch SoHo than Heartland - but in my opinion, and in purely cultural terms, this move is long overdue.

Maybe as criticism grows louder Sky is finally realising it needs to give something back to a market that has given it a free run for 20 years.

SUCCESSION PLAN

The new head of Television New Zealand news and current affairs, Ross Dagan, is in Auckland this week to meet what is left of the news management team.

Presumably Dagan - the second Aussie news boss in a row to run TVNZ's newsroom - will be talking about the exodus of talent and trying to glean some indication of the direction for the state-owned broadcaster as chairman Sir John Anderson steps down and TVNZ replaces chief executive Rick Ellis.

This week another news executive, director of coverage Richard Sutherland, resigned to take on a new role of deputy director of news and current affairs at TV3, providing a successor if and when Mark Jennings steps down.

Given the recent exodus from its newsroom, TVNZ might also be thinking about succession plans for the entire company.

Former political editor Guyon Espiner defected to TV3 at the end of last year and has not been replaced despite three months of escalating political stories.

Editor of daily programmes Paul Patrick is leaving for Network Ten, replacing Dagan in his role as Sydney news editor and joining former TVNZ news boss Anthony Flannery, who heads Ten's news operations.

The ructions are surprising in that Flannery had been planning to leave for some time and TVNZ had plenty of warning.

One source said the move was due to Flannery, the attitude of chief executive Rick Ellis and a business structure that did not account for career ladders.

The Ellis approach is apparent elsewhere with Sir John Anderson due to stand down as chairman soon.

And TVNZ has never replaced programmer Jane Wilson.

In news, a British consultant, Michele Romaine, has been minding the fort till Dagan starts next month. But given the lost talent, you wonder if Dagan might have to have to start with a rethink of how the place is run.

WHO DUMPED WHO?

Once upon a time banks were the most solid clients for advertising but they have become flighty beasts moving from agency to agency.

In the most recent change BNZ has returned the creative account to Colenso BBDO after periods working with Y&R and latterly with Sugar.

BNZ spokeswoman Erica Lloyd said the bank had been impressed by the creative output and its parent, National Australia Bank, was with the BBDO network across the Tasman.

Its "Breaking Up" campaign ads have scored well in awards, and there are rumours they may be re-created by Colenso for BNZ and the New Zealand market.

That would hardly be a big earner, though. Possibly a bigger factor would have been the rapport between Colenso BBDO executive creative director Nick Worthington and Craig Herbison, the former Vodafone and Telecom executive made chief marketing director for the BNZ at the end of last year.

As part of the change, Colenso BBDO has parted company with Westpac Bank, which moved there from Saatchi & Saatchi in August 2010.

As is often the case with break- ups, it is not clear who dumped whom.

Westpac is putting its account out to pitch but spokesman Chris Mirams said that for some time the bank had been looking at a rethink of its relationship with five ad agencies before the split to avoid double-ups.

Westpac has shortlisted three agencies for the bulk of its advertising account - Saatchi & Saatchi, DDB and Y&R.

MELTING MOMENT

With the Commerce Commission investigating whether the Igloo TV joint venture breaches merger rules, the big question is why Sky TV even bothered having Television New Zealand involved.

One well-placed source told me TVNZ had always known that Sky would develop a "Sky Lite" and it might as well grab hold of itscoat-tails with a 49 per cent stake in the venture worth about $34 million.

"It was very much 'if you can't beat Sky you might as well join it'," said the TVNZ source.

For Sky it appears the main benefit was strategic. Igloo was a new low-cost entry point that Sky could control if it started to draw subscribers from the more expensive digital package, and a deterrent to new players.

TVNZ's involvement made it less likely Sky would be accused of extending its dominance.

Asked why Sky had partnered with TVNZ, Sky chief executive John Fellet said it gave access to good channels such as Kidzone and Heartland and TVNZ experience in selling at a retail level, making the project more viable.

But is the Commerce Commission really likely to put Igloo through the crusher?

A source said that the commission, headed by Mark Berry, is ambivalent about content issues.

One TV production executive said that the worst case was if the commission stopped the joint venture merger and TVNZ missed out on revenue that might fund local content, leaving it to Sky which would plough it into profits rather than production.

TV production industry sources were cynical about the Commerce Commission, saying its past decisions had not been in the interests of programme-makers.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

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.

Read more by John Drinnan

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