John Drinnan 's Opinion

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

Media: TV3 exit set to leave a big hole

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TV3 programme boss Kelly Martin has been behind successful shows such as NZ's Next Top Model. Photo / Steven McNicholl
TV3 programme boss Kelly Martin has been behind successful shows such as NZ's Next Top Model. Photo / Steven McNicholl

TV3 is taking a big hit with the departure of programming boss Kelly Martin next month and there is speculation she may turn up in a senior role at Television New Zealand.

Martin - who buys TV3 programmes and decides when they are shown - has been behind successful commercial shows like NZ's Next Top Model and 7 Days.

She is well known at international markets and has been pivotal with TV skills while the channel has been in a vacuum this past year.

Martin and MediaWorks managing director Sussan Turner were yesterday packing for the LA Screenings in Hollywood to select new shows.

Both declined to speak to the Herald.

TVNZ has tried to poach Martin before to fill a long running vacancy for programming chief replacing Jane Wilson.

A friend familiar with TV3 thinking said Martin's departure was not sudden but she was wary after ongoing problems from a lack of resources.

But it was a "massive" loss for TV3.

TAKEOVER REVIVED

One of the problems for Martin has been having much less money than the opposition.

MediaWorks faces other challenges with private equity company TPG reviving its backdoor takeover bid for the company. MediaWorks owns TV3, Four and radio stations including RadioLive, Edge, The Rock and MoreFM, among others. It is saddled with heavy debt and interest burdens because Ironbridge paid well over the odds for the company in 2007.

TV3 - which has a creditable history with solid documentaries - has increasingly been turning to the taxpayer to fund commercial shows like The GC and is considering X Factor. Recently Ironbridge publicly promoted a restructuring plan that would deliver additional funding for television programming as well as paying off a $35 million debt relating to the Government's loan to secure radio frequencies. The restructuring was meant to kill off an attempt by TPG to take over the company, by buying its debt at a discounted rate.

But a well placed source said the package - including a $50 million cash injection - never won the full approval of banker debt-holders and never came off.

It is understood TPG has approached debt holding banks again to take over the debt. The move on MediaWorks is particularly interesting at the moment, with APN News & Media, publisher of the Herald, conducting a review of its New Zealand media assets, including a 50 per cent stake in MediaWorks' rival The Radio Network.

CAPTURE

Media commentator Tom Frewen makes a good case for an auditor- general's inquiry into New Zealand On Air and its funding policies. In a recent item on Scoop he pointed out that its claims of 11,000 hours of local content should be cut to around 7000 hours, taking into account that it calculates its funding on commercial hours, and not just the actual editorial content that its funds.

NZ On Air says that is how the industry talks about it - but in my opinion that indicates the degree that NZ On Air has been captured by the industry.

It's true that under the Broadcasting Act NZ On Air is limited to programmes backed by the networks. As a result more public money is going to commercial shows like The GC and New Zealand's Got Talent. NZ On Air has no appetite for a role advocating good television and takes its leads from the TV networks and programme makers.

New chairman Miriam Dean is finding her way in the role. But the board is dominated by people with a background in the industry rather than in culture.

MORNING GLORY

A source for last week's item on TVNZ's Breakfast overestimated Petra Bagust's remuneration package, saying that it was comparable to that of Prime Minister John Key - who earns more than $400k. I am told she actually earns between $220,000 and $250,000 for her role which is still significantly higher than co-host Rawdon Christie. It seems she is seen as the star of the presenting team.

There was a big reaction to last week's story about TVNZ considering taking her off the show following the departure of Corin Dann - some of it a bit mean. Petra is not keen on the idea of stepping down but there seems even less rapport with Christie than with Dann and you wonder how long this can go on.

Jeanette Thomas is also not working out particularly well on advertorial show Good Morning - a show that is now looking soulless from its Auckland base. Maybe Petra and Jeanette could do a swap.

SHOP TALK

Ogilvy NZ boss Greg Partington is putting together a prospectus for staff to invest in his new shopping channel which will screen on the basic package for Sky TV. The channel - which is in final negotiations for space on the Freeview platform - is a personal investment for Partington, who has played a big role in the development of the advertising market, particularly with the retail sector. The channel - which launches in October - will be presented by Candy Lane (and others) and will be led by Alistair Duff, head of sales at TVNZ.

WORK IN PROGRESS

Since this column started nearly six years ago it has maintained there is demand for a non-commercial TV channel in New Zealand.

Television is about more than just bums on seats for advertisers. Goodness knows there is a lot of crap on commercial TV. TVNZ 7 has fulfilled some aspects of that demand, but taxpayer funding is running out and it is due to be buried at the end of next month.

On Tuesday, the Save TVNZ 7 group held a meeting in Auckland, the first of many around the country, which happily was more focused on building momentum to make public television an election issue in 2014, rather than reviving TVNZ 7.

Moderator Brian Edwards was a major drawcard, and stroppy academic Joe Atkinson added an intelligent analysis. You have got to admire the people for turning out on a cool Autumn night.

But I was struck by a few things as I listened to the debate. The first was the age of the audience. Which is understandable since older people are naturally ignored by commercial television programmers. Few young people seem to be upset by the absence of non-commercial TV.

The second aspect of the audience was race - appearances can be deceptive but I saw just two people who were not Pakeha. This may be due to the fact that Maori have their own channel, while Chinese and Indians have developed their own channels and programming on Triangle TV. But different ethnicities would clearly have added fresh ideas.

It was also worrying that there seemed to be a party political bias in the crowd - veering to the left. Public television should allow all perspectives.

There seemed no acknowledgement of the concept of personal video recorders, of the internet and the development of internet TV.

The danger is that some supporters want a TV channel that is just right for them, supported by taxpayers. Users of Apple TV and YouTube are doing just that by choosing the content themselves. There are lots of options for public television.

- 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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