TV star on the hunt for profit

TVNZ is one of the biggest producers of local content with programmes such as Te Karere. Photo / APN
TVNZ is one of the biggest producers of local content with programmes such as Te Karere. Photo / APN

Two weeks after starting at Television New Zealand chief executive Kevin Kenrick saw the glamour side of television, joining his programmers in an annual pilgrimage to Hollywood.

At the Los Angeles screenings network executives view the new American shows, buying what they think will work here and bring in good advertising revenue.

While other chief executives might have headed for the hotel pool, Kenrick set up an office in his room and set to work on what was a lesson in overseas acquisitions - a key cost centre for his new job at TVNZ.

Kenrick says he had an inkling of the business before he took up the job in mid-May, and weeks later he has picked up more about the industry, but there is still a lot to learn about TVNZ.

He says TV2 stands for escapism and fun but he can't recite the brand values for TVNZ's flagship brand, TV One.

"I don't know enough about the history, but there is a need to provide a sharper focus on what TV One stands for," he says.

The future of the core brands is included in the TVNZ broad review of the company and its strategies for a new five-year plan.

The review is set to be completed at the end of this year.

How much will the focus remain on free-to-air television and on pay television, what will be the strategic relationships and the role of news and current affairs and non-commercial shows?

TVNZ, with a new chief executive and new chairman Wayne Walden, will be in the midst of revolution in the way people use media.

Kenrick has taken over at a heady time in the media business.

"The board is very keen to see us clarify the future for the business ... to look at what we do very well and the areas most appropriate for us to play in [in] the future," he said.

His first thoughts?

"That TVNZ is trying to do too much and needs to focus more."

A part of that will be the growth of internet TV and more alternatives to the linear channels such as TV One and TV2.

The central word in the Kenrick lexicon at TVNZ is "commercial", with a view that a popular show is not commercial if it is only breaking even.

Kenrick says there is no room at TVNZ for loss leaders - shows that support the brand, but do not make a profit.

Some shows can be made commercial with a New Zealand On Air subsidy, he says.

This is the TV network's idea of public TV - taxpayer-funded commercial TV.

It is an idea taking hold in Wellington since Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss approved TVNZ's unusual statement of intent last year, where it said it intended to get more funding.

It's a key premise for TVNZ's financial future.

Marketing man Kenrick was a surprise choice for the TVNZ role, with no background in media and an immediate past role as chief executive of travel company House of Travel.

His arrival followed an exodus of top staff and led to the loss of the successful sales and marketing boss, Paul Maher.

Maher missed out on the top job and rather than serving under his competitor moved to MediaWorks, where he is chief executive of television.

At Telecom from 1999 to 2007 Kenrick was part of the management team led by Theresa Gattung.

Some felt he was a contender for the top spot that eventually went to Paul Reynolds.

Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand chief executive Paul Brislen was previously a telco journalist and credits Kenrick as being a human face of the company that had a bunker mentality against consumers and media alike.

Another former senior Telecom executive says Kenrick was smart and would succeed where he was surrounded by the right talent.

Kenrick says he is most proud of one achievement as head of mobile from 2003 to 2006.

He and his team are credited with turning around Telecom's ailing mobile phone business which had lost market share to Vodafone.

Kenrick says that success came as a result of focusing in on "consumer behaviour and what consumers want - a lesson that serves me well to this day".

But a rapport with consumer thinking seems an odd epitaph for Telecom during an era in which it had been widely criticised for its customer service. Says Kenrick: "I think there were different pockets in that organisation."

Kenrick has taken over as a chief executive after a hiatus at TVNZ.

His predecessor, Rick Ellis, steered TVNZ into a digital future with some mistakes, including the $19 million write-off of its investment in TiVo, and successes such as introducing digital platforms like tvnz.co.nz and tvnz on demand.

Having seen the government support for Sky TV Ellis changed strategy. They could not beat Sky TV so decided to join it, and TVNZ has partnered with Sky TV in the new, but delayed, pay TV platform Igloo.

TVNZ provides channels for Sky.

It is widely perceived to have turned its back on Freeview and the free to air sector, a view that is rejected by Kenrick. "In the future we'll see more partnering with media players - there are some areas where collaboration makes more sense than competition," he said.

As more outlets arrive - social media being the latest - advertising revenue is getting thinner.

Advertising on the core channels is still what pays the bills but Kenrick says the battle now is to give advertisers the reach they want.

Increasingly that looks likely to lead to greater links between programming and advertising.

"Advertisers are no longer that excited about buying a TV spot - they are looking at selling perceptions of their brand - we have to ask how do we leverage our asserts to achieve that," Kenrick says.

"How do you marry the right advertiser with the right programming?"

In the new environment where each time-slot is a profit centre there is no room for the loss leader.

"If we have [the] right content we will get the right ratings - if not we have to question why we are running the programme," he says.

Kenrick's hyper-commerciality fits the new era at TVNZ under the TVNZ Amendment Act and after National removed the old dual remit whereby TVNZ had an obligation to return a profit and meet social obligations.

He sees what is effectively a new structure where mainstream TV channels such as TV One and TV2 will aim at audiences of hundreds of thousands, and online services will target audiences with tens of thousands.

But the board is still drawing up the shape of Kevin Kenrick's TVNZ.

Kevin Kenrick
Television New Zealand chief executive
* Appointed to TVNZ job in April, started mid-May.
* Chief executive House of Travel Holdings from February 2008 to November 2011.
* Telecom senior executive from November 1999 to December 2007, culminating as chief operating officer.
* Lion Nathan from September 1993 to March 1999, culminating as national marketing director.
* Telecom group product manager from March 1991 to August 1993.

- NZ Herald

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