John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: Talent show funding poser

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Another overseas format show set to get NZ on Air support while public broadcasting steadily collapses

The mouse shown in the episode of The Ridges appeared to be a very distant cousin of the famous Stuart Little. Photo / Supplied
The mouse shown in the episode of The Ridges appeared to be a very distant cousin of the famous Stuart Little. Photo / Supplied

On the face of it television talent shows have a following and make commercial sense.

But why are taxpayers set to fund a second overseas format talent show while public broadcasting collapses around our ears?

New Zealand On Air has been pondering an application from MediaWorks to fund a local series of X Factor. A decision is said to be imminent.

New Zealand on Air controversially paid $1.6 million for TV One talent show NZ's Got Talent in February.

That show launched this week to good reviews and solid ratings. The two formats differ.

With X Factor each judge acts as a mentor for the finalists in a particular category, while judging the contestants of the other categories.

There has been debate why NZ On Air is funding these commercial talent quests earning profits for TVNZ and TV3 while non-commercial television crumbles.

However, the funding agency is obliged to focus on heavily sponsored high-rating formats backed by the television networks. The funder thinks they are good ways to meet obligations.

But the upshot is that taxpayer money goes to feed a ratings scrap while public television founders. X Factor looks highly likely to win funding. The next question is whether Kiwi taxpayers will also support The Voice, the latest international entertainment format pitching itself to networks around the world.

•Yesterday, NZ On Air confirmed it has given $628,000 to fund 20 episodes of the political programme Back Benches on Prime TV. The programme previously ran on TVNZ7.

OPEN WIDE

NZ On Air funded NZ's Got Talent on the basis it provided exposure for New Zealand talent. But TVNZ confirms there are no restrictions on contestants coming back for a second shot at recognition.

For instance, a sword swallower on the first show last week appeared on the programme three or four years ago and he missed out on going further this time around. It backs the view he was there for show and it is not a true talent quest. Let me know if you see any other return appearances.

TALENT BAN

NZ On Air likes publicity for shows it funds. But despite looking favourably at X-Factor it shouldn't expect any plugs for NZ's Got Talent from MediaWorks radio. Radio stations have been told to give no publicity to the TVNZ show because Talent's success might undermine X-Factor, a source said.

MediaWorks spokeswoman Rachel Lorimer played down a restriction, saying she doubted it would be followed to the letter at stations such as The Rock and The Edge.

You would hope so - cross media ownership does rely on the commercial stations staying in touch with their audience.

SHOW BUSINESS

TV3 has complained before about MediaWorks radio giving plugs to Shortland Street and Fair Go, while TV3 news has been grumpy about mentions of One News.

In the past such restrictions were seen as too hard to impose. TV3 believes its shows get a bad run on the competing The Radio Network stations. (TRN denies there are any restrictions on individual presenters).

Meantime, TV3 and MediaWorks will be plugging X-Factor in the same way Campbell Live did with The Block. That's show business. Meanwhile, Sky TV enjoys a symbiotic relationship with free-to-air channel Prime TV.

In print media there are ties between the NZ Herald and APN News & Media stablemate the New Zealand Listener. Typically newspapers and magazines will compete for privileged access to the TV publicity handouts, while free to cover the mishaps and pratfalls of shows on both TVNZ and TV3.

FRENEMIES

One encouraging aspect of cross-media ties is that they have not prevented them from criticising one another. MediaWorks RadioLive host Michael Laws famously attacked the TV3 newsroom for its coverage of the Teapot-tapes and rubbished the TV3 Telethon. TV3 news boss Mark Jennings said TV3 news staff thought RadioLive's nine-to-noon host was "a bit of a dick".

Newstalk ZB is half owned by APN News & Media, owner of the NZ Herald. Newstalk ZB uses NZ Herald writers as commentators, but the two media are not shy about criticising one another. Newstalk hosts Mike Hosking and Leighton Smith have been trenchant critics of the Herald over the years, and the Herald was at the forefront of reporting the row over Hosking moonlighting as an MC for Sky City.

Last year there were moves at APN for its distinct media holdings to work more closely together.

However, there was agreement from both sides that they should not be restricted in comment about one another.

SMELLING A RAT

I promised myself I would not buy into the nonsense commenting about The Ridges. Any negative comment just adds to the hype which is the sole engine for the show. It's crap, but it's post-modernist crap.

Anyway, I have to say something about the mouse that featured on the debut show on Wednesday and frightened the Bejesus out of Sally and Jaime. What a stitch-up.

How much did TV3 pay to have Stuart Little in the role of the well-coiffed rodent? He looked a bit ratty to me, and famously rats are much easier to train than mice. How did the TV3 crew get to film mousey up so close. And how was it so easy to catch? TV3 says that it just got lucky with the mouse.

TV3 claimed 325,130 viewers, behind a re-run of an episode of Two and a Half Men on TV2 which claimed 382,080 viewers, and TV One's Fair Go, which won the timeslot with 624,000 viewers. TV3 made The Ridges without taxpayer funding.

SUCCESS STORY

Games developers have asked for access to the taxpayer handouts to film and television, but it looks unlikely. Which is a shame, since the sector is more deserving than some who pick up media lolly.

Industry submissions to a Ministry for Culture and Heritage MED screen industry review called for access to the Large Budget Screen Production Grant (the one used by Hollywood studios and Peter Jackson) and a Film Commission production grant.

The former allows funding for post-production work - which is still high for the type of casual games that are developed here - while the latter is focused on New Zealand cultural works.

Games development is a commercially viable industry that is punching above its weight.

In Australia games developers have focused on bigger game developments. New Zealand developers have focused on casual types of games delivered online for iPods and smartphones - an approach that is far less capital-intensive.

With such low barriers to entry the industry has doubled in two years and there are estimated to be 380 people working on games. About half are working in companies with more than 40 staff, though many small operations have two or three people.

It is a true independent media, and New Zealand developers have had remarkable success. Flick Kick Football by PikPok reached No 1 on the US iPhone free game charts for a month this year, and Major Mayhem by local firm Rocket Jump reached No 5.

- 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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