John Drinnan: Digital future? It's arrived

Online operations that were considered a sideline now play a vital role in attracting an audience, and advertisers.

Consumers have embraced digital news and entertainment, and no longer distinguish between new and old media, says a new report. Photo / AP
Consumers have embraced digital news and entertainment, and no longer distinguish between new and old media, says a new report. Photo / AP

An annual outlook on the media and entertainment industry says we're in a new era, where Kiwi consumers no longer differentiate between the traditional and the digital.

The author of the report - PwC partner and digital specialist Paul Brabin - believes there was a significant change last year. For years, he says, people talked about the "journey to a digital future". We have now arrived and it is "digital now", he says.

Brabin says the change means that media businesses have finished having digital operations as a sideline. Now it is a fundamental part of the business.

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Some in business and the digital industries have relished the idea of an impending doomsday. Media branded as traditional, old, or even "classic" have been ushered towards the knacker's yard for years.

There is no doubt old media are scrambling to change their business models and we are reaching a milestone.

But some say the harbingers of doom - "the digital evangelists" - are wrong to predict a crash and burn for old-school media.

Advertising consultant and commentator Martin Gillman believes some old media are being lulled into accepting they are inferior to digital as an advertising medium.

Organisations such as Facebook and Google are not bothering to attack print, but advertisers are being barraged with attacks on television as an advertising medium, many of which do not stand up to scrutiny.

"I have been amazed about how television in particular has not taken the fight back to them and take them to task," he says. As for the PwC report, Gillman says the old-media outlook for 2014 to 2018 is more positive than some analysts have argued.

The report points out that there are only two sectors - newspapers and music - where revenue is predicted to fall over the four-year forecast term, and acknowledges their future will depend on their ability to earn revenue from their digital products.

The PwC report covers 13 media sectors and forecasts how their revenue will be affected from 2014 to 2018 as the focus shifts online.

Here is my summary of the digital issues faced by five of the sectors.


Key players: TVNZ , MediaWorks and Prime TV.
On-demand and catch-up television have been the big successes at TVNZ and MediaWorks.

The use of apps allows the channels to offer content on tablets and smartphones, providing an extra source of revenue, but the problem remains that the content earns much more on broadcast TV than it ever can online.

TVNZ has abandoned numerous other digital arms, including channels such as TVNZ6, TVNZ7, U, and soon the Heartland Channel, made for the Sky pay-TV platform. It has also pulled back from TiVo and reduced its stake in the Igloo platform.

Meantime, Sky TV has not rushed online for its free to air Prime channel.

The PwC report notes that New Zealand television revenue was hit after the global financial crisis. It rose then fell again in 2012, then returned to growth last year.

PwC's forecast is for consistent growth over the next five years and a 3.1 per cent compound annual growth rate from 2014-18.


Key players: APN News & Media, Fairfax NZ.

PwC says that compared with Australia, publishers have been slow to charge readers for online content. APN is working on a paywall, though Fairfax's plans remain unclear. The goal is that by improving content, and showing the value of what is on offer, consumers will pay for news. There is also a push to introduce more video content to the publishers' news sites.

But the concern is that free offerings on taxpayer-funded services such as TVNZ and Radio NZ will undermine that.

News media are increasingly under pressure to lend their credibility to commercial partners, but this creates issues maintaining the integrity of their core brands.

The impact on the country's newspaper market is seen in its falling income: total newspaper revenue fell in 2011 and then more sharply in 2012. It is forecast to continue falling, from $799 million last year to $625 million in 2018, down 4.8 per cent annually.

As for advertising revenue alone, that has fallen from $623 million in 2009 to $533 million last year, and PwC forecasts it will fall further yet. In 2009, advertising revenue accounted for 70 per cent of total newspaper revenue; by 2018, that share is forecast to be only 58 per cent.


Key players: Sky TV, Telecom, Quickflix.

Amid a global revolution in the way people watch television, Sky TV is betting consumers will continue to rely on traditional "linear" channels with programmed content. It is only cautiously improving its download model, where people select programming item by item. Internationally, though, this is the way TV viewing is going, with the US service Netflix expanding internationally.

Quickflix already delivers download streaming services, and Telecom is about to give details of a streaming service that will provide some competition. In the end, competition in the sector is built around the system of regional distribution rights, with platforms negotiating for the digital rights.

There are predictions that Netflix will come to New Zealand, though some are skeptical the US firm could be bothered with such a small market.

PWC's forecast is for growth from 875,000 to 1.13 million subscribers at the end of 2018. It also notes predictions that the free to air Freeview platform may offer a pay-TV service.


Key players: Bauer Media, Fairfax, APN News & Media.

The purchase of ACP magazines by Bauer returned stability to the New Zealand magazine market, and Bauer's acquisition of the former APN titles gave the German company overwhelming dominance.

Like radio, magazines are entrenched, and are introducing partnerships with advertisers to boost advertising revenue without losing integrity.

According to the PwC report, rising tablet computer ownership is driving the growth of magazines' digital revenue, and digital circulation revenue for consumer magazines will rise 38.9 per cent a year from $14 million to $73 million by 2018. Over the same period, consumer magazine print circulation revenue will fall by 3.9 per cent a year.


Key players: The Radio Network (APN), MediaWorks, Radio NZ.

Commercial radio stations such as ZM are introducing digital cameras in studios festooned with ads, providing more ad revenue for shows broadcast on the internet.

Meanwhile, Radio NZ chief executive Paul Thompson has signalled a new emphasis on its online news service, called the Wireless, in the hope of gaining more younger listeners.

APN-owned TRN has been active in developing a digital service, iHeartRadio - a global brand owned by former TRN investor Clear Channel.

PwC reports radio revenue was $250 million last year, and predicts advertising revenue will experience modest growth of 1.5 per cent annually between 2014 and 2018, with the market reaching $269 million in 2018.

See a PwC infographic showing its latest outlook here:

See the news release describing results from the PwC outlook report here:

- NZ Herald

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John Drinnan has been 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.

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