John Drinnan: Radio NZ weighs up asset sales

11 comments
Disposing of property one way to fund new digital initiatives.
Shows such as The Real Housewives of Potomac are the new reality on Bravo. Picture / AP
Shows such as The Real Housewives of Potomac are the new reality on Bravo. Picture / AP

Radio New Zealand may sell some of its property portfolio to replenish its coffers.

The state broadcaster is trying to fund digital equipment without making too many cuts to traditional radio programmes. Properties that could go on the block include its central Auckland studios and land used for radio masts that broadcast RNZ National AM services and parliamentary radio.

Radio NZ chief executive Paul Thompson confirmed it was looking at the option, which would mean the end of the RNZ National AM service and AM broadcasts of Parliament. At present, broadcasts from Parliament are also available on various other sources, including online and Freeview TV.

Thompson said the property sale idea was part of five-to-10-year planning for the broadcaster.

A source said there was support among the board of governors for selling the properties sooner rather than later.

The source said the broadcaster faced budget shortfalls due to the Government freeze on funding and because RNZ had to pay for its expansion into digital technology.

Asked how ending AM radio services could be justified, Thompson said technology had moved on and there were now other options to get information.

Pitfalls await

A parliamentary source said there could be pitfalls if RNZ decided to proceed with the sale plan. The first was that RNZ leased out space on masts to commercial broadcasters, and it would lose that revenue. Second, any money from selling land would go to the government, not RNZ, which would need to strike a deal to get some of it back.

Third, there might be debate about the loss of AM broadcasts.

The cost of digital

Today, RNZ bosses are looking at how to make changes to its features department, which are expected to lead to job losses.

The science programme Our Changing World on RNZ National is likely to be changed, and the broadcaster has confirmed the science community has raised concerns about possible cuts.

It's in a tough spot. Digital services such as The Wireless are drawing good audiences and RNZ has to spend on infrastructure.

But the Government is refusing to offer extra money, so RNZ is having to fund any new moves through cost savings on programming.

An RNZ source said the land sale made sense as a way to end the broadcaster's annual begging expedition to Parliament.

Some will say RNZ is "selling the family china" to pay for its supper. But some solution is needed, and in my view, you can't keep cutting traditional services like the science programme - which is, after all, what public radio is supposed to be about.

Breakfast for Barry?

A million words must have been written about MediaWorks, the resignation of Hilary Barry and the departure of Mark Weldon.

It's been a big media story, though I wonder if the public is as excited as the journalists who are writing about it.

What are the implications if Barry goes to TVNZ, as was reported last weekend? (Weldon has said he believes that is not going to happen, but we'll put that aside for now.)

Putting Barry into TVNZ's Breakfast would kill two birds with one stone, but the show would need to be revamped.

On Paul Henry, Barry is a masterful foil to Henry and his high-jinks.

The pairing works very well, and Paul Henry has been challenging Breakfast, which needs to make a change.

I understand Henry is somewhat annoyed by the prospect of starting again with a new co-host.

The worst thing that could happen for TV3 would be if Henry was poached by TVNZ.

Another suggestion I have heard is that Barry could replace Toni Street on Seven Sharp. But in many ways, Street already provides the perfect foil to Mike Hosking, and I wonder if Barry and Hosking would work. What do you think?

Bravo - it's Weldon's last hurrah

Mark Weldon had his last hurrah on Tuesday as he launched the "reality" channel Bravo.
MediaWorks will close the Four brand and has formed a joint venture with US giant NBC, which will offer shows such as Real Housewives.

Clearly, I am not among the target demographic for shows about excitable ladies. But the Bravo joint venture seems sensible, removing costs by selling off Four programmes and latching on to the Bravo brand of American TV glamour.

There are some unusual aspects to this deal. According to NBC, this is the first time the Bravo franchise has played on a free-to-air channel. Elsewhere, it is shown on pay TV.

A source in the TV sector said that in the past NBC had approached Sky Television to show the channel on its platform. The source said NBC had also made an approach to have Prime operate the channel - an arrangement that appeared similar to the NBC-MediaWorks deal.

Interestingly, NBC rep Chris Taylor has an old association with NZ. He was the Australian Nine Network boss for Prime TV - before it was bought by Sky TV in 2006 for $31 million.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- 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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