John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: News, Interrupted

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Michael Laws has more than a year to run on his five-year contract with MediaWorks. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle
Michael Laws has more than a year to run on his five-year contract with MediaWorks. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

The newspaper industry has pulled the plug on its New Zealand Press Association news supplied to other media - including MSN.com and Yahoo! and Xtra.co.nz.

Instead it will concentrate on websites owned by its shareholders, dominated by APN News & Media and Fairfax Media.

The two big newspaper companies run the leading news websites nzherald.co.nz and Stuff.co.nz. It's understood the change was because of concerns that on-selling material was removing newspapers' competitive advantage with news as the number of outlets increased.

Newspaper Publishers Association chief executive Tim Pankhurst declined to comment on the scope for changes outlined by NZPA customers.

Asked if NZPA would have an ongoing commercial relationship with media beyond its own shareholders, he said that some would remain under the present contractual arrangement.

Television New Zealand and MediaWorks both confirmed yesterday that NZPA was ending its supply contracts from May.

Broadcasters such as TVNZ and TV3 are playing down the change, which will reduce the amount of material for their news websites.

Both have pools of reporters and news professionals who can cover the services offered from PA.

TV3.co.nz said the new policy would have been a bigger problem five years ago but it was now producing much more of its own content.

RadioLive editor Melanie Jones said the issue was being looked at along with other meetings about budgets.

But the change may have a bigger impact for MSN and Yahoo, which do not have a pool of journalists to provide content.

This is a significant change for the news business. NZPA is owned by the newspaper industry as a co-operative dominated by APN and Fairfax.

Fairfax has been developing its own internal news networks but APN is more centralised in the north. Through much of its life NZPA was a copy-sharing agency, ensuring nationwide coverage.

But in recent years it has become more of a stand-alone agency selling material not just to its shareholders but to other media.

The upside is that that has delivered some cash.

But as the number of new media has grown, and competition has heated up, there has been more debate.

Why was the newspaper industry-owned body providing material to competitors?

In particular there has been concern at the growth and resources being pumped into tvnz.co.nz.

A TVNZ insider said that the state broadcaster had approached NZPA questioning whether there were any Commerce Act issues in the new stance.

TV3 news and current affairs boss Jennings saw no issues and said NZPA was simply a supplier removing itself from the market. Siobhan McKenna of MediaWorks Interactive said the move could open the door for new content providers for websites such as Yahoo and MSN which lacked a news infrastructure.

STATION STUCK

I hear that MediaWorks - which has enjoyed advertising revenue from Michael Laws' loyal Radio Live following - is over him.

A source said that the day before his latest outburst over Paralympians, RadioLive executives were talking up the idea of being more upbeat.

RadioLive is between a rock and a hard place if it ever wanted to end Laws' contract. He is hooked into a five-year deal and the station has no money to pay him out, with more than a year to run.

That was because of the deal owners Ironbridge Capital insisted on when they bought the company in 2007 - ensuring this vital talent was secured.

Meanwhile, Morning Report listeners are getting used to the new era of "The Two Geoffs" - the two accomplished but courtly journalists Simon Mercep and Geoff Robinson.

They are unrelentingly cheery and extraordinarily polite. I hear that Prime Minister John Key is breaking the ban on Morning Report and has made quite a few appearances this year. But parliamentary insiders say that his new policy is not because he gets an easy run from The Two Geoffs now Sean Plunket is gone. It's election year. RNZ staff confidently saw Key's absence as his avoiding the close scrutiny of RNZ.

It's true Key does like the soft commercial radio shows.

But a well-placed source said this Government saw RNZ listeners as Labour voters who were unlikely to vote for National, so why bother outside election year? Which sounds a bit naive, doesn't it?

BEEB BOPS

A few New Zealand documentary-makers were on hand this week as the BBC World Service launched BBC Knowledge, which will be replacing the Documentary channel on Sky TV on March 1.

The commercial arm of the BBC won't be paying big money for local documentaries. But in theory it will help to have a big international buyer for independent television with a footprint in New Zealand.

It was a pleasant enough do - as were the BBC Worldwide folk in that British kind of way. But essentially it has bought the carriage agreement to show a channel on Sky and the imagery and branding for the Doco Channel is going.

But this was not so much the birth of BBC Knowledge as the death of an indigenous independent New Zealand channel. It had a unique lKiwi feel and there were flashes of brilliance in Richard Driver's programming.

More to the point for Sky, it offered the sort of programming that TVNZ has turned its back on and offered a good reason to subscribe to the pay channel. The BBC insists its replacement will be distinct from BBC Knowledge in other countries.

It has taken over the doco channel's programming library. Maybe BBC Knowledge will retain some quirky appeal and avoid being swamped with global branding. And maybe the lifesized picture of Top Gear's James May at the launch was just an unfortunate mistake.

POP MECHANIX

Documentary founder and owner Richard Driver was looking pretty chuffed at the launch - he is understood to have picked up about $6 million.

The do was held in the atrium of DeBretts Hotel, where Driver remembered staying 25 or 30 years ago while touring with Pop Mechanix or The Hip Singles.

The pub's days as a rock-and-roll haunt are long gone and it has recently enjoyed a refurbishment.

MUSICAL CHAIRS

New Zealand on Air says the appointment of music consultant Chris Caddick to lead the record industry body Rianz does not affect its approach to his report recommending changes to taxpayer funding. Caddick is a former managing director of EMI Music New Zealand.

Between jobs he wrote a report about New Zealand On Air's music scheme recommending the scrapping of the albums scheme that gave $50,000 taxpayer grants to record companies - such as the one that handles Annabel Fay.

NZ on Air is still pouring money into the scheme that was quietly regarded as laughable within the industry. But if it is scrapped in June - as recommended by the Caddick report - it will be end of a rort that has cost taxpayers millions.

GREYWASH

Caddick is highly regarded within a wide spectrum - in the industry and with many musos.

But his role and subsequent appointment to Rianz also underlines how much the taxpayer funding body sees its cultural role filtered by industry demands of subsidies of commercial products.

Published in the week before Christmas, the Caddick report pointed to industry concern about NZ On Air's role as a pop music hitmaker.

- NZ Herald

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