John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Dame Kiri doco tuning up

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A Dame Kiri Te Kanawa documentary might attract international interest. Photo / Supplied
A Dame Kiri Te Kanawa documentary might attract international interest. Photo / Supplied

Producers for Billy T: Te Movie are working on a documentary feature about Dame Kiri Te Kanawa called Breathing is Singing.

The NZ Film Commission last week gave Kaitiaki Productions $10,000 development funding for the Downunder diva doco.

Producers Tom Parkinson and Robert Boyd Bell are heading to Europe soon to secure funding.

Documentaries are cheaper to produce than drama, but Breathing is Singing is envisaged to have a substantial budget.

Ian Fraser, a former star interviewer and controversial Television New Zealand chief executive, is listed as writer for the project.

A former CEO of the NZ Symphony Orchestra, Fraser is well regarded in the arts community and has close ties to Dame Kiri.

New Zealand cinematographer Michael Seresin (Harry Potter, the Prisoner of Azkaban, Angela's Ashes) is listed as director for Breathing is Singing.

It is early days, but if it goes ahead the project will likely approach the NZ Film Commission for taxpayer funding.

The commission will be encouraged by the domestic box office for recent entertainment-based Kiwi documentaries about the Topp Twins and the Parkinson-Boyd Bell documentary on Billy T James.

A Dame Kiri doco might also attract international interest.

SOUNDS LIKE CORK

Radio New Zealand's backdoor re-hiring of Noelle McCarthy for an un-advertised fixed-term contract has raised the (E)ire of some public radio staff.

Last week, the Herald revealed McCarthy's return for the summer holiday season of the National Radio Nine-to-Noon show - the return of Summer Noelle - and that she had been signed for on- and off-air roles next year.

Like many talented broadcasters Noelle polarises audiences, and RNZ bosses insist she is a great catch. But there are no ratings from her previous Summer Noelle stints to quantify their opinion.

More to the point, some broadcasters complain there was no interest or effort in looking at options for New Zealand radio talent for the high profile summer role.

A well-placed source at RNZ said that other concerns have arisen about the appointments process, and the lack of a careers structure at Radio New Zealand.

Spokesman John Barr said McCarthy's appointment did not disadvantage other staff and RNZ cared about its career structure.

There had been no requirement to advertise the summer Nine-to-Noon role negotiated with McCarthy because it was a contract position and not a full-time job and the Irish broadcaster would be valuable for civil defence emergencies, Barr said.

"There is also great value in having someone of Noelle's breadth of experience, as a producer, presenter and reporter, available in case of emergencies where Radio New Zealand's Civil Defence Lifeline Utility role must be covered from Auckland."

SPORTY SPICE

Change looks likely for LiveSport, the station used for MediaWorks sports programming in the mornings and TAB racing in the afternoon.

The frequencies, AM in the big markets, is owned by the TAB and run by MediaWorks on a commercially viable contract.

The TAB confirmed negotiations were under way with MediaWorks to renew the contract, but it is understood MediaWorks has been wary of the viability of LiveSport as a consumer product.

A source says it may not renew but MediaWorks says it has no plans to close LiveSport.

The morning sports show, and hosts such as Nathan Rarere, Dean Lonergan and Martin Devlin, have loyal followers.

Sports radio is a niche and loyal fans who do not like racing and tune out are obliged to re-locate it each day on the dial. The disruption has been made worse with TRN competitor Radio Sport moving to FM.

FOOTPRINT IN SAND

Advertising identity David Walden is wary that state-owned Television New Zealand is moving into the advertising production business with the "Blacksand" creative hub. Media have always made low-cost ads internally, which was fine, said Walden, chief executive of ad agency Whybin TBWA.

But with Blacksand "they are starting to cut our lunch", he said.

The Blacksand website says: "From outside broadcasts and studio productions to graphic design, TVC's and post production; Blacksand does it all."

TVNZ insists it is not boots and all into advertising creativity.

But it is starting to leave a footprint.

Walden says bigger agencies such as Whybin TBWA were unlikely to be hurt by Blacksand entering the market, but smaller agencies and Independent TV commercial makers might.

Advertising creative independents believe Blacksand is not solely responsible for extraordinary tough times in the sector, especially in Auckland. But they say that Blacksand was driving some contract rates down and deepening the slump.

TVNZ is entitled to compete. But Blacksand had the advantage of a one-stop-shop, and that enabled it to unfairly undercut the competition.

Indies had to focus on superior creativity, said an industry player.

TVNZ insists advertising creativity is primarily focused on its own needs.

"We sometimes have spare capacity and not infrequently we are asked for assistance by clients and agencies themselves, but we're not out there fighting in the marketplace," said spokeswoman Megan Richards.

FREE ENTERPRISE

National is marketed as the free enterprise party but moving in on small private sector businesses in the ad business is a direct result of the TVNZ Amendment Act to make more money, by whatever means possible.

Blacksand was created by former CEO Rick Ellis out of the former promotions department and makes perfect sense as a way to diversify. The question will be whether it has unfair market dominance due to its state ownership and its access to infrastructure - a question that has arisen before through TVNZ injecting itself into new markets.

And with Blacksand a division of TVNZ, the public will not be able to see if its forays against the private sector lead to profits, or if they get swallowed up in the infrastructure at TVNZ.

LEARNING CURVE

Publishers have welcomed the belated move to contestable funding for government school book contracts, but the Ministry of Education's contractual arrangements for books still seem loose. High-profile educational publisher Wendy Pye accidentally discovered she had not been approached to be a preferred bidder for the Government school books contract.

Government contracts under exclusive deals made up a significant part of publishing SOE Learning Media's $22 million 2010-2011 revenue, which led to a profit of $911,000.

Pye points out the assured contract curriculum books has given the SOE an advantage over private sector companies earning export income.

In theory competitive tendering could mean a hit for Learning Media, but skeptics note it will still be among the preferred bidders and has established relationships with government departments.

"You've got to be in Wellington to know how it works," noted one experienced educational publisher.

The ministry will be able to limit who is in the game by selecting preferred bidders. But the Government seems at least to have addressed the astonishing media conflict of interest that seems like a hangover from the old days of Muldoonism.

ROCKY PROBLEM

Technical foibles delaying the launch of pay TV platform Igloo are believed to relate to the additional challenges of transmitting in New Zealand's topography, a source familiar with TV signals said.

Igloo general manager Chaz Savage could not be reached for comment yesterday, but the platform, a mix of broadband download and digital terrestrial broadcasting, is believed to have problems with the technical separation of individual channels.

A source said that although the Igloo technology had been used before in South Africa, the terrain there was not as challenging as New Zealand with its mountainous nooks and crannies.

Igloo, a joint venture between SkyTV and TVNZ, was to have launched last month, but is now looking at early next month at best.

TRUTH BE TOLD

In a Guardian video, Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein gives interesting insights about the challenges for American journalism. He believes the biggest problem for journalism may not be with distribution and the internet, but with the audience, which in the US has lost an appetite for the truth.

- NZ Herald

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