John Drinnan 's Opinion

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Media: Reality bites for public TV

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They're funding our fare over there but The GC - featuring Jessi and Jade - wouldn't have received public money five years ago, say industry insiders. Photo / Supplied
They're funding our fare over there but The GC - featuring Jessi and Jade - wouldn't have received public money five years ago, say industry insiders. Photo / Supplied

TV3 is about to seek taxpayer funding for the overseas talent show format The X Factor, it is understood.

New Zealand On Air has already given TVNZ 7 viewers a two-fingered salute, backing two highly commercial shows - New Zealand's Got Talent for TV One and reality show The GC for TV3.

TV3 - which has made X Factor from its own money in the past - would not confirm it is looking for a handout.

But the allocation for another highly commercial talent show format would be a telling blow for a public television audience waiting for TVNZ 7 and its local shows to be thrown on the scrapheap.

NZ On Air, which is charged with promoting New Zealand culture and heritage and looking after minority interests, has shown no interest in filling the gap.

It seems to be caught up in a legislated conspiracy with networks to keep intelligent programming out of prime time because it is not seen to have mass appeal.

NZ On Air has ignored the demise of several local public broadcasting programmes.

The funding agency sees no reason to embrace any of the passion of TVNZ 7 viewers who argue we need public TV.

Chief executive Jane Wrightson says NZ On Air has nothing to do with the demise of TVNZ 7 - but it strikes me that the funding body should be concerned about the loss of such a substantial public broadcaster.

It seems like an institutionalised response. NZ On Air, backed by the TV networks, the producers and the Government, is not hurt by this latest aspect of a half-arsed broadcasting policy.

It's only the viewers who care.

COAST TO COAST

NZ On Air is paying the maximum $1.6 million for up to half the costs for the second series of New Zealand's Got Talent.

The remaining costs paid by TVNZ will include the franchise fee that ultimately goes to Simon Cowell's organisation.

NZ On Air has also given $420,000 to The GC a so called "reality" show made by a company that is ultimately headed by Julie Christie. It focuses on the glitzy world of young Maori as they "work and play hard on Queensland's Gold Coast" and begins on TV3 on May 2.

Three TV sources including two producers and a network executive agreed these projects - with overseas formats and a show set in Australia - would not have met NZ On Air funding criteria even five years ago.

Now it seems that TV3, which has its own financial problems because of its ownership issues, is looking at taxpayer funding for X Factor.

Public television campaigner David Beatson makes the point these anomalies are partly due to the way NZ On Air is constructed as a funding mechanism for commercial TV.

But he suggests the funding agency has also been remiss developing some lateral thinking to address the demise of TVNZ 7.

NZ On Air's Wrightson said: "The board has said that we will be willing to consider funding applications for the TVNZ 7 programmes.

"We'll need to assess them against everything else, of course, but we agree that they are valuable."

WELCOMED

Maybe the new NZ On Air chairwoman, Miriam Dean, might make a difference in de-industrialising the funder.

The appointment has been cautiously welcomed, if only because of concerns how the public would have perceived NZ On Air political independence if the application of board member Stephen McElrea had been successful.

Prime Minister John Key's electorate chairman, McElrea had drawn attention to his party political background when he led NZ On Air criticism of what he and the board perceived as a Labour friendly documentary, and its screening before the election.

Dean is the president of the New Zealand Bar Association, deputy chair of Auckland Council Investments, a director of Crown Fibre Holdings and a trustee of the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Previously she has held a number of appointments, including a period as deputy chair of the Commerce Commission.

"Ms Dean's background in Crown governance will provide strong leadership for the wider challenges facing media in a time of rapid technological change," said Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss.

FAREWELL VALINTINE

Change is coming for Close Up. Mark Valintine, the long-time executive producer for the TV One current affairs programme, has parted company with the show.

The new head of current affairs Ross Dagan - who started this week - is deciding on the way ahead, TVNZ says.

Valintine's departure is expected to lead to a big shake up - possibly including a change of presenter - but that will probably not happen until next year, a TV source said.

With a tabloid news sense and a bonhomie with the movers and shakers, Valintine was once regarded as a high-flier and one to watch in management.

He is a big bluff man, who says what he likes and likes what he says, and has clashed with TVNZ in more recent times.

He was away this week, but will fill in one of the many newsroom executive vacancies until he leaves in September or October.

Valintine will leave a mixed legacy. Supporters say Close Up under Valintine has maintained a connection with mainstream viewers.

Critics say that he never created a sense of a team among staff on the show and focused on the trivial - but that is a common criticism of marketed TV current affairs.

As executive producer he played a key role in promoting Paul Henry as a replacement for Mark Sainsbury as front-man, rankling Sainsbury to the point he sought and won the support of chief executive Rick Ellis, who promised his job was safe.

Ellis is gone now, and so has Valintine. Ratings are still relatively respectable and revenue relatively strong, but times are changing - I'd argue the whole notion of a 7pm magazine/current affairs show is worth debating.

WHAT ABOUT MIKE?

The other issue facing a new executive producer of Close Up is more immediate - how TVNZ is going to deal with part-time host Mike Hosking and a commercial relationship with SkyCity.

Hosking can be a top interviewer.

But even if he wanted Sainsbury's job, and TVNZ offered it to him, he would have to give up on his casino gig.

Because of perceived conflict of interest by Hosking, TVNZ has banned him from covering what is turning out to be a major issue.

TV3 news chief Mark Jennings has said TVNZ's approach allowing Hosking to continue with his SkyCity deal is far too soft given the scale of Hosking's SkyCity deal - worth up to $48,000 a year.

PR MAN

Veteran PR man Malcolm Boyle is retiring from day-to-day industry involvement for health reasons.

Boyle has more than 40 years in the industry, and is hugely respected in public relations and advertising, media and rugby league circles. Boyle was recently diagnosed with a chronic illness and will retire from day-to-day involvement at Star Public Relations.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

John Drinnan is the 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.

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