John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: Is Sky stretched over Olympics coverage?

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Chief executive John Fellet insists Sky/Prime has not bitten off more more than it can chew covering the London Olympics. "Not yet anyway." he said this week, after the embarrassing Sky cock-up over over a key equestrian event.

The scale of the Sky coverage has been huge with coverage on Prime and nine dedicated Sky channels. Sky has even moved two NRL games off Prime TV to Maori TV so there is less disruption to Olympics coverage.

But bigger should be better. Given the importance of its first Summer Olympics to Sky TV and the fact it is New Zealand's main sportscaster, the lack of polish in its presentation has been a big surprise. Its coverage seems badly under-produced. I'm not complaining about Eric Young who has been a trooper holding together a lot of the coverage on Prime.

But it's a hell of a job negotiating your way around Sky coverage and knowing what is coming up when and what has gone before. It seems to lack a rhythm. One social media friend suggested Prime should run a ticker tape below pictures, so we know what's coming, though Young says under the terms of the rights deal they are not allowed to do that.

Clearly there is a lot more coverage than TVNZ had at Beijing. But Sky's approach seems to be like a cook at a greasy spoon cafe - "Come getcha sports grub".

Sky channel graphics are sometimes downright ugly and the commentary is patchy, both New Zealand commentators and those from overseas. Sky may be quite happy with its Olympic effort until now. They need to get the team doctor out soon to improve presentation and production and make it is easier to follow.

TWO WAY STREET

The Government is talking to Television New Zealand with a forked tongue.

Finance Minister Bill English and the Treasury are telling the state broadcaster to make profits no matter what.

It must behave like a commercial animal, and deliver a 9 per cent return on assets.

Yet last week Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss gave the TVNZ board a "candid" finger-wagging reminder. Effectively he said two things: Don't forget you are publicly owned - you are not like a private company.

Talk about mixed messages, it's like a watered down version of the old commercial/non-commercial remit.

Be commercial but not so much you get caught.

Foss is said to be genuinely interested in maintaining TVNZ and television as a cultural institution.

Chairman Wayne Walden is also said to be more interested in TVNZ than his predecessor, Sir John Anderson. TVNZ stressed everything is up for review of its strategies to take them through the next five years.

TVNZ stressed Foss was attending the meeting and not participating. But TVNZ is being redesigned as part of the National Party's half-hearted broadcasting policy. The company is about making money for taxpayers not in making a difference to society.

The danger is that the review will end up providing consumers with the worst of both worlds - a tightly focused commercial machine competing with the private sector and with nebulous considerations of the public good defined by the Government.

Labour broadcasting spokeswoman Clare Curran was not aware of the review.

HOT POTATO

The overriding question is why TVNZ - with no public obligations - remains in public ownership.

The first answer to that is that there are not many potential buyers these days. The other is that the sale of of the state broadcaster would be a political hot potato and the payoff would not compensate for the grief.

The future of TVNZ non-commercial programming will be a key element of the five year review. And given the entrenched role of Maori TV there is likely to be discussion on the future of the TVNZ Maori unit. On the face of it Maori programming is more secure than other programmes because it would require an act of Parliament to remove it from TVNZ's brief.

Yet a well-placed source said that TVNZ had been making approaches around Wellington over at least some programming being shifted to Maori TV. Maori unit programming is directly paid by taxpayer agency Te Mangai Paho, so the shows do not cost. But in the new TVNZ airtime is regarded as profit centres.

TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards rejected a suggestion made to the Herald that there had been an initial approach to government agencies.

"We are embarking on a strategic review of the entire organisation, looking at ways to enhance the quality of content, make our programming more contemporary and make better use of the funding that's available so obviously Maori programming will be under the same sort of analysis as Sport and News and Current Affairs. Under the act we're committed to reflecting Maori perspectives and nothing's being considered that would prejudice that. There will always be a place for Maori perspectives within TVNZ. Whatever decisions come out of the strategic review will of course be consistent with the act," said Richards.

Foss and Maori TV chief executive Jim Mather said they had not heard of any such moves by TVNZ.

GORDON BENNETT

SkyCity Entertainment has finally found a new public relations frontman - former Labour Party spin doctor Gordon Jon Thompson.

The casino company has not so much been caught in the headlights by months of bad publicity, as it has been happy to drive blind.

Amid questions about its relationship with the National government and ethical responsibilities, many of the media inquiries have been handled by marketing executive Grainne Troute.

Thompson is known as a sharp operator who comes from a background in politics. He is a former chief press secretary and chief of staff of former Labour leader Phil Goff, and worked as a press secretary for Helen Clark.

More recently he has been research director at UMR research, the firm that works with Labour. Thompson said he might end up assisting with some lobbying.

A Labour Party wishful thinker might hope that hiring Thompson shows Sky foresees a change of government. Of course that may happen if the Government goes ahead with its controversial pokies deal, currently being considered by the Auditor-General.

PROTECTING THE BRAND

SkyCity's choice of such an established PR operator is intriguing given its take it or leave it approach to PR in the past, and its direct commercial relationships with journalists including Paul Henry and Mike Hosking, who have been MCs at events.

Indeed there has been a sense where the casino company has felt more comfortable with lobbyists on the social side of publicity, and many journalists have been happy to partake. In its current form the company used PR consultants Niki Schuck, a consultant whose clients nowadays include Eric Watson and Owen Glenn. John Banks' mayoral election PR man Scott Campbell was there for a while, then moved on to Senate public relations.

Through the past six months chief executive Nigel Morrison has been happy to see the company's name pulled through the mill, with ex TVNZ publicist Andi Brotherston filling in for a while.

Maybe the SkyCity board - which includes MediaWorks chairman Brent Harman and advertising consultant Peter Cullinane - has decided it is now time to get serious about protecting the brand.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

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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