John Drinnan 's Opinion

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

Media: And here is the phony news

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More mock interview advertorials part of blurring of traditional lines to allow marketing influence over news.

Sean Connolly is the chef at The Grill restaurant owned by SkyCity, which is understood to have paid about $400,000 towards prime time food show On The Grill. Photo / Richard Robinson
Sean Connolly is the chef at The Grill restaurant owned by SkyCity, which is understood to have paid about $400,000 towards prime time food show On The Grill. Photo / Richard Robinson

Television New Zealand is to run more phony news stories under its The Extra Mile advertorial brand next year.

The state broadcaster is expected to run advertorial alongside news and current affairs shows as it did with Cadbury promotions in October.

It's a repeat of the devil-may-care policy at state TV that blurs the lines between advertising and the news.

The first The Extra Mile campaign back in September championed Cadbury's fair-trade chocolate credentials.

No other advertiser has come up since, leading one senior ad executive to question if The Extra Mile had run out of gas.

TVNZ confirmed The Extra Mile was alive, with two new advertorial campaigns lined up and others waiting in the wings. It was regarded as having been "very successful", said spokeswoman Megan Richards.

The segments are advertising versions of the "good sorts" feature on One News, giving good news stories about clients who pay to be praised in mock journalist interviews.

The format is not wholly new, but TVNZ has breached traditional barriers running advertorial in prime time around real news and current affairs shows.

Back Benches host and TVNZ Good Morning political commentator Wallace Chapman played the part of journalist but rejected suggestions he was undermining the news.

He believed there were no ethical issues, saying he was a broadcaster, not a journalist. Besides, he agreed with fair trade.

A source said that with negative publicity about the look and timing of ads alongside news broadcasts, there had been some "push back" from the news and current affairs department.

But the news operation was under pressure to allow commercial intrusion where once it was banned.

The Extra Mile is being driven by Tim Wilson, a former US correspondent for One News and occasional face on TVNZ news, who holds the title business development manager.

Fittingly, he is also being tipped for a role with the show replacing Close Up.

The blurring of lines in television is part of a wider trend in media to exert greater marketing influence over news values, emphasising news as a commodity rather than a service.

Claudia MacDonald of public relations company Mango said some media were now linking coverage of press releases to advertising spend elsewhere in publications.


STAKE & CHIPS

MediaWorks stands by the credits of its prime time food show On The Grill featuring chef Sean Connolly of The Grill restaurant.

TV3 says there is no need to mention substantial funding from the restaurant's owner, SkyCity Entertainment.

The casino company is understood to have paid $100,000 towards the first series and $300,000 towards the second.

Lifestyle TV shows like this have long had loose connections with sponsors and it's hard to fund shows, now that NZ On Air money is over-subscribed.

But the TV producers' body, Spada, says sponsorship is morphing into direct corporate funding and adman Martin Gillian says we're at a crossroads with public acceptance of brands being integrated into TV shows.

At what point does sponsorship/corporate funding undermine the integrity of programming?

TV3 spokeswoman Rachel Lorimer wouldn't confirm the scale of SkyCity funding, but said it was clear the second series of On The Grill was a lifestyle show rather than a fly-on-the-wall documentary like its predecessor.

There was no need to spell out funding other than a brief note at the end of the show thanking the casino for its "assistance".

Meanwhile, SkyCity is working on other TV projects, understood to include one that looks behind the scenes at the casino. SkyCity spokeswoman Kelly Armitage said: "We're always looking at opportunities in this space but we don't have any definite plans as yet."


ON THE BLOCK

Television production is notoriously expensive and the networks must please advertisers to improve profits. So plugs inside shows are the obvious solution.

Broadcasters play down the impact, but it's common sense that viewers will increasingly use personal video recorders to fast-forward through ad breaks.

The most successful integrated advertising so far has been in The Block - a show that did not get taxpayer funding from NZ On Air and was brimming with commercial plugs.

TVNZ's Breakfast in the past has been the conduit for product placement plugs.

TVNZ head of sales Jeremy O'Brien said he wouldn't support programming where the funder was not acknowledged. But I'm not sure that applies to Breakfast.


SECRET SQUIRREL

A TV political pundit provides an interesting perspective on cost-cutting in the media. The former politician - who wouldn't be named - regularly provides comment for news stories.

A TVNZ cameraman turned up alone to get reaction to a news story carrying a list of questions from political editor Corin Dann.

In the old days, news bosses would have sent a junior reporter or trainee for what are called pick-ups. But in this case the otherwise accomplished cameraman struggled to articulate Dann's questions, leading the frustrated pundit to ask: "Can't you just show me the questions?"

Absolutely not, the cameraman said, he was under strict instructions to keep the questions secret.

He relented, and the politico noted he had seen the same double-ups with reporters at small media outlets pulling out a camera, not a photographer.

Former TVNZ head of news and current affairs Bill Ralston said using cameramen for pick-ups was increasingly common now because of limited resources.


PAY PER FREEVIEW

Video-on-demand service Quickflix won't be the only movie streaming service available on the MyFreeview platform, says Freeview chief executive Rick Friesen. This week Quickflix announced a memorandum of understanding for consumers with MyFreeview approved personal video recorders - the Freeview version of MySky - able to connect to the Quickflix interface and watch movies.

The major benefit will be the ability to watch streamed movies and downloaded shows on internet-connected televisions instead of computers.

The initiative could be a boon for Quickflix, which is facing new competition for streamed movie services from the SkyTV/TVNZ joint venture Igloo.

Friesen acknowledged Quickflix had been in a treacherous position financially - the cross-Tasman company has been trading on the ASX at just A2c (2.52c) per share after most of the directors resigned from the board and the company went on a cost-cutting drive.

However, there were no risks for consumers accessing Quickflix through MyFreeview. Friesen stressed the Freeview board had been in discussion with other pay-per-view streaming services and Quickflix would not have exclusive place on the platform.

- 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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