John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: MediaWorks eyes TV queen Julie Christie

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Julie Christie tipped for role providing media and broadcasting nous on new board overseeing company.

Julie Christie understands commercial TV markets and how to make shows that are profitable and popular. Photo / APN
Julie Christie understands commercial TV markets and how to make shows that are profitable and popular. Photo / APN

Reality TV queen Julie Christie is tipped for a role overseeing MediaWorks, including TV3, Four and half the commercial radio industry.

The producer of TV3's The Block is expected to provide the media nous on a new board for MediaWorks to be announced next month.

Christie founded successful production company Touchdown Television and has sold her remaining stake to partners at international TV production firm Eyeworks.

She still owns the Living and Food channels broadcast on the Sky TV basic package. She did not respond to approaches for comment.

Some see Christie as being blunt and to the point with TV professionals, but away from the shop floor in TV land her work has received popular acclaim. And derision from some.

Christie understands commercial TV markets and how to make shows that are profitable and popular such as The Block and The GC.

"I can't think of anyone with more skill in television than Julie - and that includes myself," said Sky TV chief executive John Fellet.

Politicians have also had a strong affection for her over the years. Murray McCully and Gerry Brownlee have been photographed out and about at her bar in the Viaduct.

One TV3 source expected that governance rules meant she would not be involved in the day-to-day business of making TV, but she would bring some great skill sets to the board. She is notoriously hard-working.

TV industry investors said Christie - one of the country's most successful TV producers - had applied for the vacancy as chief executive at rival TVNZ but was surprised she did not make it to the short list. She was also talked about for vacancies on the board of TVNZ - though nothing eventuated. Perhaps that would bring an added frisson if she took a role at MediaWorks.

HEDGING BETS

The new board will likely be controlled by hedge funds TPG and Oaktree Capital Partners. But it will need somebody who knows something about broadcasting, and well-placed sources said Christie was being lined up for the role.

TPG and Oaktree last year took over some of the debt for MediaWorks which led to a restructuring with some bankers taking a hit with a write-off of debt.

Where that leaves Ironbridge Capital is not wholly clear, though it has already taken a significant hit. The good news is that this has lightened MediaWorks' oppressive interest burden.

Now the hedge funds and debt holders are piecing together a debt for equity deal that puts TPG and Oaktree in the driver's seat and Ironbridge Capital's role is not clear.

MediaWorks chairman Brent Harman is not expected to have a role on the new MediaWorks board. Former chief executive Brent Impey - who was once a consultant to TPG while working as a drive-time host for its Radio Live station - confirmed he would not be taking a role.

TAKE JESSE OUT

Aren't you sick of all the "know it all" commentators with unsolicited advice for how to make Seven Sharp work? But, anyway, I'll make one suggestion: Take Jesse Mulligan out of the mix and give him a separate four-minute comedy segment at the end of each show.

SELF REGULATE

New Zealand Broadcasters have banded together to avoid government regulation amid a trend for greater oversight of news and current affairs.

The Online Media Standards Authority fills a gap for oversight of online news from broadcasters. Online news content is not part of the jurisdiction for the Government's Broadcasting Standards Association, and online advertising is covered by the Advertising Standards Authority.

The OMSA will cover news and current affairs items from broadcasters, such as TVNZ, MediaWorks and The Radio Network which is shown online only.

OMSA does not cover newspaper publisher websites such as nzherald.co.nz and Fairfax's stuff.co.nz because they have the oversight of the NZ Press Council.

A 2011 New Zealand Law Commission report on media standards coincided with the Leveson Inquiry about ethical breaches by British media under a self-regulated newspaper market.

In New Zealand there has been concern that standards bodies have not kept pace with the movement towards online content.

But in a pro-regulation atmosphere, media companies are wary of state control and powers for the government-appointed Broadcasting Standards Authority.

One suggestion put to me was that the OMSA is not a defensive move but an aggressive bid by broadcasters who aim to take over the role of the BSA, and that they have been given tacit support from the Government.

It's a theory that is hard to test.

OMSA chairwoman Clare Bradley - the company secretary at MediaWorks - said OMSA was developed by former Herald editor-in-chief Gavin Ellis, media lawyer Steve Price and academic Luke Goode and would publish a code of standards and provide a free complaints process.

The OMSA complaints committee will be chaired by retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Bruce Robertson and comprise four public members and three broadcasting industry representatives, Bradley said.

GONG FREE

Some will agree with the logic of TVNZ's pullout from the New Zealand Television Awards given the focus on news and current affairs.

It has become a two-horse race between TVNZ and TV3.

But TVNZ's withdrawal of financial support was a shock for programme makers, actors, producers and directors who now have no way to celebrate high achievement.

Successive governments have opined that the screen industry forms a key part of New Zealand's economic future. The state broadcaster is no longer a part of that strategy.

The Screen Production and Development Association executive director Penelope Borland said that while the Television Awards over the past five years had been controlled by TV networks, their absence in 2013 was bad for all programme makers.

They were the only place where excellence in television crafts such as cameras and television writing was recognised.

THE BLOBBY LOBBY

Withdrawal from the awards is a sign of the state TV company chaired by Wayne Walden stepping back from industry involvement.

TVNZ and TV3 recently pared back funding for the free-to-air lobby group Think TV, with Kevin Kenrick saying TVNZ was no longer focused solely on one sector such as free-to-air.

But given TVNZ's poor performance in lobbying it is a strange decision.

Sky TV has an extraordinarily cosy relationship with both National and Labour.

TVNZ has suffered in the past through poor relations with government, particularly Labour.

Yet the free-to-air players have given up a combined approach to challenging its dominance. Think TV no longer has a lobbying role for the free-to-air sector.

VIRTUAL REALITY

One of the interesting aspects about the new world order of online communication is how the social media marketers like to get together for a real world chinwag.

Many of the growing legion of social media marketers met this week for an address by Teddy Goff, Barack Obama's digital director for the 2008 and 2011 US elections.

But since the premise is that Twitter, Facebook et al are taking over the world, why do people need to gather at the Viaduct Events Centre?

Paul Brislen, chief executive of the Telecommunications Users Association, says there are numerous get-togethers around Auckland, and when social media marketers do come together they don't just sit at a table and tweet to one another.

- 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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