John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: TVNZ replaces BBC with infomercials

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It's goodbye BBC World, hello infomercials for late-night TV One viewers.  Photo / AP
It's goodbye BBC World, hello infomercials for late-night TV One viewers. Photo / AP

Television New Zealand is serving up a hot-cross-bunfight with some viewers by replacing BBC World with paid infomercials, starting on Easter Monday. "They are replacing quality with crap," said advertising consultant Martin Gillman, who said he could see the commercial logic for the move.

It makes financial sense for TVNZ to boost profits by saving the $400,000-plus it spends each year on BBC World, but it is another case of free to air television dropping a quality option.

TVNZ insists the move downmarket will not harm the TV One brand, which was built on its record of producing high-rating local content. Interbrand branding consultant James Bickford agreed TV One's brand would not be hurt.

But the dropping of quality programming such as BBC World indicates changes are afoot on One, Bickford said.

Some would say the change has been going on for some time, with the emphasis moving to entertainment, reality shows and repeats as the channel searches for younger viewers.

Seven Sharp is a case in point.

TVNZ spokeswoman Georgie Hills said the cost of BBC World did not make commercial sense. The channel had backed down on a previous bid to scrap BBC World about 10 years ago, "but since then BBC World has been available 24 hours a day on Sky". Meanwhile TV2 - traditionally the more commercial channel - will continue to have proper programming in the graveyard shift. Overnight, TV2 is filled with programming not needed for prime time, obtained through TVNZ's output deals with Hollywood studios, which Hills said could be screened at no additional cost. Both TV3 and Four run infomercials overnight.

Rudderless

Ross Dagan leaves TVNZ this week with news and current affairs at its lowest ebb since I began reporting on the media business in 1988. Dagan can't be blamed for the state of affairs - he was under-qualified for a role, coming from a No 2 position at a low-ranked Aussie channel, to running a big and difficult newsroom and dealing with a notoriously dysfunctional management structure. He was caught in the slipstream of chief executive Kevin Kenrick - who has his own ideas for the future of news and current affairs - while still learning the television business. The hope is that TVNZ will find somebody who can hold the ground for news and current affairs values, and boost morale at an organisation that has lacked leadership for two years.

Dagan gets the blame/credit for creating Seven Sharp, but my sources say that show is largely the work of Kenrick, the marketing man who is now editor-in-chief in charge of New Zealand's biggest newsroom.

Kenrick raised eyebrows in a recent interview on TV3's Media3 programme when he said he was not stressed by the state of TVNZ news and current affairs. If he is not worried, maybe it is time for him or the TVNZ board to start taking a look, and comparing how the leaderless newsroom is performing, not just in ratings, but in the oversight of news values and its performance in covering news stories such as the Kim Dotcom saga.

For Sale

Reality TV queen Julie Christie has rejected speculation that she is selling out of her financially successful Food and Living channels, broadcast on Sky TV. A well-placed source has said the United States pay television operator and channel owner Scripps has been eyeing them recently. The source reckoned the two channels combined were valued at more than $10 million, and said Goldman Sachs JB Were was involved.

The source said the two channels - built around the two most resilient advertising categories - were the most successful independent channels on Sky and were estimated to earn at least $8 million a year. Sky TV is in a position to buy Food and Living and bring them in-house, but in the past has enjoyed the public relations value of having independently owned local channels on its platform.

Carry on regardless

Broadcasters are pushing ahead with their new body the Online Media Standards Authority (OMSA), aware it might be scrapped before long.

The Law Commission this week announced details of a review of news media standards that suggests the Government set up a new voluntary body to oversee self-regulatory standards. Significantly, it would apply to blogs which opted in, as well as to traditional media, including online versions of media organisations that do not fit into any regime at the moment.

Just recently broadcasters, led by MediaWorks, announced they were setting up the OMSA to begin before June, providing a self-regulatory process for online material - currently unregulated.

The broadcasters' initiative was intended as a counter in case the Government opted to put them under the scrutiny of the Government-appointed Broadcasting Standards Authority. MediaWorks company secretary Clare Bradley acknowledged that with the Law Commission review, it could be that OMSA - established at considerable expense - might have a limited lifespan. But there were still a lot of questions about what sort of combined standards regime was established. There was no guarantee the Law Commission proposals would be adopted by the Government, and OPSA was needed in the meantime at least.

- 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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