Lydia Jenkin: Save the best of TVNZ U

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Tim Lambourne, Rose Matafeo and Connor Nestor.
Tim Lambourne, Rose Matafeo and Connor Nestor.

Sadly, I'm fairly sure I no longer fit in the category of "youth", but the news on Monday that TVNZ is axing it's youth-oriented channel, U, at the end of August, made me disappointed nonetheless.

TVNZ have made no secret that the reason for turning off the channel is a financial one - presumably not enough viewers means not enough advertising, meaning it doesn't make enough money. And, as it's already a very lean operation, apparently there are no more savings to be made in that regard.

Which is all fair enough.

But it's still sad to hear - not because I think anyone, even 15-year-olds, will seriously miss series like Models Misfits and Mayhem, and Snog Marry Avoid, but because I think they were on to something with their flagship local live shows, U Live and U Late and, in spite of its continual demise, I think there's still a place for youth TV in New Zealand.

Sure, there's plenty of commentary out there that says youth these days find most of their entertainment online - games, videos, social interaction. They find the TV shows they love online and watch them at whatever hour of the day they like - who needs a TV schedule?

But I would argue, that though we probably don't need a whole channel dedicated to youth (and they're probably too discerning and too independent to want one anyway), there's still a need for live, local, youth shows, in much the same way as we still need student radio.

When you give young presenters an informal set-up and flexible guidelines, their energy and irreverence generally draw out revelations and insight far different from the more formal world of adult mainstream media.

Their style of interviewing, their viewpoints, their banter - they keep it real and honest. And they connect with their peers, whether they're discussing pop culture or current affairs.

Plus, youth shows are a strong training ground - a great place for young TV talent to be cultivated. Jon Bridges, Mikey Havoc, Jeremy Wells, Nick Dwyer - they all came out of shows like Ice TV, or channels like Max TV, MTV, Space, and Alt TV, and they've all contributed greatly to our local pop culture landscape.

U Live host Rose Matafeo is already making the leap from budding comedian and host to respected blogger and TV guest, and her co-presenters like Connor Nestor are equally at ease on camera. Surely there's more to come from them yet, and it seems remiss they'll now be without a show to host.

There's also a bunch of good "youth-oriented" local content being made that doesn't really have a home - TVNZ's web-based show Auckland Daze, for example, and the movies made during the 48 Hours Film Competition which used to be screened on C4 would be just as perfect incorporated into a youth-oriented show like U Live, as music videos are.

Which brings me to another point - the demise of U means one less platform for local music videos. Yep, in terms of hosted music TV, we've now only got Four Live and Juice TV.

Back in the 90s we had a huge amount of UHF space dedicated to hosted music television, now we're down to a few hours a week (plus unhosted video reels on C4 and various Sky channels). NZ On Air spend a lot of money funding local music videos, and while many of them find audiences via YouTube and band websites, music television is often how they're exposed to wider audiences.

So while I concede that a youth channel run by TVNZ may never have been the right idea (kids can smell a 40-year-old industry exec being patronising from a mile off), it feels like there's definitely a space out there for some live youth programming. Whether that space is best found in an independent online show, or somewhere on our established free-to-air channels is the next debate.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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