John Drinnan

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

Espiner's move leads host of television changes both on and off air

Guyon Espiner. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Guyon Espiner. Photo / Herald on Sunday

The world of television will experience plenty of change in 2012. These are the key shifts to keep an eye on.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The highest level change has seen Guyon Espiner moving from TVNZ to TV3's 60 Minutes, while Tim Wilson returns to New Zealand after being replaced by Jack Tame as US correspondent. Behind the scenes TVNZ has faced an exodus of senior executives.

News and current affairs boss Anthony Flannery is gone, replaced by Channel Ten's Sydney news chief Ross Dagan. Chief executive Rick Ellis is making a long-predicted departure, heading for Telstra in Australia in February. Chairman Sir John Anderson leaves in April and is expected to be replaced by deputy chairman Joan Withers.

PUBLIC TV

Ghostly reminders of public television continue to rattle chains around the Beehive, but the Government has abandoned funding for TVNZ 7.

TVNZ 7 is due to go in July with its digital capacity and place on Freeview handed over to ad agency Ogilvy for a shopping channel.

A vociferous minority is pressing for an alternative - but they face opposition from both the Government and commercial broadcasters who want New Zealand On Air to fund commercial shows.

OWNERSHIP

Texas private equity company TPG is trying to take over MediaWorks, buying up debt and shutting out controlling shareholders at another private equity company, Ironbridge Capital.

The back-door takeover would reduce the debt that has hung over MediaWorks and restricted capital expenditure and a stronger MediaWorks could balance a TV market dominated by TVNZ and Sky.

It seems likely that if TPG wins, it would maintain TV3 as a full service channel.

But there is no guarantee consumers would win out from MediaWorks changing hands. There might also be the opportunity to sell on individual assets to a trade buyer.

COMPETITION

The joint venture between TVNZ and Sky TV in Igloo prevents competition in the pay television market by preventing the arrival of a new player who could take on Sky. On the one hand the 11-channel digital, terrestrial pay service offers a lower cost option for subscribers, on the other Igloo can be downgraded by Sky if it eats into its full digital service.

Sky and the state broadcaster own the vast majority of television content and combined with Sky's contracts with its wholesale clients also limit the availability of unique content. The role of TVNZ in Igloo means that the state is supporting two dominant companies.

FREEVIEW

Once regarded as a potential free-to-air multi-channel competitor to Sky Television, Freeview has reverted to a role as a default provider for free advertiser-funded television. Tough times in the television advertising market have left few options for new advertiser-funded channels and the die has been set with TVNZ abandoning Freeview to concentrate on pay television and its emerging relationship with Sky.

The question for Freeview is now whether it can access remaining frequencies to increase its capacity after the switchover to digital television, and whether it can develop a profitable business plan that runs in tandem with its current non-profit status.

Such an option would be particularly beneficial for MediaWorks.

- NZ Herald

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