John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Petra to go for new Breakfast double act?

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Is TVNZ looking at replacing Petra Bagust to get a new Breakfast double team? Photo / Supplied
Is TVNZ looking at replacing Petra Bagust to get a new Breakfast double team? Photo / Supplied

Television New Zealand bosses have looked at replacing Petra Bagust, creating a new double act for Breakfast, I'm told.

But Bagust was not at all keen on the idea and has a watertight contract with about 18 months to run.

There seems to be little on-screen rapport between Rawdon Christie and Bagust. In my opinion she sometimes seems out of her depth. A source said that one of the terms of contract for the show allows a review of the arrangements if ratings for Breakfast drop below a certain level.

In the target demographic aged 25-54, Breakfast's market share for April has fallen from 45 per cent to 36 per cent, while rival 3 News' Firstline with Rachel Smalley went up from 12 per cent to 16 per cent. But is is not clear whether the fall has passed any threshold.

It is understood Bagust is on a very good package for her Breakfast role and earns more than Prime Minister John Key.

In my opinion she would have a good case to seek significant compensation or a new post if she were ever dropped from Breakfast.

She had an established career with TV3 and was actively pursued for the Breakfast role by Anthony Flannery, the former head of news and current affairs.

Funding the GC

New Zealand On Air chief executive Jane Wrightson is keeping a close eye on the reality show The GC to ensure it meets obligations for Maori cultural content that were promised to get funding.

She says there was more in episode two than episode one.

And despite some clumsy, wooden dialogue she is confident this series is not scripted, and has confirmed that with TV3 and the show's producer.

The GC has its lovers and its haters.

But there is a subtext for the wider industry. Kiwi commercial television is not viable without taxpayer handouts and has become dependent on them.

Audiences for episode two were down about 80,000 this week, but with around 290,000 viewers for Wednesday's second episode it is bringing in plenty of advertising dollars for TV3.

Yet taxpayers carried the risk with a $420,000 subsidy.

The GC is promoted as a fly-on-the-wall "documentary" series, in part because that meets the criteria to get funding allocated for Maori.

The GC is too contrived and controlled for a documentary and is more about creating marketable characters than telling stories.

The problem is with New Zealand On Air and its legislation. The funder is obliged to ensure network support for applications from producers.

But it has lost interest in its relationship with viewers and now relies on the commercial television networks and ratings to decide what the mass audience wants.

MONEY FOR NOTHING

Hindsight is a fine thing, I know. But I would argue a trash show about sex and sun with not too many hard bits would be a good bet to draw a commercial audience.

TV3 could and should have taken the risk. But rather than encouraging TV3 to look elsewhere for finance, the commercial nature of the show - and potential for network profits - actually made taxpayer funding from NZ On Air more likely.

The same logic applies to TVNZ screening NZ's Got Talent on TV One while TV3 is expected to seek funding for its version of The X Factor.

Both networks are under pressure from their shareholders to boost returns. But the money for these commercial shows has to come from somewhere: It is taken away from smart but less commercial shows that deserve taxpayer support.

GOOGLY EYES

More on the media lobbying front. It seems that internet company Google is ramping up its presence in New Zealand, having appointed a full-time lobbyist earlier this year.

Ross Young was previously with TelstraClear, and before that with the Commerce Commission. According to claims that cannot be verified, Google has met 14 Cabinet ministers since February.

One source said that Google was looking at developing server farms in New Zealand and was looking at government concessions.

But another said that the scale of establishing servers in New Zealand would be difficult in the short term. Google had recently appointed engineer Josh Bailey to oversee the process.

WHY THE LONG FACE?

Maori TV has come up with a clever way to promote te reo with weekly re-versioned episodes of the retro situation comedy Mister Ed.

The series dates back to the early 60s and features a palomino horse who makes wry remarks that can only be heard by his goofy owner Wilbur Post (a bit like Stewie and Brian in Family Guy).

What does it have to do with the Maori culture and language? Not much directly, but it is an innovative way of enveloping a language lesson around a comedy.

Programming general manager Haunui Royal says the script remains true to the original programme but has been localised to give it a Kiwi flavour, for example using New Zealand placenames and food.

For non-Maori-speaking viewers, the simple language and English subtitles provide a useful tool for developing skills.

Re-versioning programmes is also more efficient than producing an entire TV show from scratch.

For the record, the key translation is: A horse is a horse ... He hoiho te hoiho.

Of course of course ... Ae marika ae marika.

IPO AN OPTION

An initial public offer (IPO) is likely to be among the options for APN News & Media as it considers a review of its New Zealand media assets.

Some argue partial sale of the combined New Zealand assets makes the most sense because it would retain cross-media efficiencies, producing content between assets that span the internet, newspapers, magazines and a 50 per cent stake in the company that owns The Radio Network.

Chief executive Brett Chenoweth has said he expects to be able to give investors further details about the way ahead around August and it is understood the possibility has been discussed with the NZX.

The Deutsche Bank review is expected to investigate approaches for APN assets, and potential APN acquisitions.

FELLET FISHING

Sky TV chief executive John Fellet has confirmed he is interested in looking at APN assets, and says his initial inclinations are that radio would offer "more synergies".

"We were formerly tied up with newspapers, but the only synergies there were that my son delivered the Howick and Pakuranga Times," he said.

It is not clear where The Radio Network (TRN) would fit in the mix with any revamp of APN.

TRN - which owns half of New Zealand's commercial radio stations, including Newstalk ZB - is owned by the Australian Radio Network, a 50:50 joint venture between APN and the US giant Clear Channel, which has also indicated in the past it wants out of its non-US investments.

There have been rumours of an IPO of TRN in the past. There has been a long hiatus while a new chief executive is appointed to replace John McElhinney.

Note: The New Zealand Herald is a key asset in the APN review, but views in this column are not formed from any special access to APN thinking.

RYAN EYES

Kathryn Ryan has signed her contract for the Radio New Zealand Nine to Noon programme.

It is understood to be a three-year term.

There was never much doubt she would be reappointed to the well-resourced programme, and it is true that Ryan has improved and moved away from a schoolmarmish style to offer intelligent information radio.

A credible radio show is all the more important now that Sean Plunket has left Morning Report and Mike Hosking has lost so much of his mana on Newstalk ZB.

But wouldn't it be good if someone like Plunket - or Paul Holmes who is passing his use-by date on Q+A - could be inserted to liven up Nine to Noon a little bit?

- NZ Herald

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