John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: TVNZ eyes killing Sunday

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News bosses fight for survival of current affairs programme amid broad review at state broadcaster

TVNZ has been left behind in the coverage of the Kim Dotcom saga. Photo / Mark Mitchell
TVNZ has been left behind in the coverage of the Kim Dotcom saga. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Television New Zealand is considering killing its flagship current affairs show Sunday next year, having shortened it this year to make room for New Zealand's Got Talent.

News bosses are fighting for its survival in the face of a broad look at current affairs at the state broadcaster, says a source.

After a period in limbo and vacancies in top corporate jobs the company has been "drifting", says a source.

But news and current affairs is not faring well in the new environment.

TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick is preparing a report on the direction of TVNZ that is due for release in the next year.

Recently he told the Herald TVNZ should get closer to its "brand values".

TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards insists current affairs is not under any pressure and it is business as usual in the department led by Ross Dagan.

She declined a request to speak to Dagan, sending a written comment about TVNZ's commitment to current affairs, saying there were legal reasons why they could not comment because of the "review" of Close Up.

But she said Sunday would be back next year as an hour-long show.

Close Up ends next month and is expected to to be replaced next year by an infotainment show in the 7pm weekdays slot.

It will be different, Richards says, but whatever occurred there would still be current affairs in the timeslot.

But a TVNZ source believes Sunday's future is not assured.

Dagan was working hard for it to stay - as he did for current affairs staying in the 7pm slot - but there is opposition.

TVNZ head of television Jeff Latch is understood to be less enamoured with current affairs and wanted Sunday to end.

TALK IS CHEAP

The state broadcaster has sought another year of New Zealand On Air funding for Q&A, the current affairs Sunday morning show that is built around interviews with politicians.

Last year, the show received $800,000 of taxpayer funding.

You'd hope producers will identify the need for some tweaks.

Some will welcome the return of host Paul Holmes after a serious illness - others will feel that his return erases what progress has been made this year.

In my opinion its biggest flaw is that it is focused on the panel of pundits who have taken over the show.

These shows are wholly covered by taxpayers, who are paying for news and interviews, not punditry.

TV3's The Nation received $900,000 last year and has also applied to NZ On Air for next year. It has its faults, it can be a bit dry sometimes, but The Nation has bona fide current affairs and straight reports on important issues.

Journalists' interviewing panels are there to elicit information, not provide comment for comment's sake.

MIA ON DOTCOM

I'll be accused by some TVNZ folk of being biased, but TV3 news and current affairs is flying this year and I would argue is filling the vacuum left by state TV moving away from the genre.

Owners at MediaWorks are under severe financial constraints, but the news operations have guarded their independence and created new shows and provided strong journalism introducing news shows such as 360 and Media 3.

Another show is in planning to replace 60 Minutes but the cornerstone is John Campbell and Campbell Live.

I've made an enemy of some at TV3 by saying I don't care for John Campbell's style of presentation. He is unctuous, a bit overblown. But on Wednesday's show he illustrated commitment to good current affairs in his wrap on the Kim Dotcom story so far.

Campbell Live has owned the television story on Kim Dotcom from the very start, while the Herald has dominated print coverage.

This is a big international story that goes to the heart of the emerging global economy and American attempts to bring civil law offences into the gamut of what it has decided is its national security interests.

The story goes to the heart of New Zealand sovereignty and our political management. And there are signs it will loom larger in the future.

TV3 recognised that early and stuck to it.

Why has the country's biggest newsroom at TVNZ been left behind? Despite very capable investigative reporters such as Lisa Owen and Donna Marie Lever, TVNZ has been missing in action.

LAWS THEN LUSH?

Duncan Garner doesn't start the RadioLive drive time show until December but radio folk are already speculating he will oust Marcus Lush in the breakfast slot.

I can confirm Sean Plunket is set to replace Michael Laws on nine to noon talkback next year.

Going from Lush to Plunket would not be such a big lurch for listeners, but what if Garner makes a success of his afternoon show and proves he is capable of holding together a breakfast show?

If Garner worked and replaced Lush to be followed in the schedule by Plunket, it would be more impressive than Mike Hosking and Leighton Smith on Newstalk ZB.

Lush would probably fit nicely into the afternoon drive slot.

STRATOS RETURN?

Sky Television has been in talks with public television champion Jim Blackman to create a "Stratos"-style channel on the basic Sky package. Blackman said there was "nothing to report" on the matter while Sky TV chief executive John Fellet said he was aware of a long-running discussion of an "access style channel" like the discontinued Stratos or TVNZ 7.

It is understood discussions are advanced for Sky to run a channel with elements of Stratos that would fill the gap left by TVNZ 7 and Stratos.

Only viewers with the basic Sky package would get to see it.

Pay TV controlling public television - that would be an anathema to people who believe public service channels should be free, but the idea fits with the Government view that Sky can fill the vacuum of serving niche audiences.

For Sky, involvement in public service-style programmes would have a public relations payoff similar to its decision to commission a series of the politics programme Back Benches. It would be a low-cost way of showing it is "giving something back" in return for its charmed role as an unregulated monopoly.

CHOICE MOMENT

Media have flocked to cover the arrival of the Shopping Channel but given scant attention to Choice - a free channel with bona-fide lifestyle programming.

Owned by Laurie Clark and Vincent Burke, the joint owners of production company Top Shelf, which makes Media 3 and Target, the channel is run from a small controlroom downstairs from the offices in Mt Eden.

Choice has opted to focus on the half of the country that does not get Sky.

It focuses on different interests each night.

Burke is a veteran of the TV production industry and says he and Clarke were surprised at the lack of general interest channels and said viewers would end up with a limited choice.

"The business model is built around Freeview, and a channel on Sky is a bonus," said Burke.

The two men say the focus of the production arm at Top Shelf will still be on prime time and selling shows to the networks, but Choice was aiming at a niche audience.

"We are not going to be buying Gordon Ramsay and other high-rating shows," he said.

"But there are many programmes where the audience is not big enough for the networks, but suit our niche audiences," he said.

Choice is on Freeview Channel 12, Sky Channel 78.

- 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.

Read more by John Drinnan

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