NZ On Air asked to fund drama for key 5:30 slot to boost 3News.
New Zealand On Air will decide on Wednesday whether to fund a new 5.30pm soap opera for TV3. The new soap, aimed at delivering viewers to 3News, is a major push for TV3's new programming strategy, so details are being kept under wraps.
But MediaWorks decided long ago the show would be made by Warner Bros New Zealand, which has roots back to Touchdown, the production firm founded by Julie Christie.
Indications are that the show would run four days a week and require funding of more than $10 million. A request for proposal was set out in October, seeking a compelling family-centric show suitable for a G certificate timeslot "with appealing, accessible characters and a rich, dramatic narrative".
Warner Bros has played an integral role in TV3's new reality TV focus, making shows such as The Bachelor and Come Dine With Me.
As for the new soap, one producer familiar with the project believed NZ On Air might be asked to pay about 75 per cent of the cost and commit to $10 million or so, though the actual numbers are not being released.
In the production industry there are mixed views on how NZ On Air would view the Warner Bros/MediaWorks proposal.
On the plus side, an earlier daily soap, Shortland Street, was a huge success for NZ On Air. The series filled a swathe of airtime with local content and provided employment and some infrastructure for the local production business. It was the launchpad for actors such as Martin Henderson who are developing a profile overseas.
It became self-sustaining and remains one of New Zealand's most popular TV shows. So that bodes well.
But there is no guarantee a second TV3 soap will be as successful given that it will screen at 5.30pm, when fewer people watch TV, rather than 7pm. After all, NZ On Air drama funding is focused on prime time, when most people are watching.
But NZ On Air has made a $10 million commitment to a 5.30pm soap before. It was called The Point, and was developed in 2006-07. Money was set aside but the idea was eventually killed off in favour of other drama projects.
Then again, money is much tighter these days. A commitment to a new show - on top of commitments already made this year - would limit NZ On Air's ability to fund more serious prime-time drama this year, and in years to come.
In my opinion, this funding decision is a reminder of how NZ On Air and taxpayer funding is controlled by the TV industry. Is there a compelling demand for a new soap on TV3, or is the main issue that MediaWorks needs a subsidised show to make itself more attractive for a sale?
Why should taxpayers take on the main risk of a 5.30pm project?
Under the current system, TV networks have to commit to screening shows before they get funding.
That means networks - whether it's TVNZ, TV3 or Prime - develop commercial relationships with specific production companies, and meeting their commercial demands is the prerequisite for producers to survive in the NZ market.
Increasingly, the successful producers are overseas-owned. One producer who approached the Herald said NZ On Air backing for such a big project would be a milestone for local production companies. It might provide work for New Zealanders, but NZ On air is supposed to be looking after viewers, not broadcasters.
MediaWorks declined a request to discuss its approach to the project.
RNZ job cuts
Radio New Zealand has confirmed that it is disestablishing 20 jobs as it deals with the latest extension of the Government funding freeze.
Chief executive Paul Thompson met with staff last week and said yesterday that RNZ was asking for voluntary redundancies, but there would also be restructuring. The jobs would go over the next six months.
He said other positions had been created and there would be a net loss of 14 staff. All media are going through upheavals, but RNZ has suffered severely from limitations on its ability to increase revenue.
There is a big move to reduce the focus on the Wellington operation and to shift more attention to the Auckland studios.
There is also a review of music output at RNZ, including an examination of Radio New Zealand Concert. Meanwhile, RNZ is implementing a $10 million capital spending programme to replace technology, some of which harks back to the 1980s and 1990s.
Like commercial media, RNZ has to work out how to incorporate both the old medium of live radio and the new online media. "In a digital world where Radio New Zealand is really beginning to make an impact we must be judged on our engagement with all audiences across a multitude of platforms," said spokesman John Barr.
He said radionz.co.nz website data showed very strong growth, with both page views and user numbers up 75 per cent compared with the same period last year. "May was our biggest month yet with more than 900,000 users."
The Wireless - RNZ's digital service aimed at a younger audience - had 1.57 million users so far this year compared with 105,563 in the same period last year, soon after it started, said Barr. The total amount of audio being accessed from the website, iTunes and via apps had increased 45 per cent.
RNZ recorded 542,000 downloads of its podcast content on iTunes over the month of May. That was up from 444,000 in May last year.
Ad takes time to pluck heartstrings
Long-run TV commercials are rare nowadays, but DDB Advertising and Lotto have returned to the genre big-time, with a 90-second branding commercial for Lotto Powerball. DDB chief executive Justin Mowday said fewer advertisers were using longer form advertising to engage with people. But the Powerball ad - which depicts quality family time being shared between a hard working dad and his pirate-obsessed son - was unashamedly at the centre of Powerball's branding push.
"If you really want to engage people and inspire people, they need time, and there is nothing more inspiring than a beautifully crafted film," he said.
Mowday said the best commercials could beat the fast-forward button, with viewers deliberately taking the time to watch their favourite ads.
"In this case we unashamedly went full out to reconnect New Zealanders emotionally with Lotto Powerball. The theme ... was about imagining winning, and in this case winning family time which money can't buy."