Never mind public radio and the hoary old forgotten concept of public service broadcasting. Funding agency New Zealand On Air gives the distinct impression of becoming a TV company support body.

The funding agency is charged with using taxpayer cash to boost local content levels on television, radio, and online.

But it also wants to help the broadcasting and television production industries through tough times.

Chairman Neil Walter said yesterday the state agency had an obligation to support the health of the television industry which relied on it.

"One of the questions foremost in our minds as a board is what we can do differently and better to help those sectors through these difficult times," said Walter.

Asked if it was the job for the funding agency to deliver industry support, Walter said: "It is an unspoken part of the job. We cannot do our job unless we have a healthy local content production sector, and unless we have a good broadcasting sector. Anything we can do within our mandate to assist both industries, we will do.

"We are not an industry support agency. Our job is to champion local content - but there is obviously a very strong impact on the businesses as we take those decisions on funding.

"We are a very big factor in the viability of the broadcasting sector. At least one of the broadcasters is pushing to reduce the commitments to contribute costs of TV shows."

Typically the bulk of budgets for many TVNZ local shows - and virtually all TV3's local programmes - are paid by New Zealand On Air.

The broadcasters pay the programme maker a minority share or "licence fees" similar to the price they pay for an overseas-sourced show.

It means that the TV industry - largely TV3 and TVNZ - is dependent on taxpayer handouts.

The agency - which has budgeted to slip $5 million below the $74.2 million target for TV contributions this financial year to June 30 - is bracing for TV networks to cut back local content.

THE SYSTEM

Being fair to Walter and his staff, NZ On Air has been extraordinarily efficient and 97 per cent of cash goes on programming.

And the industry body - established by then-Broadcasting Minister Richard Prebble in 1989 - was built to service the commercial market. It has always been used to create commercial content.

It only funds projects from producers who have the backing of broadcasters, and broadcasters back programmes that will have mass appeal and deliver a commercial return.

The good news is that there is a high level of local content, both jewels and junk. The broadcasters do okay - they sell ad revenue around taxpayer-funded shows like Outrageous Fortune.

Independent producers do well, and the system has been applauded by all those who see a bulk of local content - good and bad - as being equivalent to public broadcasting.

The down side of taxpayer funding for commercial TV is that minority interest content struggles to survive.

More to the point, non-commercial broadcasting is largely ignored. Radio New Zealand - with one of New Zealand's most important news operations - is a case in point.

In this year's Budget the Government froze Radio New Zealand National and Concert FM funding for four years at $35 million. The place survives on the smell of an oily rag.

Yet in these days when RNZ heads for more tough times, NZ On Air is not focused on New Zealand's only real public broadcaster, but on helping commercial TV through an advertising downturn.

CLOTHES HORSE

How long will it be until TV3 Nightline host Samantha Hayes starts considering options at TVNZ?

We understand the two parties have corresponded but it is not clear if discussion has moved beyond making a friendly acquaintance.

Hayes has been accorded the role once held by Kate Hawkesby on TV One - as a fashion industry clothes horse.

She has been heavily marketed by TV3 and in its December issue Metro magazine hailed the 24-year-old Auckland's sexiest woman, which presumably will help her CV as a newscaster.

But where would Hayes fit at TVNZ?

Maybe she could be the new face of TVNZ 7 when it is shown on the Sky platform.

A source says TVNZ head of news and current affairs Anthony Flannery is already being besieged by bright young things in the digital division, hankering to anchor the news.

ST RUPERT

Lambasted by the left as a media pariah, Rupert Murdoch is emerging as a white knight for the newspaper biz.

Murdoch - whose New Zealand interests are through News Corporation's controlling stake in Sky Television - has launched an assault on the global media behemoth Google, which in March started selling advertising around aggregated news content in its US news site with little compensation.

Analysts at Australia's Macquarie Research Equities have said that if successful it could have an impact on share prices for News Corporation and Fairfax.

"Events suggest that the power is changing back in favour of the authors and publishers to force payment for content used online," said Macquarie analysts Alex Pollak and Rebecca Lay.

"The debate between online and newspapers has ratcheted up significantly in the past months, but Murdoch's question equally should be focused on his own sales teams at the newspapers.

"In many cases, they are selling eyeballs online at a tenth of the price that they are commanding in print.

"For their part, advertisers are getting a sensational deal online from all newspapers, Murdoch's included," the Macquarie analysts said. There will be others who question the analysts' simple co-relations on the effectiveness of online advertising compared with hard copy.

NINE DAYS

Fairfax's Suburban Newspapers has followed the magazines division and is working towards a nine-day fortnight. The group - whose titles include the Central Leader, North Shore Times and Manukau Courier - will be assessing today whether to push ahead and join the Government-funded scheme, where workers are compensated for working one day less.

The move is to avoid layoffs. General manager David Penny said there had been a good reaction among Suburban's 200 staff.

APN's New Zealand Magazines chief executive Sarah Sandley said: "We're aware of what Fairfax Magazines is proposing to do with its staff and are watching this with interest. We've not made any decision to implement a nine-day fortnight.

"Revenue trends are still moving in response to the world situation and we've done a lot to manage our costs in line with revenue."