Telecom says it is maintaining its ties with Saatchi & Saatchi despite handing another TV commercial to indie agency Chameleon.

Telecom is New Zealand's biggest advertising spender and the relationship with Saatchi goes back 21 years to when the telco was privatised.

But the last two major television commercials for Telecom have been assigned to Chameleon TV. Both have been rather good.

It's another sign of the growing importance for New Zealand's independent ad agencies - with one called Special dominating the last advertising creative awards.

There had been tensions between Telecom and Saatchi before global CEO Kevin Roberts announcing major upheavals at the agency that appear to have been bearing fruit. But it will be a tough task for new CEO Nicky Bell.

Chameleon made new ads for its Chorus division. And it was revealed yesterday that the new XT Mobile "Monarch of The Glen" ads were made by Chameleon.

The ad Telecom debuted on TV last night had chief executive Paul Reynolds in full fly fishing garb in the Greenstone Valley near Glenorchy.

The beautifully-shot commercial with the telegenic Scot CEO invites consumers to give the XT mobile network a go.

It will only run for three weeks, then Saatchi ads for the retail offers will take over.

Telecom spokesman Mark Watts said Chameleon had been hired for a specific reputation building role, and Telecom was maintaining its strong close relationship with Saatchi.

There appear to be no reputation issues for Chorus, which will split from Telecom if the company takes a role in the government fibre-optic rollout.

Watts said Chorus was a relatively new brand but cautioned against "jumping to conclusions".

SILO-A-GO GO

Saatchi & Saatchi has ditched three senior executives, including Sonya Berrigan, the managing director of the agency.

Chief executive Nicky Bell also announced that direct advertising creative director Matt Shirtcliffe and digital general manager Tony Gardner had also seen their roles disestablished.

Bell said the structural changes were to reduce the "silo" culture. But the departure of the three senior executives will also reduce overheads at the agency which lost substantial accounts last year.

Bell referred all queries to Saatchi's PR consultants Sweeny Vesty but said the parting had followed "robust discussions".

Bell was hired for the Saatchi New Zealand role in December amid massive upheavals and this week said that the advertising industry was going through a period of "huge transition".

The good news is that after a bad run losing accounts, Saatchi recently picked up Sanitarium, a big advertising account that will restore some of the mana at the agency.

As for Berrigan - the most senior casualty - she had risen to the top under the previous CEO Andrew Stone. Stone departed at the end of last year, and has subsequently formed Droga5.

I LOVE LA

Change was apparent the same day that Jason Paris took over as head of MediaWorks television - TV3 and C4.

The MediaWorks head of television sales - Colin Caldwell - resigned to be a consultant.

Paris's predecessor - Ian Audsley - never lived up to his reputation as a hatchet man. The departure of Caldwell suggests there may be more changes to come, and staff are very nervous about expressing low morale.

TV3 has long had a tightfisted attitude to costs and that went to extraordinary levels when owners at Ironbridge restructured debt. Management were not quite counting the paper clips, but everybody was made aware that these were special times.

Taxpayer funding agency New Zealand On Air is even considering extending special terms so that TV3 does not have to contribute so much to local programming.

Imagine the surprise then, when TV3 staff learned the MediaWorks board was sending three MediaWorks board members to accompany staff to the LA Screenings - the annual programming festival where TV networks see what new shows will be on offer.

Programmer Kelly Martin is a regular and MediaWorks managing director Sussan Turner is new to television and needs to check out the markets.

But what role would there be for MediaWorks chairman Brent Harman, for Kerry MacIntosh of private equity controlling shareholders Ironbridge, and for Ironbridge's Sydney based chairman Mike Hill?

DEFLOWERED

Jason Paris was heir apparent to TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis and there was surprise when he defected to TV3. But Paris makes it clear that if he had not won the MediaWorks job, he had plans to move to Australia. He was grateful that he would be able to stay in New Zealand.

As for his impact, some are sceptical he will be able to implement the radical upgrade to new media like he did at TVNZ. TV3 has recently upgraded its on-demand service.

Based on a brief interview this week, I predict that he will promote two changes. The first is to develop a new subscriber level content so TV3 is less dependent on the whims of the advertising sentiment.

The second - and probably more immediate - will be for him to promote sharing of back-office facilities, investigating the sale of the Flower St headquarters and moving TV3 to the TVNZ's TVC South complex in Hobson St.

It is understood that proposal is beyond the early planning stages. Last week Paris told the Herald that in the new era television broadcasters would have to adjust, and in New Zealand that meant considering new ways of dealing with back-office functions.

The value to TV3 would be in allowing Ironbridge to lay off some debt in the firm.

FEEL THE WIDTH

When I watched Television One's Cheers 50 Years of Television it was more in sadness than in anger. The two hour quiz on Tuesday night quiz was not a total train wreck.

It rated extraordinarily well and was made with no subsidies. According to TVNZ it returned a profit.

But amidst negative reaction to criticism the state broadcaster rolls out the old saw - that it rated well - so criticism was irrelevant.

Translation, Never mind the quality, feel the width.

Cheers raises the old question about why the public owns a commercial network that has proven itself increasingly unable to perform public functions.

What about the commercial culture at TVNZ, when the Government goes ahead with its reorganisation of state broadcasting? It also raises questions about the broadcaster's professional pride.

To be fair, the Jason Gunn quiz was not their only coverage of the 50th anniversary - there have been segments on Breakfast, One News and on TVNZ7.

But how much would it have cost to have a bit more care for the production of this historical event while keeping it commercial? Did the advertiser funding and contra deal with SkyCity have to dominate so much?

Did the product placement for Panasonic have to be so heavy-handed? Jason Gunn can be a whipping boy for people opposed to light entertainment telly. But I think he did a great job gluing together the quiz show format with a strange and uninspiring assortment of panellists.

MURDOCH SAVES TV

Maybe TVNZ is right - television amounts to a bunch of half-hearted semi-celebrities. TVNZ this week was more focused on TVNZ Heartland, its nostalgia channel that debuted on the pay TV Sky network.

How could Cheers have done better? Prime TV is about to screen a seven part documentary series that will analyse television methodically and intelligently. No doubt ratings for the Prime series will be a mere fraction of Jason's quiz .

I'm told that NZ On Air would have preferred it if one of the main channels, TV One, TV2 or TV3, had made the series, where it would attract more viewers.

Prime has a low level of local content so has nothing to prove. But the view in television land is that neither TVNZ nor TV3 would have been able to cover the issue fairly and dispassionately. That is what public television is for - in this case the purveyor was Prime, owned by Rupert Murdoch controlled Sky TV.

* Colenso BBDO has pointed out that the "Togs Togs Togs" commercial for Tip Top was made by them, and not Publicis Mojo as reported last week.