TVNZ boss aims for more viewers - whatever the technology.

Given the constant upheaval facing media businesses, TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick must be in the perfect job for his personality type.

"I couldn't imagine working in a stable, steady-as-she-goes industry - I don't think I've got the attention span for that," he says.

Kenrick is now into his fifth year leading the state-owned broadcaster - a time which has seen unprecedented change, as competitors such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu cut a swathe through the New Zealand market.


Kenrick, 53, is no stranger to dynamic, fast-changing industries, having held senior roles at Telecom NZ (now Spark) and House of Travel. But he says there's no industry facing as many changes and challenges right now as the media.

TVNZ's profit fell 89 per cent in the year to June, as it invested heavily in new projects such as live-streaming channels, restructuring and redundancy costs, and tidying up onerous content agreements.

Kenrick says it has increased the broadcaster's on-demand content by 400 per cent and employed a "crystal ball gazer" to predict the future viewing habits of New Zealanders.

He is "100 per cent" sure TVNZ will see growth this year as its new models take effect.

"Having done that work to re-baseline things, if we didn't bounce back and grow earnings off the back of that, we're not doing our job," he says.

There are three key elements to Kenrick's strategy: continue pushing on-demand services, attract new viewers - many of whom have switched off their traditional TVs altogether - and create a strong point of difference by pushing local content.

"I'm permanently dissatisfied, so I'll always be challenging myself about what we didn't do or why we didn't do it faster or do more," Kenrick says. "There always needs to be more, it always needs to be faster."

His goal is straightforward enough: get more people watching TVNZ content. Precisely how they do that is no longer the issue, he says.

"Over time, we think more of those are going to come from on-demand and less from linear TV. But the critical thing is that we still reach a critical mass of New Zealanders because if we do that then I think we can add real value to advertisers and that gives us a sustainable business.

"We're not that hung up about where the audiences are, and in fact it would be arrogant for us to say, 'well, gee, you should turn up on this platform or this device'. What we want to make sure is they're watching our content."

Another new direction is the "new blood" initiative - important given that the move to online streaming is being led by younger viewers.

Survivor NZ will return for another season. Photo / Supplied
Survivor NZ will return for another season. Photo / Supplied

"We've got about a third of the people in TVNZ are average age of 25, so we didn't need to go and do a whole bunch of external research," says Kenrick. "We could just get that group together and say, 'what are you watching, how are watching it, what are your thoughts about what we should be doing?'"

So you don't need to be a broadcasting veteran to influence TVNZ's future.

"The longer people are in their careers the more senior the roles they get to and therefore those voices tend to carry more weight," says Kenrick. "Well, we've actually had to turn that on its head and say, 'we've got a whole bunch of smart [young] people who have got some brilliant ideas. How do we make sure they get heard?'"

Another addition to TVNZ's arsenal is former Lightbox chief executive Kym Niblock, who came on board in the past few weeks as chief product and information officer.

She's already brimming with ideas about TVNZ's future. "Is it that you just get TVNZ on-demand? Is it that you get a much smaller slice or a wider slice? Is it viewed as video on demand or is it viewed as a linear stream?" Niblock asks.

"What are the various commercial models that might be attached to it? Is it ad-free? Is it subscription? Is it somewhere in between? And what might be the models that could entice you to part with money in order to do that, versus what are the things that should remain in the public domain, and quite rightly so."

"I spend a lot of time crystal ball gazing. But if we look at services like Hulu in the US, these models exist right now that you can either pay a little bit to get an ad-free service or you can watch the service with ads in it. So you know, potentially those are models that we can spin up over time."

Kenrick says TVNZ now attracts about 1000 new on-demand customers every day, without seeing dramatic falls in the number of conventional television viewers.

Former Lightbox boss Kym Niblock has recently taken up the role as TVNZ's chief product and information officer to help keep the broadcaster on the cutting edge. Photo / file
Former Lightbox boss Kym Niblock has recently taken up the role as TVNZ's chief product and information officer to help keep the broadcaster on the cutting edge. Photo / file

He won't be pushed on what either a National- or Labour-led Government would mean for TVNZ, even though Labour wants to expand Radio NZ into free-to-air television. While TVNZ is state-owned, it is fully commercially funded, but Labour's "RNZ +" model would receive government money and could provide competition for TVNZ.

"I think on a good day, competition brings the best out of all the players and you actually rise to a level that you probably wouldn't have if you didn't have that competition," Kenrick says.

"We've got global-scale competitors, we've got local competitors and we've got to earn the right to reach 2 million viewers per day. That's the gig, right?"

To compete with the global players such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix, TVNZ would actually have to collaborate more with other New Zealand media organisations.

The disparity in scale between the local and global players means "you're kidding yourself if you think you're going to win on your own".

"Typically it's easier and faster to look at commercial collaboration than it is to look at mergers and acquisitions," he says.

Feeling proud on pay equity

For any media organisation today, questions about gender balance and pay equity go with the territory.

The issue hit the news this year when the BBC was forced to reveal how much its best-paid staff were getting. Embarrassingly for the broadcaster, the numbers showed only a third of the top earners were women, and the top seven were all men.

At TVNZ, Kenrick says he is pleased with the direction of the organisation's male-female balance, and with pay equity, which he says is heading in the right direction.

Female representation at TVNZ, according to the organization's upcoming annual report. Photo / supplied
Female representation at TVNZ, according to the organization's upcoming annual report. Photo / supplied

Overall, 43 per cent of TVNZ's staff are female and 57 per cent men.

The executive team is just under 40 per cent female, the board 50 per cent and business leaders about 40 per cent.

Not that Kenrick is about to follow the BBC and disclose male-female pay differences.

"The irony of it is, I think we owe individuals a duty of privacy and confidentiality and yet if we were to disclose what our pay was by gender ... we have nothing to hide, in fact I'm really proud of where we're at," he says.

"When I look at the pay parity, I'm really comfortable that what we're doing there is fair and reasonable."

Kevin Kenrick

•Age: 53
•Born: Rotorua
•Job: Chief executive, TVNZ
•Education: Bachelor of Management Studies, University of Waikato
•Last book read: Orphan X
•Last movie watched: The Big Sick
•Favourite TV show: 1 News