These are dizzying days for TV current affairs. There are many unknowns with this challenged genre — not least, whether RNZ is up to the task of running a new TV channel. But that channel will at least identify the need for public broadcasting, not just feed networks' demands for subsidies.

A recent taxpayer handout illustrates the oddities of the situation. New Zealand on Air gave $700,000 for the video strand of the website The Spinoff, including a late-night TV show for Three.

Earlier, in 2015, NZ on Air part-funded the prime-time show 3D Investigates, until MediaWorks dropped out because it was not rating well enough.

NZ on Air has rushed in to fill the gap as free to air TV has abandoned current affairs.


The agency is charged with supporting purportedly non-commercial content in a dysfunctional, market-based funding system in a struggling sector. Having extended taxpayer largesse into current affairs, NZ on Air is now going along with the networks' re-definition of the genre.

The $700,000 will help The Spinoff expand its video offering, and create 16 "current affairs" episodes tipped for late Friday nights, starting June.

NZ on Air has scant knowledge of the new show, but its chief executive, Jane Wrightson, rejected my suggestion that The Spinoff is focused largely on opinion.

Spinoff owner Duncan Greive has been a smart businessman, building a commercial media niche for the young, urban liberal left. He says the Spinoff TV show's tone will mirror the website — "a mix of reporting, opinion, analysis and jokes covering the same areas we currently canvass.

"Opinion will be very much a part of it."

Will The Spinoff deliver the talented frontperson, or people, such a show needs? Is there a Kiwi Trevor Noah or Jon Stewart waiting to be discovered?


Commercially, it is worth a go. I'm just not sure why taxpayers are picking up the tab for a late night lefty opinion show, even if it is now classed as current affairs.


The answer is that NZ on Air is obliged to follow the lead of the commercial networks, which are currently caught in a liberal milieu following the election. Encouragingly, Wrightson says a mainstream audience is still important to the funder — not just Labour and Green voters.

But I wonder if it is putting its money into the right places to reach mainstream NZ, and whether it should commission content itself, rather than reacting to media requests.

NZ on Air gave $165,000 to Lizzie Marvelly's feminist website Villainesse, alongside RNZ's youth website The Wireless, to support "The Real Sex Talk", a series of web-based snippets aimed at 13-to-18-year-olds.

Talking to teens about sex seems a good idea, and the Villainesse — which came up with it — might do it brilliantly.

Wrightson was happy about The Wireless being the "distribution partner" and that other groups are backing "The Real Sex Talk".

The Villainesse and The Wireless will draw an audience of thoughtful young people. But I can't help but feel the key audience is mainstream New Zealand teenagers, and how many of them follow Marvelly or RNZ?