It's been a while since I've hung the old Christmas Eve stocking off the bed end. But if I had, a welcome sight sticking out the stocking top come yester-morn would have been a Santa-gram saying the promised ad-free national TV channel was finally all go.
Wishful thinking, of course, but what the hell is the problem here?
Most OECD countries seem to manage ad-free state TV, no worries. Some with comparable populations — such as Denmark — even offer a palette of choices. How come we can't we even cobble up one little no-frills No 8 wire channel that at least gets us out of the starting blocks?
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The public service ad-free TV issue should have been sorted a dozen governments ago. But, especially given the pitch was part of Labour's election schtick, why are we still only talking about it?
The Labour-led coalition seems to be again tying itself in knots trying to provide a Lamborghini solution to what — initially, at least — is a Model A issue. It's a re-run of the KiwiBuild fiasco, where what began as a programme to build basic dwellings to house the most vulnerable suddenly morphed into delivering $700K "affordable" units.
Every time the issue comes up, Cabinet and Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi run around in circles as if they've been asked to organise a moon mission. Yet another working group proposal is now up for consideration, and word is that it has more complicated moving pieces than the Hadron Collider.
A November poll showed two thirds of Kiwis want ad-free TV. And yes, we all know for the serious flat-screeners and the youngies there are all sorts of streaming and Netflix-type operations that by-pass the ads. But two-thirds of Kiwis still want an ad-free channel. It's called public service broadcasting.
"Public service" broadcasting is hard to define, but most know what it looks like when they see it. Radio National embodies it every day it broadcasts. It provides a vehicle for material that would never otherwise appear in a lowest-common-denominator commercial world, but yet most acknowledge the country would be the poorer for its absence.
The prospect is a simple one. For a certain number of hours per day, a goodly chunk of the population want the option of being able — primarily around early-mid evening — to switch on the box and watch a programme or two without a barrage of manic sales pitches that shatter the ambience of the whole exercise, and without the bother of surfing subscription channels.
We already do it with Radio National. At no direct cost to the listener, it delivers a rich smorgasbord of ad-free informative and diverting local and imported programmes that more or less have got something for everybody.
One thing's for certain. The taxpayer-owned TV1 has convincingly proved the pointlessness of its own existence in its current form. Neither fish nor fowl, it now exists primarily to perpetuate its own self-serving bureaucracy.
Let the commercial stations have free rein with the fare TV1 now mainly serves up — a good chunk of the associated advertising-driven income will be eventually rerouted back to government coffers anyway via various taxes, which in turn can mitigate public service channel costs.
Kris, keep it simple — at least initially. Don't try and do 24/7. Concentrate on, say, putting together a six-hour block that can be relooped if necessary. A bit of news and current affairs, some of the local productions already being made with NZ On Air funding — Wellington Paranormal, Country Calendar and so forth … Something borrowed, something new — a few BBC-type docos, a few reruns … no trouble, mate.
The people have spoken. Enough faffing around. Just do it. At least get it started, then tweak it as it goes.
But oh, gosh, another election's coming up already. Lord, please let ad-free TV not be on my Christmas stocking list again next year.