The ice age is over for RNZ.
The public broadcaster will get an additional $11.4 million dollars over four years, effectively ending a decade-long freeze.
This is the first major increase in RNZ’s $35m budget since 2007 when a report by KPMG found that the state-owned broadcaster was underfunded by $6 to $7m dollars a year.
On those figures RNZ would currently be underfunded to the tune of $14m.
While the additional money has been welcomed by the RNZ board with Chair Richard Griffin saying, “the Government is coming to the party and frankly it is a huge relief”, behind the scenes there will be disappointment among many staff.
Griffin revealed to Newsroom that the broadcaster had “got what it had asked for”.
“We put a plan in front of the Government and it has met our request.”
Known as a wily political operative, Griffin would have got a steer on the Government’s appetite for spending more before the bid went in. He has battled away over the last eight years trying to turn around the performance and perception of RNZ.
“The Government has always said to me – you show us that you have turned over every stone and got the sort of management that can meet the new technological demands [of the audience] and we will fund you.”
“We have brought in a totally new management team, and led by new CEO Paul Thompson they have turned the corner.”
“Cabinet haven’t been user friendly but they were clear, prove to us you can do the job and well give you more money – Paul and the team have done that.”
Griffin said that Treasury and the Minister (Maggie Barry) had supported the bid.
RNZ has performed strongly in the last few years.
RNZ National added 44,200 listeners in the 12-month period to April 8, 2017 according to the latest GfK survey
That’s an increase of 8 percent and takes its weekly cumulative audience of 579,400, making it the second most listened to station after The Edge.
Flagship programme Morning Report lifted its audience by 11.6 percent from 379,800 to 430,300.
Griffin said the extra money would be spread relatively evenly over the next four years but $400,000 would be spent on new technology, immediately.
However, Griffin confirmed, most of the increased funding would be spent on operations and not on capital expenditure.
This may limit RNZ’s move into video being driven by ex-TV3 and Māori TV executive and now head of content at RNZ, Carol Hirschfeld.
Cameras in RNZ’s Auckland studios allow RNZ to live-stream video from programmes like Checkpoint on Freeview and Sky TV channels and reporters are increasingly sending video from the field to supplement their audio reports.
“We have pretty much done what we want to do in the TV area,” said Griffin.
The limited funding increase probably means that the National Party does not see RNZ playing a more significant role in the changing media landscape.
If Labour ends up in power after the September election RNZ is likely to be the basis of a new and expanded public service media entity.