New Zealand’s screen industry revenue shrank for the first time in five years as fewer big-budget films were produced and television broadcasting activity declined. 

Total screen industry revenue shrank 8 percent to $3.28 billion in 2018, the first time it’s contracted since 2013, Stats NZ figures show. The bulk of the decline was in production, where revenue shrank by a fifth to $1.01 billion; there was also an 11 percent drop in TV broadcasting to $1.21 billion. 

“We had a big year in 2017 for film production, while in 2018 we saw a cooling of production work,” business performance manager Geraldine Duoba said. “Although there were fewer films, those being worked on in New Zealand over the 2018 year included Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Daffodils, and Mulan.

The lack of studio capacity in Auckland has been raised as a reason the country may miss out on an Amazon Studios TV series based on the Lord of the Rings novels, although major studios have successfully played off more favourable tax incentives in other countries to get bigger subsidies out of New Zealand’s government in the past. 

The year after the screen industry’s previous contraction, the then-government increased its incentives to secure 20th Century Fox’s greenlight for three Avatar movies to be produced in New Zealand. Filming is set to begin on the first of those sequels next month. 

Screen production grant funding almost doubled to $95 million in 2018, going to 12 businesses – half for local productions and half for international. In 2017, the $49 million of grants were allocated to 18 firms, of which 15 were for domestic productions and three international. 

NZ On Air Funding increased 4 percent to $92 million for 105 firms, up from $89 million across 93 firms. 

While TV broadcasting revenue shrank, production and post-production revenue for TV was up 20 percent at $601 million while online programming climbed 43 percent to $38 million. 

Duoba said the drop in traditional TV revenue could reflect the audience shift from pay-TV to online streaming platforms such as Netflix and Lightbox. 

The survey also tracks employment in the sector, albeit with a year lag. It shows 16,200 people were employed in 2017, up from 13,900 the year earlier. The median wage for screen workers of $37,981 compared to $35,042 in 2016. 

Stats NZ data show the median income for a wage or salary earner was $45,000 in 2017, up from $42,963 in 2016. It rose to $45,673 in 2018.

The Labour-led coalition government set up a Film Working Group last year to deal with concerns of a power imbalance in a sector dominated by contractors who are blocked from collective bargaining. That group came up with a series of recommendations based on the view that the industry is unique and needs its own labour laws. 

Separately, filmmakers James and Suzy Cameron were announced as keynote speakers at the Just Transition summit in New Plymouth next month. where they will discuss how New Zealand can make the most out of its symbolic global leadership.

The Camerons have a particular interest in sustainable agriculture and have built up an organic vegan farming operation in Wairarapa.

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