Former minister Tracey Martin says new research on merging RNZ and TVNZ shows more people now have access to Netflix than to radio.
The governance group charged with reforming New Zealand’s public media has completed its first task of writing a strategic case setting out justification for change.
It’s likely to say an audience of younger New Zealanders is not being well served by public media and that well-funded public media is a core benefit for democracy, and necessary for “truth and trust”.
The governance group is now examining design options which appear to be moving away from a direct corporate merger of Radio NZ and TVNZ to an option where both brands could be retained, but answerable to a new oversight body.
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So far the strategic case has been presented to TVNZ, RNZ, and NZ On Air for their feedback.
A two-page version of the document is due to be circulated to commercial media outlets and other tagged stakeholders in the coming days.
It’s described as a “living document” and is likely to be tweaked after feedback.
The terms of reference for the governance group task it to work through four specific workstreams as part of an overall business case – the strategic case, economic case, commercial and financial case, and management case.
“This is all about audience at the end of the day. One of the critical factors must, in any option, be that it serves those who are currently under-served.”
– Tracey Martin, governance group
The final business case will be presented to Broadcasting and Media Minister Kris Faafoi later this year, with the Cabinet due to make final decisions before the end of the year.
The strategic case is providing the clearest signal yet on the future of public media as envisaged by the governance group, a panel of seven industry experts chaired by Tracey Martin,
Speaking to Newsroom, Martin says the group has received fresh research that underscores the digital disruption to radio and broadcast television.
“Just as many New Zealanders have a laptop or computer as have a TV now – 77 v 78 percent. Over 80 percent have a smartphone. Only 61 percent have a radio in their homes. Access to Netflix is now as widespread as to a radio. And that creates problems for what we’ve called broadcasting – traditional radio and TV,” Martin says.
Audience shift is being highlighted as a key concern. The strategic case is expected to identify a large demographic of New Zealanders as being under-served or under-engaged in public media content, particularly 15 to 24 year olds, Maori, Pasifika, and Asian New Zealanders.
“This is all about audience at the end of the day. One of the critical factors must, in any option, be that it serves those who are currently under-served – something it needs to land before resolving the economic case costings.”
Significantly, the group seems to be shifting away from a heavy-duty restructuring of RNZ and TVNZ. It is examining options for a new oversight entity, with the RNZ and TVNZ brands retained underneath.
“We are trying to decide on what is the best option for a single legal entity to deliver what are the essentials for government,” says Martin.
“That doesn’t mean that you would take RNZ and TVNZ and just smoosh it together. It doesn’t mean that at all. There could be an overarching entity over the top. Then, yes, you are going to have to change legislation, which means that technically, if you’re changing RNZ’s legislation and TVNZ’s legislation, you’re disestablishing them.
“But that doesn’t mean that you suddenly say, right, everybody, same building, same place, same desks. It just means that whatever that overarching entity is, it may have multiple brands underneath. Because one of the challenges with just one single joint ginormous identity is you don’t get the nuances of culture.”
“It has been mentioned in the strategic case that part of what we must do is make sure that we don’t negatively impact private media, because private media also supports democracy, plurality, and they also have a role in that for the state.”
– Tracey Martin
While no designs are landed nor recommendations yet made to Government, a fair assumption is that a new oversight body would be charged with keeping RNZ and TVNZ answerable to a public service charter.
As the governance group works on the business case and recommendations for Cabinet, it is also defining the scope of its own remit to be more the architect and less the house builder.
“We can’t dictate what the operational model of the new entity would be,” she says. “What we have to do is say, this is what we think is the best option for a single legal entity. And if it had these dependencies it could deliver this. And that’s what we’re working towards.”
The governance group is not directly tackling the influence of YouTube, Facebook, Google and Netflix, especially on the domestic market. Their combined might sucks up advertising revenue, and aggregates news content without payment to domestic news outlets.
“Is the Government going to do something else about that? That’s up to the Government. From our perspective, we see it and see the challenges. It’s our role now to try and come up with a system that will protect a core level of public media service, no matter what the shocks,” she says.
The governance group is not receptive to counter arguments that TVNZ should be left untouched because of its rapid on-line platform development, and healthy financial wellbeing.
“TVNZ’s found itself with some money, it doesn’t have to pay a dividend to the Government. So it’s able to reinvest that back into platform growth and platform creation. And great, it’s really good thinking. It doesn’t take away from the piece of work we’re doing. That’s a content conversation … about New Zealanders seeing themselves inside public media.”
The Strategic Case also acknowledges the impact a revamped public broadcaster could have on New Zealand’s commercial media.
“It has been mentioned in the strategic case that part of what we must do is make sure that we don’t negatively impact private media, because private media also supports democracy, plurality, and they also have a role in that for the state. So it can’t all be the government providing it,” she says.
An area still yet to be explored by the governance group is the price tag and revenue gathering options.
The vexed questions of how to balance the revenue generating function of TVNZ alongside pure public interest imperatives remain open for the group.