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Change coming from NZ On Air

NZ On Air has released the draft of its document about how productions will be funded from July 2017, and is seeking input.

The changes impact how content will be funded, because over the last several years NZ On Air has established a number of different pots of money – most of them in response to the growing use of online platforms.

Last year’s stakeholder survey pointed out that it was becoming increasingly difficult to know what NZ was doing and how its various funds worked, and which funds overlapped with one another.

“We’d ended up, with funds up the wazoo,” said NZ On Air CEO Jane Wrightson, “When I looked at the list I couldn’t remember three of them.”

The document released today has been developed over most of this year, and takes a Gordion Knot approach to the challenge, consolidating almost all the funds NZ On Air operates into four streams: Factual, Scripted, Music and Platforms.

What won’t change?
The strategy, Wrightson noted, hasn’t changed. It’s still to provide local content for NZ audiences that’s of high quality, serves diverse audiences and is discoverable.

The Broadcasting Act hasn’t changed, but Wrightson believes it’s flexible enough to accommodate the changes being proposed.

A small number of funds on which NZ On Air partners with other players won’t be affected, such as the Skip Ahead fund with YouTube and NZ-Canada fund for digital stories.

The requirement for a broadcast partner will remain but is expanded to include online platforms. “I’ll stick it on YouTube” is unlikely to help applications.

There’ll still be far more productions seeking support than there is cash to support them. The draft document offers some indications of how NZ On Air expects to slice the pie for the year from July 2017. .

What will change?
Some of the changes proposed are organisational, such as a new online system for applications. There are also some changes that will have little effect on production, such as standardising the requirements for acknowledging NZ On Air support across all platforms.

There’ll be a stronger requirement for producers to bring in money other than the NZ On Air support. Most of the “Sunday morning” crop of TV shows that are fully-funded will probably disappear over time if they’re not able to attract other support – be that a broadcaster licence fee or commercial support. Some shows will be grandparented into the new funding environment.

The requirement for other support will apply whether content is destined for TV or online.

One of the expectations of broadcasters and platforms, that they can show a track record of a sustained commitment to New Zealand content, might well lead to squeaky bum time at MediaWorks, which hasn’t demonstrated much commitment to anything other than poor decision-making over the last couple of years.

What now?
While the strategy remains the same, the challenges of delivering on it are becoming clearer than they were five years ago. NZ On Air’s survey of audience behaviour, published earlier this year, noted a shift away from appointment viewing on TV towards online options. That shift, and the rate at which it’s taking place, is particularly apparent with younger viewers.

Identifying the problem doesn’t provide the solution, however. As TVNZ, NZME and Stuff have all noted, the income derived from digital distribution doesn’t match the income being lost from advertising in traditional media. Also, a large share of what digital advertising income exists isn’t coming their way, with global players such as Facebook and Google vacuuming up a huge amount of the digital advertising spend.

For the immediate future, things aren’t likely to change much – either for the production community or audiences. Generally, TV can still deliver larger audiences than online, so broadcasters remain well-placed to attract projects that will attract funding.

As far as what material gets funded is concerned, and how the balance might shift between supporting content for TV or online platforms, Wrightson expected that the change would be incremental.

“It would be crazy if it wasn’t,” Wrightson said. Although the agency’s responsibilities are to audiences not the production community, the agency doesn’t want to see companies that make great content disappearing down the gurgler.

There’ll be some nervousness about the proposals, but it remains to be seen how much of that will turn into constructive contributions to the process and how much will be people trying to preserve the status quo.

Tomorrow (Saturday) Jane Wrightson will present at the Big Screen Symposium, which will get the discussion going publicly.

The draft Funding Strategy document and Q and A’s are here. Feedback can be provided until 18 November. NZ On Air intends to implement changes from 1 July 2017.

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