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Hui-A-Tau: talking digital

Te Mangai Paho’s Larry Parr and NZ On Air’s Brenda Leeuwenberg were joined by Quinton Hita and Lanita Ririnui-Ryan in a session on opportunities in the digital world, moderated by Piripi Curtis.

“We need a new plan,” Parr said. “We’ve got a digital strategy out there now. There’ll be a new RFP next week for online content, with more money available this time around.”

Some of the TMP-supported online content has already achieved success. Parr cited Maori Television shows Hahana and Only in Aotearoa, both of which had started out as web shows and been picked up for TV.

Since the conference, Ngai Tahu has confirmed Ngā Ringa Toi o Tahu.as its second web series following the success of Mahinga Kai.

The day before the session, Minister Steven Joyce had announced the Maori Digital Technology Fund, the priorities of which are:

  • improving digital skills and pathways for Māori in digital technologies
  • growing digital technologies businesses
  • enhancing new Māori language and culture initiatives through digital technologies

While there was some talk in the announcement of support for “Māori language content and supporting content production”, Parr said he expected that TMP would stick to supporting content, and the fund (managed through Te Puni Kōkiri) would deal with support for platforms.

Leeuwenberg offered an overview of the various digital funds NZ On Air has run in recent years, acknowledging that much would change as a result of the changes coming to NZ On Air strategy. “It’s all about content so I don’t know what will come,” Leeuwenberg said, “but I expect a lot of digital-focused projects.”

Ririnui-Ryan is part of one of the small number of platforms NZ On Air supports, the Poly-focused thecoconet.tv and was also one half of the team behind the NZ On Air-supported interactive doco Poi360, which released in July.


“We constantly had to gauge where the lines were between what we wanted to do, and what people were ready and able to engage with,” Ririnui-Ryan said of Poi360, also acknowledging the limitations of NZ internet, especially for rural users.

“We should make digital tech work for us,” she said, “and build our own whare rather than let the platforms lead us.”

Hita was concerned with the big picture implications of changes to funding strategy and how the production community might navigate the shift. “We’ve (all) built a business on traditional TV programme making, and nobody seems to have any answers about how to change your mindset from that of being a TV producer to being a content creator.

“Up to five years you couldn’t get TMP money for any digital elements of a production. Now suddenly we’re turning into a digital industry.”

Hita voiced the fear that has taxed a lot of producers in recent years: whether television might become a hobby “like the film industry” when anyone with an iPhone could have a good idea and seek funding for it. He declared that producers were still in a good position, acknowledging that although the funders were changing a lot, some core principles – such as a minimum size of audience – were being retained.

“Whatever the industry looks like, we need it to be a sustainable industry,” Hita told the audience.

Leeuwenberg said, “The challenge is finding and building audiences (online) and keeping those relationships alive.” She acknowledged that the support NZ On Air offered for some digital work ($100,000 for a webseries or $50,000 for some other projects) wouldn’t support a sustainable industry. “We need to look for ways to allow people to create material that will reach good numbers and therefore can attract more realistic levels of funding. We’re looking for coinvestment (as part of applications) because that shows there’s some commercial interest in a concept.”

Leeuwenberg noted that NZ On Air’s web series round closed that day (Friday 7). The fund received 42 applications, a dramatic (and, from NZOA’s perspective, welcome) drop from last year’s crop of 108. Some more realistic self-assessment and NZ On Air raising the bar this year mean applicants and NZOA’s energy is going into high-quality projects.

“Gatekeepers are good and bad,” Parr said. “Distributing funding is always going to be fraught with issues. We want to tread the line Brenda does – enabling creativity but also creating sustainable opportunities.”



Parr believed there were huge opportunities and cited the success of youth magazine show Hahana, which he put down to the creators having a good understanding of the medium and how to grow an audience.

“They nailed it,” he said. “For episode two they had Jimi Jackson as a guest and got 50,000 views in a couple of days.”

Hita noted that some of the companies which already had access to their own large communities would, could or – in the case of iwi – should be putting more effort into creating or distributing content. “So far they’ve been lax at supporting TV or online content, even te reo content.”

In the Q&A to close the session, someone asked, “If your intended audience isn’t a TV audience, do you still need a broadcast outcome?”

“We’re more interested in your marketing strategy,” Parr said.

Leeuwenberg and Parr both stressed that a broadcaster attachment wasn’t a requirement for NZOA or TMP support for online projects. Leeuwenberg noted the importance of audience size, saying, “A broadcaster can add value to an application if the show goes out via their OnDemand platform.”

While acknowledging that free-to-use online platforms such as YouTube offered plenty of opportunity, she also cautioned against using any one of them exclusively. While Facebook and YouTube look like they’ll be here forever, they might not be.

Reservoir Hill

Reservoir Hill

One of NZ’s first and most successful webseries was David Stubbs and Thomas Robins’ 2009 Reservoir Hill, which went on to win an International Digital Emmy Award. The show allowed viewers to text suggestions and comments, some of which would turn up in the next episode. Reservoir Hill did much of its social interaction on the most popular platform with teenagers, bebo. This is what the Reservoir Hill bebo page looks like today.

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” Leeuwenberg said. “If it goes everything goes with it – the content, the comments, the ideas, the community.”

Ririnui-Ryan noted that for Poi360 they’d created their own site. On social platforms, she said, “We targeted, and that’s where the work comes in. We were repackaging, making different material for each platform and the audience that uses it.”

“We’re not in the business of supporting people in their bedroom with an iPhone,” Leeuwenberg said. “We’re interested in quality content.”

Top Image: (from left) moderator Piripi Curtis with panel members Larry Parr, Brenda Leeuwenberg, Lanita Ririnui-Ryan and Quinton Hita.
Photo: Linda T

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