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NZ On Air rings changes

NZ on Air has released a summary of the feedback received in response to its plans to change its funding strategy, as well as its amended strategy which comes into effect next year.

There’s little that’s changed significantly from the draft released earlier in the year, which suggests that the agency got it broadly right first time around – or that they’re not in a listening mood. Given the significant amount of effort that went into the plan, we’ll assume the former.

One of the changes which hasn’t attracted a lot of notice is NZ On Air’s internal shuffling to accompany the new strategy. At a basic level, a bunch of staff get new business cards to reflect new job titles. At a deeper level, the changes of titles shift away from the boxes everybody has been so used to and reflect the new platform-neutral strategy being ushered in.

Nobody has the words ‘Television’ or ‘Digital’ in their job title any longer. Those demarcations, along with the named funds or ring-fenced funding for specific programming genres or form-specific content (eg children’s drama or web series), are gone.

It was, predictably, the changes around guaranteed or intended spend drove much of much of the feedback rather than what titles NZOA staff were getting.

Some of the feedback revolved around the fact that there was change happening at all – better the devil you know, etc. Some wanted greater clarity around specific issues – how much money will be directed to specific activities in the absence of ringfencing. Most was driven by self-interest, not that those interests aren’t valid when trying to plan for the next year.

The general pick is that, for a year at least, consumers of content will notice little difference in what has a NZOA logo attached to it. The amount of content isn’t likely to change much, where it plays isn’t likely to change much, the broad balance between specific types of content isn’t likely to change much.

One of the challenges of comparing the relative worth of content on TV and online has been viewer numbers. The system for counting either is imperfect. Nielsen’s data comes from the viewing activity of a few hundred people – barely one hundredth of one per cent of the population. It’s spectacularly bad at measuring niche audiences (although, to be fair, the system wasn’t to do that).

The internet is till the wild west when it comes to having counting systems. YouTube counts a view as somewhere in the region of 30 seconds. It’s OK, especially given the amount of short short content on the platform – but leave a browser tab open and forget to stop something you’ve watched and YouTube will play whatever the algorithms deem it should and give all that content a view too. On Facebook, a view is three seconds, barely long enough to stop a video that’s autoplaying. Video on Stuff autoplays. On NZME you can switch off that function.

Not much of this is within the control of content creators or NZ On Air, yet the agency is going to make funding decisions that are in part based on viewer numbers. Without some consistency of counting – or a way to achieve some consistency – it’s tricky to use that as a measure.

The Candle Wasters, who’ve been extremely successful at attracting funding for web-based projects this year, have a substantial audience online. Much of that audience is in the US, they’re happy to admit. No money goes back into the pot from web series in the way it does from sales of TV shows overseas, so should NZ On Air draw a line between a web project that’s mostly watched by NZ audiences and one that’s more successful internationally than at home?

With the continuing fragmentation of audiences, does the fact that TVNZ has the largest overall audience mean it’s the best place to serve specific audiences? One assumes not, or NZ On Air wouldn’t continue to support platforms like TheCoconet, but there’s certainly debate around which specific interest groups deserve a dedicated platform and how many can be supported. There’s work under way exploring a platform for kids, but there are bigger special interest groups in the population than kids.

The problem with special interest audiences is that they are small, and in a population the size of NZ’s those niches can become very small very quickly. The Gordion Knot approach NZ On Air has taken to create one big fund is a bold move. As soon as an exception is added, others will expect their exceptional circumstances to be protected with ring-fenced funding. Pretty soon you’ve got funds up the wazoo, catering to this, that and the other particular needs. Which was where we came in.

Under either approach, one thing that would improve matters would be a budget that hadn’t been frozen since well before Outrageous Fortune ended its run.

Check out the amended funding stratefgy here, and the feedback here.