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SPADA2017: Heihei

Janette Howe of the New Zealand Children’s Screen Trust (kidsonscreen) spoke with Amie Mills, TVNZ’s commissioner for children’s and digital programming, about the new NZ On Air-TVNZ kids platform Heihei, a Maori word that can mean chicken or, more appropriately, noise and commotion.

Mills ran through the bullet points, explaining that the platform will be:

  • An advertising-free platform for tamariki aged 5-9 years which features curated local and international content and
  • committed to telling engaging and quality local stories that have a positive impact on the lives of children; using technology to spark their creativity and curiosity.

Mills also spoke about the rationale behind the platform, most of which was a rehash of the arguments people have used over several years to point out what TVNZ has not been doing for young audiences.

Mills noted that stories are vital for the development of identity and imagination, and that stories relevant to their age and culture should be available to all New Zealand children.

Children should, she said, be able to see and hear themselves, their culture, life experiences and accents in a range of quality content that affirms their sense of self, community and place.

“We believe in protecting and supporting local content,” she said, “We want to meet the needs of New Zealand families by offering environments in which children can safely explore and consume quality, age-appropriate content.”

In response to later questions, Mills said that TVNZ wants to focus on shared viewing, family viewing, and that they expect 75% of the content to be local. TVNZ is trying to shift the focus of children towards New Zealand content, but Mills acknowledged it is an open question as to how successful that strategy will be.

There’ll be some discomfort in some parts of the industry over TVNZ being the curator of this new service. After all, it was TVNZ which convinced the previous government to let it pull the plug a year early on its last digital channel for kids, TVNZ 6. And then put the kids shows on a 24-hour channel on Sky.

Janette Howe also pointed out that, while TVNZ was saying there was a commitment to “stories relevant to their age and culture” there appeared to be no position or quota for live drama in the planned content of Heihei.

How committed TVNZ is to providing any form of public service content that doesn’t come with dollars attached remains to be seen. While Mills appeared genuinely passionate about Heihei, one should also consider that – as young audiences in particular move online for their content – TVNZ is hoping to shore up viewing of its TV content as part of this strategy.