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The ups and downs of last year’s local content

The total number of hours grew, a little; the amount of repeats grew, more than a little; and – with a few one-off influences out of the picture – the overall picture was not especially encouraging. The headline numbers were that 2013’s 12,145 hours of local content represented a 0.8% increase (+94 hours) over the 2012 numbers. The hours are sliced and diced throughout the report, offering more insight but nothing to really sing and dance about.

Welcoming the report, Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss’ statement carefully avoided comment on the numbers, choosing instead to celebrate the growing number of options for viewing NZ content.

“New Zealanders are reaping the benefits of a fast-changing media environment” Foss claimed. “The opportunities to watch home-grown NZ On Air funded content are greater than ever as online and time shifted viewing options increase in popularity.”

Labour, predictably, took a different view, with Broadcasting Spokesperson Kris Faafoi noting the growth in repeat programming and responding, “National is more interested in re-runs than new content. These figures prove the Government has taken no meaningful action in broadcasting in six years … All [Minister Foss] has shown is that he doesn’t understand the golden rule of broadcasting – that content is king.”

So long as viewers don’t expect an increase in the amount of new content to match the increase in the amount of platforms on which they can watch repeats, everything will be fine.

As for the numbers in the report, they can be massaged. If one removed Prime’s coverage of the Olympics last year (c300 hours) the numbers would look a little better and suggest a 3%+ increase in local content. However, split up first run and repeated content and the story is less encouraging. There was 11% less first run local programming than in 2012, on top of a 7% drop in 2011.

In two years, almost one in five hours of new local programming has gone. Almost regardless of from where it’s gone, that’s a substantial drop in the amount of work.

Some of what classes as first run programming will be little missed by viewers, which was presumably one factor behind its disappearance. It might also have limited impact on employment within the industry – for example the 10 hours a week TVNZ scythed out of its Good Morning magazine show.

Ditto the impact of the absence of 300 hours of Olympic programming on Prime, which accounts for 75% of the total drop in first run sports programming in 2013. The amount of additional work created – beyond what Sky was already doing as broadcaster – was minimal.

An increase in repeat programming is not necessarily a problem, as it does at least mean more opportunities to see. Whether, in the days of +1 channels and ondemand, those repeats are a good use of resources is open to debate.

There isn’t an automatic link between a drop in the amount of first run programming and an increase in the number of repeats. Sometimes there’s just more telly.

2013 was the first full year in which Maori Television broadcast from 10am (previously 3pm). The additional 5 hours per day are mostly repeated content – and a significant contributor to the growth in repeat programming during 2013.

From an industry POV, the amount of new content being produced is a stronger indicator of the health of the industry. The more new content, the more people at work, more money introduced into the eco-system and, at the other end of the chain, more opportunity to sell more programming overseas.

That’s an area where there wasn’t any real good news although, on the horizon, is the in-train newly-minted all-things-to-all-people incentive scheme.

TV One continues to lead the way in the amount of first-run local programming it screens. Despite Andrew Shaw’s “We bleed for local content” statement at the TVNZ 2014 season launch, the gap between TV One and other channels is narrowing, and not really because of the efforts of those channels. In 2008 TV One screened 60% local content. In 2012 the offer was 50% local. In 2013 that fell to 42% – of which figure 17% was repeats.

One third of the TV One offer is new local content. Take away the NCA and sports programming and the ads, and – from 6am to midnight – there’s an average of 83 minutes of first-run local content screening each day.

And TV One is the best of the bunch. Across the six channels the NZ On Air report covers (TV One, TV2, TV3, FOUR, Prime and Maori TV), there’s 5 hours and five minutes of first run programming a day, excluding NCA, sports and ads.

That, spread across drama, comedy, documentary, children’s, arts and special interest, is not a substantial amount of either work or content. And, without NZ On Air support, there would be a whole lot less.

Looking forward, changes to the incentive schemes offer the only hope for a substantial change to the amount of local content being produced – and that hope applies mostly to co-productions in certain genres.

What benefits accrue from the increase in incentive support for TV shows remains to be seen. How much of that might end up on NZ screens classed as local content is very unclear but – after the 2013 many in Auckland experienced – that might be a secondary concern after the actual volume of work.

NZ On Air’s 2013 Local Content report is available here.

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