TV’s Changing Landscape

​​By Ben Goodale, Managing Director, justONE

​​​Can you feel that chill? It’s the winds of change blowing through the New Zealand television industry. The major network players are undergoing major upheaval and it’s unclear what the landscape will look like once the dust settles, if it ever does.

In a few short weeks MediaWorks has seen departures (key staff and its CEO), and a rebrand of Channel 4 as Bravo. SKY TV lost around 45,000 paying subscribers, shares fell by 83c, yet it’s just increased its prices. TVNZ has weathered the upheaval pretty well, confident enough to invest in a multi-million-dollar office refurbishment, but schedules are overly reliant on multi-night fare, which will get tiresome for viewers, and its own efforts in producing content have been patchy. Then there’s the potential NZME and Fairfax merger.

The only certainty in this turmoil is that viewers are more powerful and mobile than ever before. Remaining relevant and agile, and earning a degree of “brand love” will be critical to media survival.

SKY is still king of valuable content, not least with rugby and Game of Thrones, but adding 45,000 subscribers is a lot harder (and more expensive) than losing them; SKY really needs to focus on how not to lose the next 45,000.

Now that Lightbox and Netflix are here, New Zealanders have more choice in entertainment content than ever before. Our options for sport are more limited, but SKY is increasingly becoming an expensive solution by comparison, however comprehensive its offering. It may be time to rethink the model.

Meanwhile, companies like NZME are realising they, too, can deliver a visual news show. How long before we start watching our evening news via non-traditional TV news broadcasters? The Fairfax connection, if it happens, could make this approach even more compelling.

American futurist, Mark Pesce, predicted the control of content moving from traditional media outlets to the hands of internet-savvy consumers back in 2005, when discussing the rise of BitTorrent. In particular, he recognised the need for local networks to focus on what makes them special: domestic sport, news, and unique local content. The success of The Bachelor NZ demonstrated this and TV3’s Friday nights of comedy, coupled with Newshub, are great examples of quality local programming. SKY’s Prime TV has delivered interesting local content too. But there are fails out there too, like MKR NZ and the recent MasterChef, which local networks with limited budgets can ill afford.

TVNZ’s stated purpose is: “… to make a difference by sharing the moments that matter to New Zealanders”. However, reviewing TVNZ’s typical Monday night schedule reveals just half an hour of local content in nearly five hours of prime time viewing on TV2, and two hours in ONE’s four and a half hours of primetime. Why do we need all that infrastructure to run a schedule of predominantly overseas programmes? Should we just pour additional funds into NZ On Air and then allow all television platforms (including Netflix, Lightbox and Neon) to buy the resulting content? It could be an interesting model, although while TVNZ still turns a profit, probably not one the government would consider.

There’s the rub - how long will advertisers, who essentially underwrite everything, remain loyal? Only as long as enough eyeballs are on these networks. And it is changing.

The internet has blown apart historic network control of access. SKY maybe doesn’t need set-top boxes, the Rugby Union could stream its own games, news coverage can be owned by anyone who can reach eyeballs with an engaging show.

Whatever the future looks like is anyone’s guess, but change is coming and media outlets who respond to the new landscape with easy, cost-effective access to content-rich strategies will win. And it is great, unique local content that will draw eyeballs – hopefully we will have heaps of it.