Muse by Craig Ranapia


Freakanomics (TVNZ Edition)

I'm sad, but not surprised to read in today's Herald that Television New Zealand doesn't intend to mount even the most token attempt to save public service channel TVNZ7.  It's dead, stuffed with garlic, beheaded and buried at a crossroads in the middle of the night.  If you find my words roaming the streets crying, please send them home.

Last year the Government decided not to renew funding for the digital channel, meaning it will go off air in the middle of this year.

TVNZ's acting chief executive Rodney Parker has told a parliamentary hearing that remains the case.

"No we aren't expecting to receive alternative proposals and no we are not preparing alternative proposals for the ongoing funding of TVNZ7.''


Now, being Public Address' house Tory, I will happily stand up and say times are tough, advertising revenue is softer than a trifle left out in an Auckland summer shower, and like it or not TVNZ is meant to return a dividend to it's shareholder.  Right?

Fine, but the argument would be a little stronger if this charming essay in fiscal discipline hadn't appeared under Yvonne Tahana's by-line in the Weekend Herald on Saturday.

Public arts and culture funding to the tune of $1.6 million will partly pay for the New Zealand's Got Talent reality television series.

Developed by Simon Cowell, the series is famous for discovering unlikely star Susan Boyle in the British series. It will screen on TV One.

Government agency New Zealand On Air said its support was a smart use of the public purse.

Chief executive Jane Wrightson said it was a "wonderful opportunity for many types of New Zealand performers to entertain a nationwide audience".

Ms Wrightson was unavailable for further comment yesterday, however media spokeswoman Gina Rogers said the agency had no problem using arts and culture funding to reproduce a foreign format locally.

"The thing about formats is they are proven overseas. We're keen to support new ways of getting New Zealand talent and talent-based acts on to prime time."

The New Zealand's Got Talent commitment is subject to a full budget being confirmed.

[Emphasis added - not in original story]

As soon as that budget is confirmed, both NZoA and TVNZ will be receiving Official Information Act requests for those figures, even though I expect to be fobbed off with that bland phrase "commercial sensitivity." 

Ms. Wrightson and Mr. Parker might beg to differ, but I don't really give a bugger how sensitive Mr. Cowell's bottom line is.  Put your hand out for public money - whether directly through NZoA or indirectly through the state broadcaster's production budgets - public scrutiny is, or should be the quid pro quo.

Another awkward contortion for an arty-farty Tory is defending public funding of broadcasting and the arts.  There are things in this world that add much to a cultural life worth living even when they're not strictly commercially viable.

But is it even slightly out of order to suggest that subsidizing highly commercial imported formats shouldn't be a priority for public funding? 

The same Herald story contains this intriguing quote:

Head of TV One and TV2 Jeff Latch said the scale of the programme meant other funding streams were needed to make it happen, and multiple commercial partners were being sought.

Rather begs the question why the show couldn't be entirely financed through "commercial partners."  Is "other funding streams" a polite euphemism for 0900 voting lines, checkbook access deals with women's magazines, what? That's before you even start to ask what happens if the private end of this public-private partnership falls short of expectations.

The fault isn't with New Zealand on Air -- which has to work with the funding criteria they're given -- but someone's priorities are bent as a kick-line of drag queens on a roller-coaster. 

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