WELLINGTON, New Zealand
Seeing the rapid changes taking place in the way people consume news and entertainment, the New Zealand government said on Thursday it would merge its public broadcasters and broadcasters into a single new organization which it hopes will will be better placed to reach a younger audience.
The merger represents a major overhaul of the national media landscape, potentially affecting around 1,000 TVNZ and RNZ employees. Both broadcasters have been dominant players for decades, often setting the news agenda and providing shared cultural moments.
But they also played different roles, with TVNZ selling ads and following a business model, while RNZ operated without ads and acted more in a public service role, especially during crises like earthquakes.
The new organization is expected to focus more on growth areas such as video on demand, online news and podcasts. It will operate under a legal charter requiring it to provide reliable information as a core service.
In making the announcement, Broadcasting and Media Minister Kris Faafoi provided few details on how the merger would work, saying those decisions would be left to a new board to be set up next month. before the merger is completed in July next year.
Faafoi said the merger was key to ensuring people would continue to have access to reliable, trusted news and local content. He said the merger was not about job cuts and the new entity’s budget would be announced later.
The changes had been in the works for over two years but were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. On the contrary, Faafoi said, the challenges facing traditional media have only intensified during this period.
“When the government started looking at this, TV and radio were ranked 1 and 2 for the biggest daily audience in New Zealand,” Faafoi said. “And now they are 2 and 4.”
He said the top ranking went to video on demand watched on services like YouTube, while the No. 3 ranking went to subscription streaming services like Netflix.
TVNZ employs around 690 people and made a small profit last year. RNZ employs over 300 people and the government pays its annual costs of around NZ$50 million ($34 million).
TVNZ cautiously welcomed the changes.
“Creating a public media entity for the digital age is an exciting opportunity and we look forward to engaging in this process and offering our expertise,” said Simon Power, the broadcaster’s new chief executive.
But many private media were nervous.
Duncan Greive, media commentator and founder of online news and entertainment site The Spinoff, said the priorities of any major new media organization would be to source talented staff and grow audience share, which which could harm private media players.
“It’s absolutely difficult for private sector media, especially those in the digital space,” he said.
Greive said the government was right to identify some of the problems facing RNZ and TVNZ, but said its plan also had potential pitfalls.
The new organization could be vulnerable to a cut in its budget by future governments, he said. And the audience had fractured away from the big media organizations, he said, with some newsletter writers or solo podcasters like Joe Rogan.
Opposition MP Melissa Lee said the merger was unnecessary and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“New Zealand needs more quality voices in our media sector, not less,” she said.
The new organization should give a voice to marginalized groups and indigenous Maori. RNZ’s ad-free offers will have to remain so.
TVNZ’s main competitor, Discovery’s Channel Three, said what it knows about the merger so far looks good.
“Making it non-profit is exactly the right option, it allows the new merged entity to focus on the public good rather than what is commercially best,” said Glen Kyne, managing director of Discovery New Zealand.