Friday, May 15, 2009

Digital revolution countdown stretches Kiwi community broadcasters

By Jessica Harkins: Pacific Media Centre

Do you know who your regional broadcaster is?

Did you even know you had one, just a dial-twirl away?

More importantly, do you care if they are there?

Whatever the answers to these questions, it’s likely the people involved in the country’s 13 regional broadcasters are more concerned at the apparent lack of interest from the one organisation that should be taking a good look at the local broadcasters.

These people are asking if the government cares.

This comes after the funding pool New Zealand on Air (NZoA) allocates to regional broadcasting in New Zealand was increased from around $850,000 to $1.5 million.

Regional Television Broadcasters Association
chair and chief executive of Triangle/Stratos Television Jim Blackman asks if that is all regional broadcasting is worth to the government.

“Does that allow us as broadcasters to be able to tell stories? Does that allow us to generate funds from advertising and so on to promote student TV? We have to find the money somewhere,” he says.

“We get this platitudinous response that we’re getting a 68 percent increase in funding, it’s not good enough,” he adds.

Blackman outlines the real worth of this money. He says when the $1.5 million is divided between the 13 stations (which are not guaranteed a share, they have to be eligible and apply); they are left with enough to make one and a half hours of mainstream TV quality documentary.

Frugal mentality
“One and a half hours of TV among 13 networks which serve their communities, and serve them well, is lip service. Have I gone too far?” he asks.

He says the mentality at Triangle/Stratos is one of frugality,

“We’re used to running things economically,” he says.

He says the switch to the digital platform will be hard on most small broadcasters.

“They are being forced to by the government,” he says

“No real thought has gone into it.”

Telling stories is a huge part of the regional broadcaster’s mentality. They are in the community, for the community.

Carol Peters of TV North puts it best, describing the station as an incubator.

“TV North stimulates media in Whangarei. TV stations are an opportunity for people to showcase art, and get jobs, and do training. Our relationship with local business is one of support. That’s what it means to be an incubator,” she says.

“We have a relationship with the local polytechnic and with the primary schools. Kids make a show called Pukeko Echo, it’s made by kids aged five to 13 from Manaia View School.

Graduate profile
“We are hoping to have a relationship with the high schools in the future.

“The polytechnic uses the station as training, and we employ some of the graduates of the courses.”

Chrissie Staples of Tararua TV says profiling positive people and events in the community is the lifeblood of local broadcasting. But when they have to go digital, the way they frame programs will have to change.

“Things will be less home grown,” she says

“We’ll have to have in the back of our minds, as our audience gets bigger, that programmes will have to be filmed in a way that everyone can enjoy.

“Filming the local swim meet won’t be that simple anymore,” she adds.

And as for the NZoA funding increase?

“What increase?” she laughs.

“It’s contestable,” she says “so we have to put more effort into our programming, because there’s that competition.

“We don’t know what we’re competing against,

“If we can get some money, that’s awesome,” she says.

Tena Baker of East Coast TV talks about the need to forge relationships with tertiary institutions, to have students work on the station.

Student slot
“Last year our team were talking about having a programme slot for students, where they could submit something and we’d put it up.

“We think it’d be really good to profile the work of the up and coming.

“So the public can see the quality of work that is going to be produced by our future film makers and producers.

Craig Henderson of Family TV North points out the attraction of being in the industry to many young New Zealanders, and the difficulties that come with trying to facilitate new talent.

“There’s a huge amount of interest in TV production, we’ve heard that even from your [university]. There’s not enough space to cater for that,” he says.

Jim Blackman agrees, saying: “I’m convinced that no regional channel would turn away the opportunity to work with tertiary institutions, because we co-exist.”

“We can provide outlets universities don’t provide.

“We’ve given airtime to Australian filmmakers for short films, because we can’t get that breakthrough here from our institutions,

“I’ve seen some magical work done by students, and it pains me to see wasted airspace and the look on the students face when you’ve seen the work, and you know damn well that the only people that are going to see it are their tutors and their family’s, and its going to end up in the bottom of a drawer and get lost… that’s sad,” he says.

Baker also points out the importance of meetings like last month’s Regional Television Broadcasters Association, held at AUT.

“I suppose now I’ve been here, we’re going to work on a relationship, because maybe it is about people’s perception about [us as], until we lift a profile.

Solid plan
“It’s about having a relationship with a bona fide institution that gives us some credibility in regards to the industry.

“It’s about building an industry locally for us,” she says.

Peters sees the success of this years meeting as solidifying a plan that every member can agree on.

“We need to stand together,” she says.

Daryl Anderson, CEO of Television Media Group, which broadcasts TV Central, sees the meeting as an opportunity to present a united front to the government.

“It’s good to know we share the same concerns,” he says.

Anderson also talks about the need to deal with local content.

“As the world gets smaller, people are going to need community,” he says.

“We have a role to play in the future to bring local content to people,” he adds.

Carol Peters is one to agree with this idea. Just four years ago, she delved into launching TV North, along with son Alex Mason and local businessman and video producer John Gwillim.

TV North started broadcasting last August.

“It’s hard starting with no experience,” says Peters.

High definition
One advantage of being so young in this industry is that TV North is already set up to transmit digitally. All programming is already filmed in high definition.

She says the government is being vague about the switch over point from analogue to digital.

“They say sometime in 2012-2015. That’s very soon.”

But a downside and major concern for Peters is the way funding from New Zealand on Air works. As a station, TV North doesn’t qualify for any funding, as they are too new.

“We’re cut out completely,” she says.

“This attitude does not stimulate new TV stations.

She asks, “Do they want other TV stations to begin?”

“If the government is serious about being involved in local TV, we need to act on it and talk,”

“We need to be working together, not like a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” she says.

Blackman puts a challenge on the table.

“Regional TV has a strong future, it’s a decision for our government whether they want to be part of that future, and it’ll be fantastic to have them on board.”

Pictures (from top): Triangle/Stratos chief executive Jim Blackman, and Tina Baker of East Coast TV. Photos: Del Abcede.

Jessica Harkins is a Bachelor of Communication Studies (Honours) student on the AUT Asia-Pacific Journalism course.

NZ on Air

Regional Broadcasting Association

Triangle/Stratos Television

No comments: