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Linear is local: why free-to-air TV is still ‘a mirror into New Zealand’s soul’

With an endless library of overseas programming on offer online, where can New Zealanders go to get a fix of content that’s relevant and familiar to them? Freeview’s free-to-air TV offering is the answer and advertisers that understand the cultural connection local broadcasters have with New Zealand audiences stand to benefit.

By Erin McKenzie | May 31, 2017 | Sponsored content

Source: Planetminecraft.com

There are 196 countries in the world, making up a population of 7.5 billion people. And while 4.6 million of them live in New Zealand, the world is at their fingertips through their smartphones, tablets, computers, laptops and the TV remote. But while they’re busy exploring there are two things New Zealanders all know – it’s that Dr Ropata is not in Guatemala anymore and that you must always blow on the pie.

TV is a cultural driver – and educator ­– in New Zealand and an important part of that role is the broadcasting of local programming.

So much so that according to NZ On Air’s 2016 Local Content Report, local content makes up 31 percent of the free-to-air schedule with a total of 13,126 hours of its broadcast time in 2016.

Of that, 45 percent was programming in the news, current affairs and sports genres, much of which focuses on local stories.

In the category, TVNZ saw 1 News take top spot in its highest rated programmes of 2016. Sunday followed behind in fifth spot and Seven Sharp was in 17th.

Across all of TVNZ’s local programing, regardless of genre, Fair Go and Hyundai Country Calendar were second and third, respectively, in the highest rated programmes of 2016. While Dog Squad, Coast New Zealand, Mastermind New Zealand, Our Big Blue Backyard, Gloriavale A Woman’s Place and Border Patrol made it into the 20.

Meanwhile, at MediaWorks, 7 Days, The Block NZ, All Star Family Feud and Westside were the most successful local programmes in the 25-54-year-old age range.


Westside's Ted West gang

MediaWorks chief content officer Andrew Szusterman says as far as New Zealand network TV goes, it needs to be representative of New Zealanders with less reliance on overseas stories and more reliance on our own.

“We've got to have a mirror on our souls and represent ourselves. New Zealanders expect that, right?” he says.

“... The most important part of what we do as a broadcaster is make sure that we tell our local stories, and we tell our local news, and we entertain our audiences.”

In fact, MediaWorks has put such an emphasis on that mission, in 2016, Three increased its broadcasting of first run local content by 239 hours to reach 2,128 hours.

It was followed by TVNZ 1’s 2,061 hours and Maori Television’s 1,162 hours of first run local content.

Szusterman says one of the ways MediaWorks is increasing that number is through unscripted programming, including comedy, reality and live genres.

Szusterman compares them to soap operas, saying unscripted programmes make for “water cooler television” as they drive New Zealanders’ conversation topics and often lead to quite visceral responses.

And, given the way they’re constructed, advertisers can also get involved in that conversation. As well as getting ads in front of big audiences, there’s often room for them to be integrated into the storyline and sit alongside the talent, as has been seen regularly with its shows like The Block NZ, The Bachelor NZ and The Real Housewives of Auckland.

“That is one of the joys of local production, we have the ability to work with our commercial partners to highlight their brands and make their brands pop within our programmes in a way that they can't do in a 30-second spot,” Szusterman says.

As the audience becomes more engaged with the programme, the advertisers within it have a greater impact on them and can earn credibility and relevance off the back of the programme’s credibility and relevance.

But it’s not just unscripted programmes that work for advertisers, as TVNZ’s Shortland Street has demonstrated.

One of the reasons Shortland Street continues to be one of the biggest programmes on air after 25 years is the way its fictitious storyline is able to mirror reality in New Zealand.

In 2015, it tackled medical marijuana just days after associate health minister Peter Dunne approved the medical use of cannabis for a Kiwi teenager in a coma.

The episode showed a teenage cancer sufferer being given brownies laced with cannabis and while series producer Simon Bennett told the Herald on Sunday it was coincidental the episode went to air as the debate was making headlines, he hoped it would spark further debate around the use of medical marijuana in New Zealand.

He said the programme wasn’t intended to say whether use of the drug is right or wrong, but the storyline would divide people and that is when Shortland Street is at its best.

It’s also introduced a mix of ethnicities as well as queer and transgender characters, and tackled topical issues such as suicide, HIV and euthanasia.

“Everyone has a different perspective on what they actually want to watch, but certainly that local view and being able to see ourselves on screen is something we know our viewers really love,” says TVNZ general manager of content solutions Lyndsey Francis.


Shortland Street transgender character Blue Nathan

TV’s kryptonite or TV-plus?

The issues tackled by Shortland Street are also discussed and debated around the world, however, their portrayal in a way that’s relevant to New Zealanders and reflects New Zealand society is unique to local programming. It’s unlikely any programme on an SVOD service would be able to match it. That doubt only increased when considering they offer little, if any, local programming.

Netflix, which an estimated 1,066,000 New Zealanders aged 14+ have access to, defiantly doesn’t and MBM managing partner Sean McCready says it’s going to be a long time, if ever, before it does.

The second biggest SVOD used in New Zealand is Lightbox, which has 630,000 users, and as users grow bored of the content on offer, they go looking for something new on another SVOD. The trend means one in 10 New Zealanders now has access to two or more SVODs.

But no matter how many times users flick between them, they’ll also never find any form of live programming. And while on-demand certainly has its benefits, live events still have power, especially as viewers regularly discuss their feelings about shows or events on social media (see sidebar). As advertising philosopher Faris Yakob says: culture should be a shared experience and media fragmentation is making that more difficult.

“Live, of course, like live sports, still have a lot of power in the markets at this stage and that's not something that Netflix and Lightbox are necessarily promoting,” McCready says.

But content and audiences aside, he also points out there’s a big difference between TV and SVODs, because the latter doesn’t offer advertising opportunities due to being paid for by subscribers.

“If you want to reach an audience using video or video advertising, then Netflix, Amazon, and Lightbox aren't really an option for you,” he says.

However, YouTube remains an option and McCready says as well as being a place the under-30s are going, as it developed develops more live content and it could pose a threat to the future of linear TV.

According to NZ On Air, last year, linear TV reached 86 percent of New Zealand each week, while online video, including YouTube and Facebook, reached 64 percent.

  • Put your knowledge of New Zealand's media consumption to the test in the StopPress/Freeview TV Quiz here.

New Zealanders also spend two and a half hours of linear TV each day, while online video (such as YouTube and Facebook) is watched 40 minutes a day.

Despite the numbers, neither MediaWorks or TVNZ see YouTube, or any other digital video, as a threat and in fact, both use the website as a big part in their content delivery.

“We’re not anti-digital, we play in the digital space and we see huge value for advertisers in online video because of the engagement they can have,” Francis says.

She says TVNZ views digital video as “TV-plus” because the broadcaster uses it on social media and YouTube to tease audiences and drive them to programmes as well as share content that doesn’t go to air, like its New Blood web series.

Recently, Survivor New Zealand made its debut on the screen and in the lead up to it, TVNZ used its existing social channels as well as a dedicated programme Facebook page to distribute previews and bios of the contestants in an effort to engage audiences and build their interest.

As the series progresses, the short-form video online will also serve as a driving force to increase the audience that tunes into the linear TV broadcast—a trend that was proven in a Nielsen case study commissioned by Google last year.

It found there was an 18 percent increase in tune-in on TV for leading talk shows among an audience that watched YouTube content of the shows.

So as the YouTube audience increases so does the TV audience and vice versa.

The TV of the future?

While TVNZ, MediaWorks and other broadcasters use the social feed to direct audiences to the TV and generate plenty of online discussion – typically as a result of their local shows – Receptive.tv director Sam Aldred suggested in an opinion piece on StopPress that they should go even further.

He sees the social feed as a new form of TV because there’s huge youth engagement and a data-rich ad network. There are also features like Facebook Live, which Aldred recommends using to broadcast through with the added bonus of comments, allowing the audience to interact in real-time.

And there shouldn’t be any concerns about the audience having to look down at a smartphone or laptop as the new Facebook TV app means the social feed can be accessed on the big screen.

“The audience is in place and conveniently located in the modern version of the water cooler, the social feed. The only piece currently missing is something to watch. Perhaps, it's time to watch this space,” he says.

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To target or not to target

In recent years, digital has taken over the top spot for advertising revenue ($891 million) in New Zealand, but TV still has a strong hold in second place ($559 million for TV and $21 million for digital TV) according to the ASA’s latest report. Francis says it’s seeing advertisers use TV as an always-on driver while also introducing digital into the mix.

“I don’t think New Zealand’s largest brands are shunning TV. If you speak to advertisers themselves, they all see the value of TV and what they’re doing is trialling other areas. Sometimes successfully, sometimes they’re learning they’ve gone too far.”

She recalls Procter & Gamble's chief marketing officer, Marc Pritchard, who last year shared the company’s experience with Facebook advertising.

“We targeted too much, and we went too narrow,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

The company, whose portfolio features Tide and Crest, had been using the platform’s targeting tools to reach a narrowly defined audience. However, when it found that strategy wasn’t as successful as it had hoped, it didn’t pull all its money from Facebook, it simply repositioned it to reach a wider audience.

But that’s not to say targeting can’t be useful, there just needs to be a balance in the advertising mix.

McCready says it comes down to what the advertiser is trying to achieve, but it’s a good strategy to access those who already know the brand, are previous buyers or it, or are ready to be a buyer of it.

On the other hand, higher-reach media should be used to convince light and non-buyers to become buyers.

He gives the example of Air New Zealand, as a brand that has used the two approaches well.

“They have a really strong digital data approach to marketing. They use a lot of their own first pay data to target audiences they know are customers and have certain types of behaviour. But at the same time, they still use reach out advertising across mass media as well.”

Taking a step back

The questions surrounding mass versus targeted is one of the reasons Szusterman says some local advertisers have started to pull in the reins and start to assess whether or not dealing with the often mysterious, slightly opaque world of digital advertising is worth it.

He says everyone was quick to the bandwagon of the “big, shiny and new” thing, but now it’s not quite as attractive as it seemed, he says.

“People are starting to get a little bit more real and have started going: ‘well, hold on. This isn't shiny and new anymore, and there's obviously some issues there.’”

As well as ongoing concerns about walled gardens, inaccurate data, transparency and effectiveness, another issue was recently raised when advertisers pulled away from YouTube over concerns that their ads were appearing alongside racist, sexist or terrorist-related content. Local brands, Holden, Vodafone and Tourism New Zealand were among those around the world to suspend their ads on the website.

“What we're starting to see is more engagement back to free-to-air TV and that safety of free-to-air TV where they can guarantee audiences, and they can guarantee the environment of where those messages are going to take place,” Szusterman says.

Advertisers know the programmes they’re running alongside or within adhere to those standards, and when 31 percent of the free-to-air schedule is local programming, they’ll also know it’s highly relevant and engaging to New Zealanders.

“[Local programmes] are obviously more expensive to make and so they do come at a premium, but they also drive a premium audience as well,” Szusterman says.

“…The key part of it is, which is the local part, is that it is showcasing ourselves on the screen which, more and more, is becoming important for free-to-air TV, and will be the success of free-to-air TV in the future.”

Some argue it’s even bigger than just the future of TV, because seeing our own local stories on screen and reflecting the cultural nuances of New Zealand is an essential part of a healthy, functioning society. 

  • This story is part of a content partnership with Freeview.

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