Broadcasting minister Amy Adams this week announced the government plans to update the Broadcasting Act to bring television and online content providers under the same set of rules.
The new Digital Convergence Bill will extend the remit of the Broadcasting Act to include on-demand content, creating a uniform set of rules applicable to both linear broadcasters and SVOD providers.
“In today’s world where New Zealanders can access content anywhere and at any time, it’s important we ensure our legislation remains fit for purpose,” Adams said in a release.
“On-demand content is either regulated inconsistently or not at all, which can potentially expose the public to harm, as all content is not subject to the same classification standard.”
A major change proposed by the new bill involves restrictions related to when broadcasters are prohibited from advertising.
Under the current legislation, television broadcasters are not allowed to advertise on Sunday mornings, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Anzac Day and Christmas day.
The Bill will see these rules relaxed on Sunday mornings, but only during significant events, such as the Rugby World Cup.
The current restrictions over Easter and public holidays will remain as they are, without any specified changes.
ANZA chief executive Lindsay Mouat says he is disappointed by Adams’ announcement.
“There is no good reason to retain different rules for TV (and radio) than other media.”
This sentiment was mirrored by Think TV chief executive Road Hoar, who calls the response by the government “timid”.
“I’m not sure yet what the rationale was for this decision (hopefully they will let us know) but we had expected that there would be a greater degree of liberalisation over the Easter Weekend and Christmas/Boxing Day,” Hoar says.
“It seems illogical to have different rules for using identical ads online versus on television. For example, you’re allowed to see the ads if you watch Duke online but not if you’re watching on Freeview.”
In its submission to the government in respect to the restrictions on advertising, Hoar estimated the advertising ban on Easter Weekend and Christmas Day to cost the television industry between $5 million and $6.5 million in lost revenue.
And while not quite as significant, Hoar also argued the addition of between $400,000 and $600,000 for Sunday morning advertising would help an industry struggling with dropping ad revenue.
What is particularly perplexing about the decision to leave these restrictions in check is the fact they don’t apply to other media channels.
As Carat group business director Alex Lawson explains: “It’s somewhat amusing that we are still restricted from advertising on certain days or times on one channel, TV, when every other channel is open for use, and arguably being utilised more by the public, at the times when we’re restricted on it. The horse has bolted, who cares if the gate is flapping?”
Lawson says, he, like many across the industry, would welcome an end to these restrictions.
“Any additional ways to gain reach are welcomed if they are right for the particular client or campaign but what seems to be being ignored somewhat is that TV viewing rates on Sunday morning are a relatively small opportunity anyway,” Lawson says.
“Given current overall audience performances and the continued fragmentation of the viewing experience I’d not be expecting major uplift anytime soon, making restrictions on this zone from an advertising point of view even more obsolete.”
Lawson also questioned whether the new rules were really reflective of modern consumption habits, given user-generated content (particularly from Facebook and YouTube) as well as news content will likely be excluded from the remit of the Bill.
Lawson says the exclusion of these forms of content might come down to the fact it’s too difficult to regulate them through legislation.
This point is certainly valid in regard to user-generated content, which could pop up on any of the millions of real or fake accounts floating through social media.
But as Facebook and other social media channels start to formally bid for programming rights on live sports—or perhaps even entertainment in the future—government will need to find a way to include these channels under its legislation, if broadcasting standards are to be maintained across media.
In its defence, the Bill does ensure the classification and content standards applicable to television programming will now also apply to on-demand service providers—a shift welcomed by Myles Thomas, director at the Coalition for Better Broadcasting.
While Thomas was generally optimistic about the changes, he did raise concern about the impact even a slight relaxation of Sunday morning advertising rules might have on programming decisions.
“Even when NZ On Air funding is available, commercial channels are becoming increasingly reluctant to schedule any sort of content which does not maximise eyeballs, [as shown by] Mediaworks [dropping] the 3D programme even when public funding was available,” Thomas says.
Thomas argues Sunday morning programmes, such as Q&A, The Hui and The Nation, could come under threat if broadcasters applied a more commercial mindset to the slots they occupy.
Although valid, this argument will do very little in the way of convincing broadcasters under increasing financial pressure that the restrictions continue to make sense.