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One stop shop: Cate Slater on TVNZ's diverse new season

One year on from her pledge to offer more local content than ever before, TVNZ director of content Cate Slater says the investment in local has paid off.

By Caitlin Salter | October 25, 2018 | news

Sitting down with Cate Slater ahead of last night’s TVNZ Showcase, she talked through how the last 12 months have played out, and the response from the broadcaster’s commitment to providing both premium local content and investing in its online platform, OnDemand.

The runaway hit from TVNZ’s 2018 programming, Wellington Paranormal, will be back for a second season in 2019. Slater says the show encapsulated the broadcaster’s commitment to local as well as New Zealand’s appetite for it.

“We’re uniquely placed as a local platform to provide local content, and it’s really important that we’re in the online space as well as on air. Wellington Paranormal fits really well in both spaces, and we’ve doubled the episode order on that which is really exciting.”

Matching the international market

With the streaming services offering Kiwis a chance to watch more international content than ever before, the viewer experience has changed significantly. There is no shortage in the appetite for high-quality dramas, and while there is still a place for serialised drama with 13+ episode seasons, Kiwis have adapted to a mini-series culture.

Shows with high-production values have traditionally been difficult to fund in New Zealand, but Slater says co-productions are the way of the future and New Zealanders should expect to see more coming through. Co-productions are television shows that have been funded and produced by a New Zealand company as well as an international one, and will usually have an appeal for both markets.

In 2019, Straight Forward will hit New Zealand screens, a co-production by Screentime NZ and Viaplay – a Danish streaming service.

“We’ve been looking more and more at the co-production space, to be able to make more Kiwi dramas. The only way we can really make drama of a big-budget scale in New Zealand is by combining budgets with international players.”

Other co-productions in 2019 include The Luminaries, starring French actress Eva Green and based on the Eleanor Catton novel. The show is being produced with the BBC. Also with the BBC is children’s drama Mystic, which is based on a Pony Club Secrets novel by Stacy Gregg and is part-funded by NZ On Air.

Also new next year is The Dead Lands, a co-production with AMC in the US, which Slater says will be a big-budget drama that will feel very Kiwi while being made for an international audience, with a Kiwi cast to keep the stories authentic to New Zealand.

New NZ On Air funded black comedy Fresh Eggs and drama The Bad Seed have both been developed as event-style drama, in-keeping with international trends.

“We’re tapping into event-style drama, which means they’re shorter run and closed-ended stories. These shows can flow into another season, but they’re also very much standalone stories – much like the event-style drama we’re seeing coming out of the UK with the likes of Doctor Foster and Broadchurch.”

Growing OnDemand

One of the biggest changes for TVNZ in the last year is how OnDemand how changed in perception from a catch-up service to an entertainment destination in its own right. OnDemand is now stocked with not just online versions of its regular programming, but also entire series and documentaries – particularly popular is its nostalgic section which boosts the complete series of Friends, Cold Feet, ER and The OC.

Slater says the ability to fast-track television to OnDemand even when there isn’t an appropriate timeslot available has proved incredibly successful. Internationally acclaimed thriller Killing Eve was fast-tracked to OnDemand but also played out on the channels, when a timeslot became free.

Fast-tracked shows in the latest line-up include Little Drummer Girl and Catch 22, George Clooney’s small-screen return. Richard Gere’s hotly-anticipated television debut MotherFatherSon has also just been acquired by TVNZ. Other shows to watch out for include, The Feed, Flack, DasBoot and the Elena Ferrante adaptation, My Brilliant Friend.

“We’ve got a couple of others we haven’t quite signed yet, but it shows you the quality of the shows we’re getting. They’re highly sort-after, blockbuster international dramas which traditionally would have screened on cable TV or more recently on SVOD providers.

“We’ve got a great home for those shows on OnDemand and viewers can watch them in their own time, on their own terms, and they will also usually find a home on television as well.”

OnDemand has also become a platform for mid-length content that doesn’t fit into a traditional timeslot, such as Alibi and Anika Moa Unleashed. The latter was so well received online that it will also be coming to TV next season. A new local comedy, The Educators has been made specifically for OnDemand along with a new reality series, House of Drag – a Big Brother-style show featuring nine drag queens in a house together.

Reality is a genre that has proved incredibly popular on OnDemand. The first season of Heartbreak Island went gangbusters online and season two will premier on the platform as well as being screened on TVNZ 2.

“The research around that show showed that overwhelmingly people said that they would choose to watch it online. Our OnDemand service skews massively younger with people watching on their own devices, so it’s easier to stream it.”

Despite the success of OnDemand, Slater says it hasn’t replaced the traditional channels. Shows like Doctor Who, which is fast-tracked OnDemand and also played on television, do well in both mediums because people still enjoy the collective experience of watching television, Slater says.

“There is a lot to be said about the shared viewing experience, and you can only get that with traditional television.”

Jumping in the sports arena

TVNZ has grabbed some of the biggest headlines in recent times by the announcement of its commitment to live sports events, undercutting paid competitor Sky Sports.

Off the back of TVNZ broadcasting the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Slater is looking forward to the challenge of next year’s Rugby World Cup and T20 Black Clash. Further into the future, TVNZ will also be broadcasting the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics and the 36th America’s Cup in 2021.

With 2.7 million people tuning into TVNZ’s coverage, the free-to-air coverage beat the 2016 Rio Olympics figures from rival broadcaster Sky TV. And while the feedback from TVNZ’s multi-channel offering wasn’t wholly positive, Slater says they learned a lot about how to tackle live sports events with the games.

“It was the first major sporting event we’d done in over ten years. Our sports department had shrunk considerably, and viewer expectations have changed as well. Viewers have become used to seeing sport without ads, which was a big learning for us in terms of how we can integrate ads in a way that isn’t jarring for the viewer. We’re all about delivering the moments that matter to New Zealanders and sport is a big part of Kiwis’ lives. We can deliver the greatest audiences to sports, which is really important to a lot of sporting bodies.”

While the much anticipated America’s Cup is not until 2021, coverage leading up to the regatta will start late next year with the World Series and there will also be Auckland races covered from late 2020.

The Academy Awardswill also be returning to TVNZ in 2019 after ten years on Sky’s add-on channel Sky Movies.

“It’s been a really exclusively held event for many years, and I think it means that Kiwis have stopped watching it. TVNZ can deliver the exposure of free-to-air and I think that’s really important.”

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