As TVNZ unveiled its new shows for 2018, it quickly became evident that the broadcaster was betting big on local shows. New dramas, reality programmes and on-demand shows, all with a local flavour, were steadily rolled out as each of the executives took to stage at the 2018 Showcase last week.
Sitting down with director of content Cate Slater, it quickly becomes clear that this big local push will play an integral role in the broadcaster's strategy over the next 12 months.
“It shows we are really serious about local and we have a really diverse local slate. We have great local drama and really extensive local factual as well. Local is really really important to us."
Covering the factual genre is Cold Case, a series that will reopen cold cases to give viewers the chance to solve them, while Paranormal Unit, a spinoff of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s popular What We Do in the Shadows, ticks the local comedy box.
In the reality genre, the local commitment to local continues as it will deliver the first local format of the international hit Project Runway. The series watches fashion designers battle it out to be the best and having a fashion background, Slater knows New Zealand has some incredible designers that will be showcased in the series.
It will be joined by the return of Survivor New Zealand for a second season and Heartbreak Island – a new reality format, about which Slater says "think singles, Tinder and the beach".
“We are trying to do a mix of the international formats that people know and building our own formats as well.”
While Slater is keeping tight-lipped about what the new programme has in store, the idea of singles on a beach sounds like it will appeal to the audiences of Love Island and Bachelor in Paradise, reality shows about finding love from the UK and US that Slater says do really well for TVNZ online.
The importance of this content lies in the fact that it gives the broadcaster an important point of difference from any of the international players entering the market. TVNZ might not be able to compete with the excessive sums of money that Netflix, HBO or Amazon spend on content rights every year, but the organisation still has an edge in local programming that resonates with New Zealanders.
This is not to say that TVNZ will be ditching international entirely. As shown by the lineup, shows from abroad will continue to play an important role for TVNZ, particularly those that are likely to resonate with local audiences.
Further to this point, TVNZ will be broadcasting a Scandinavian drama series called Ride upon the Storm. Set to air on TVNZ 1, it looks at how faith and religion affect our lives and though the combination of English and Danish language might challenge viewers, she’s confident it will rope in a New Zealand audience.
“We’ll see if they are up for it,” she says. “It’s a beautiful piece of drama.”
In fact, looking across all of TVNZ's new international offering, it's Ride upon the Storm that shares her pick as a favourite with Young Sheldon, a comedy series about nine-year-old Sheldon Cooper—the eccentric and extraordinary character whose older self is one of the main characters of The Big Bang Theory (a hugely popular show on TVNZ).
On air and online
As well as its commitment to local, TVNZ is also putting added effort into ensuring that viewers get the content they want on their own terms through TVNZ OnDemand.
“It’s about how a viewer wants to watch it,” she says. “Do they want to watch it as part of scheduled viewing through broadcast traditional means or do they want to watch it on their own terms as and when it suits on our OnDemand platform?”
She says its online offering is a big part of the broadcaster’s future and going forward, four times more content will be made available to viewers OnDemand. To prove that, last month TVNZ added an additional 400 hours of content to the platform.
And continuing that trend, the new season line-up includes OnDemand exclusives—and they’re big shows, says Slater.
One series she’s particularly excited about is a big, beautifully filmed BBC drama, The Last Post, which tells the story of a British army unit fighting a Yemeni insurgency in the Middle East in the 1960s.
It'll be joined by Crow’s Blood, a Japanese horror series for which TVNZ has the original Japanese version as well as the English subtitled version. There are also premium documentaries on offer, such as The Vietnam War, which revisits the Vietnam War through the eyes of witnesses, and Hunting the KGB Killers, which goes inside the murder of former KFB agent Alexander Litvinenko.
Experimenting with its programme lineup is nothing new for TVNZ, which over the past year and a half has been introducing new programmes, such as e-sports, on its male-skewed channel Duke.
Given that it doesn’t have the same pressure as TVNZ 1 or TVNZ 2 to make everything work, programmer Edward Kindred told StopPress earlier this year it can broadcast programmes that work purely from a brand perspective.
“On Duke, we take the unusual step of putting programmes on purely for our brand to go ‘we think this is a really important programme’," Kindred said. "Our gut instinct says it’s not going to be the number one show in the country, but we think it does something for the brand."
And while that flexibility has seen it make changes to its lineup, including its 7pm lineup just four months in, Slater says it’s now settled into a consistent lineup with shows like Taskmaster and Mythbusters performing solidly.
However, she adds people are still discovering the channel so it’s looking at what it can do to give it some noise and raise its profile.
One possible solution lies in sports coverage – which is part of the reason why TVNZ will be broadcasting live coverage of the 2018 Commonwealth Games as well as replays and highlights on TVNZ 1, TVNZ Games Extra, Duke and TVNZ.co.nz.
“TVNZ is excited to deliver coverage of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. New Zealanders love live sport and we’re preparing to bring viewers the most extensive free to air coverage of a Commonwealth Games in New Zealand history,” says Slater.
As indicated by the election this year, major events of national interest still have the potential to pull in enormous audiences regardless of where that content is shown.
A new offering from New Blood
Last year, TVNZ launched New Blood, an initiative designed to offer something to the new wave of viewers who aren’t traditional TV audiences. A year on this platform has already delivered more than 20 pieces of short-form content that have since found a home on TVNZ.co.nz, YouTube and Facebook. And soon, the winner of the New Blood Web Series, Oddly Even by Ashleigh Reid and Isla Macleod, will also be joining the platform.
Slater says it’s not only attracting new viewers to TVNZ but also supporting local up-and-coming producers, directors, writers, filmmakers, comedians and actors.
Oddly Even .
Something for all
While the above content favours the eyes of teens and adults, TVNZ isn’t neglecting New Zealand’s younger generations in its commitment to local content. This new season launch has come with an announcement of an ad-free, safe online environment to host children’s multi-media content that's supported with funding from New Zealand On Air.
“The continued support of NZ On Air and the local production community helps us get a lot of amazing and diverse local content out to over two million New Zealanders a day,” says Slater, who adds TVNZ and NZ On Air shared a commitment to filling a gap in the media landscape caused by the lack of local children’s programming.
The children's environment will go live next year.