Doing a lot with a little: Māori TV gears up for its new season of programming

Māori Television held its new season programme launch yesterday, which kicked off in a “traditional fashion” to the sound of a Karakia, singing and prayer. We had a kōrero with head of content Mike Rehu on what’s in store for the season, operating on a small budget, Māori Television’s response to digital disruption and the importance of Te reo Māori.

Government-funded Māori Televison has been operating since 2004 in an attempt to revitalise Māori language and culture.

This has been no easy feat for the station, operating on a shoestring budget, and Rehu says it hasn’t received an increase in funding in seven years.

It currently gets about $16 million from the government and a further $16 million in programming funding from agencies such as Te Mangai Paho and NZ on Air. It raises about $1.2 million in advertising, according to the Herald.

“We’re not here to make money,” says Rehu. “[Māori Television] was set up to grow and normalise Te reo Māori. And after 20 years in the corporate TV world (previously at Fox International in Singapore) I wanted to make a difference …,” he says.

Rehu cites Māori Television’s small budget as a reason for its recent advertising tactic where it partook in a bit of ambush marketing, placing its own billboards for Lavalava Boys next to billboards for MediaWorks’ The Bachelor.

The production company behind The Bachelor is now taking on Māori Television over claims it deliberately infringed its rights, according to Stuff.

“We’ve been doing some interesting advertising. We booked advertising around the ads of The Bachelor and have a trailer with a banner that we put up,” he says.

“We are just a challenger brand and our budget is a fraction of what [the bigger broadcasters]have to operate with. So we have to be quite smart about how we spend the money.”

So, as you might imagine, juggling and organising the programming schedule is an important, if not daunting task and one Rehu certainly doesn’t take the task lightly, making sure the difficult balance between tikanga (culture) and entertainment is maintained.

He says Monday nights will be more sporty, and include Play, a sports commentary show hosted by ex-Tall Black Brendon Pongia and Lou Tyson, Tuesdays will feature more serious programming, including the reformatted Native Affairs, Wednesday will be more kaupapa driven, with a strong Māori angle, says Rehu while Thursday will include more entertaining shows, like Game of Bros and The Palace.

Game of Bros


Rehu says it was decided Thursday would be Māori Television’s entertainment night so it didn’t have to compete with popular Friday night shows on other networks like Jono and Ben and Seven Days. Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be for “Whanau films”, children’s movies, blockbusters and festival films, he says.

But, of course, in today’s world broadcasters can’t just get away with screening content on TV, they have to be everywhere, and Māori Television is no exception.

The station has on-demand shows on offer, and one show which has gone particularly well is The Palace, says Rehu, which was initially launched exclusively as online content, but in the new programming season will be televised.

The show follows the ever-popular hip-hop choreographer Parris Goebel and her crew of dancers, funded by New Zealand on Air.

“We did a segmentation research project and one thing that came up is that we are perceived as being too traditional and serious, and that we could afford to be more entertaining,” he says.

Further, half of Maori are under 23, says Rehu. “So we knew we needed to try and attract those people. We have linear channels and we’re multi-platform. We are funded by linear programmes, so it’s a challenge to get what we want out of the system. New Zealand on Air played ball by letting us release [The Palace] online first to get people excited …”

Perhaps its attempt to be more entertaining and its challenge of attracting a younger audience is why Māori Television changed up its current affairs format, cutting its show Native Affairs from one hour down to half an hour.

It was highly publicised last year when two top journalists left the station. Mihingarangi Forbes left reportedly due to management interference in the programme’s content, and fellow journalist Annabelle Lee followed shortly after.

Last year, the Herald reported it was understood tension had been building since April 2014 when chief executive Paora Maxwell was appointed, which also coincided with the departure of respected journalists Carol Hirschfield and Julian Wilcox.

Rehu says the current affairs has also been moved from Mondays to Tuesdays.

“ … in the past it’s been run for an hour and had a lot of studio panel discussions. We have kind of run away from that and kept the stories in there and cut it to half an hour and decided to concentrate more on those stories,” he says.

“We were finding in research that in those panel debates, unless there was tension it’s not very good television and people tended to switch off then.”

This move follows a shift we are seeing from other broadcasters too, where hard-hitting current affairs shows are leaning towards softer formats with multiple hosts and more entertainment content, for example, Seven Sharp and Story.

Rehu says another challenge for Māori Television lies in the language quotas, which require 70 percent of the Māori language over both channels (Māori Television and Te Reo).

“We used to offer all content in English and Maori but what we were finding was only about five percent of people were engaging in fully fluent Te reo online so now we have a 70/30 mix so we are a bit more receptive. We were set up to grow the language, so there’s no doubt we need to cater for that and a learning acquisition for young people.”

He says he knows from studies that 77 percent of Māori people have no acquaintance to the language. “Quite a few non-Māori speak it too. It was an interesting insight into where we are aiming and where the audience are.”

Online, Māori Television has been more receptive to a broader audience, Rehu says as the quotas are different. “We are not harnessed by the quotas [online]and we do lots of work on social. We now have over 100,000 followers and we also launched an app about six months ago which is working well for us too.”

“We are very aware that we need to be where the audience are.”

Rehu says internally the station splits its audience up into five groups which helps dictate the content.

Rangatahi (youth) viewers, youth potentials, loyal viewers, and lapsed viewers who may not be the biggest fans anymore that it wants to win back and urban professionals.

“It’s a good test when you’re developing shows, we think of who it’s for.”

According to the station’s website, Māori Television has 1.8 million viewers per month, increasing at a rate of 14 percent every year since the station’s launch and it reaches 45 percent of New Zealanders per month (250,000 per day).

However, its ratings are still significantly lower than its competitors. Throng ratings from 1 September last year show for that day it had a 0.3 percent channel share compared to other channels. However, its worth noting that since these ratings are from one day, other days its channel share might be higher but it gives an indication of performance. 

“We’re not commercially driven. The money that comes to us we are lucky enough to plough back into it. We are lucky in that regard,” he says. “Our sales team have done a really good job. They work closely with us about what’s coming up. Play is good at drawing sponsors, they want to be associated with it, but a lot of it goes back into making the content better.”

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