NZ On Air announces first round of NZ Media Fund decisions

The first round of funding for NZ On Air’s new NZ Media Fund is complete, with the announcement of the successful factual and scripted programmes that will be broadcast across a number of platforms.

It’s the first time funding has been given through the revamped fund, which came into being on 1 July and includes four streams: factual, scripted, music and the closed-stream platforms. 

The factual and scripted streams can consider content for television, online and radio and with local talent keen to get their share. There were 50 applications for the factual content stream, however, only 26 were selected.

They include a documentary series that tells the stories of New Zealand’s popular music canned National Anthems, six accounts of what it means to be different called I Am…, a series observing a troop of young recruits as they go through basic training to become soldiers in the New Zealand army called Intake and a family’s story of the challenges and joys of whangai adoption called Sharing The Love.

There’s also returning content including Coast New Zealand, Country Calendar and Attitude Awards.

Chief executive Jane Wrightson says the applications covered a wide range of audiences and platforms and those that were successful contribute to NZ On Air’s objectives of quality, diverse, discoverable content. She adds the unsuccessful projects include some excellent but underdeveloped ideas that may get across the line in the future.

“There are never enough funds to do everything we’d like to do so the bar is high. What we have achieved in this first NZMF round is a good balance between high investment mainstream content, most of which will also sell internationally, and lower investment content for clearly targeted audiences.”

Reflecting the Media Fund’s commitment to providing content in more places, the successful factual projects will be available on Prime, TVNZ 1, Radio New Zealand, Māori Television, NZ Herald online, Vice, Three, Newstalk ZB and NZME’s WatchMe.

Māori Television’s head of content Mike Rehu says it’s very pleased that its special Anzac Day coverage has been funded by the NZ Media fund as well as the ANZAC Dawn Service 2018, which will air as part of the channel’s annual coverage of events of significance that commemorates all New Zealand wars.

The channel is also celebrating funding for a third season of Game of Bros, the documentary In Foreign Fields and its new series Intake. However, Rehu does add that it’s disappointed that its Documentary Aotearoa series missed out in this funding round.

Documentary Aotearoa is a showcase of the finest in New Zealand-made documentaries celebrating our indigenous diversity and talent. We will continue to lobby for funding for this fantastic series.”

In the scripted stream, there’s also a mix of online and linear TV channels, with the successful applications including a tele-feature based on the true story of wrongful conviction of rape and murder called In Dark Places for TVNZ 1 and the second series of a previously self-funded successful fantasy web series based on gaming called AFK: This World And The Next for TVNZ OnDemand.

Fans of Three’s Westside, Jono and Ben and 7 Days will be pleased to see those programmes earning another round of funding alongside WatchMe’s The Watercooler.

In all, eight programmes were successful in the scripted category from the 16 applications and like the factual category, Wrightson says the challenge was to achieve a balance between maintaining content on-screen that is holding an audience while looking out for great, fresh ideas, and reaching new audiences on different platforms.

The new NZ Media Fund is NZ On Air’s response to the fast-changing and converging media environment as it’s replaced the existing model that individual funds for radio, web or television with one holistic fund.

When the announcement of the new funding strategy was made last year, Wrightson assured that at its core, NZ On Air would still be about backing the best ideas and providing free content to New Zealand.

“Our own audience research confirms there are fast and significant audience shifts taking place. NZ On Air will remain a passionate advocate for our own stories and songs in a tough environment where local content must foot it with the world’s best. These changes will encourage new ideas and new opportunities,” she said.

“With intense competition for audiences from international media, it is more important than ever that NZ On Air is able to maintain a space for local content. It’s vital to our cultural identity.”

With NZME having branched out into video in recent years and cementing its commitment to it with WatchMe and NZ Herald Focus, head of video Cameron Death says to have its work and the work of producing partners—The Watercooler and Sharing The Love—be recognised by NZ On Air is fantastic, particularly given that it’s competing in the same realm as the networks.

“It is great to work with NZ On Air to deliver video content where more Kiwis are engaging with it, and opening up the opportunities for those of us in the digital medium. We look forward to building on this relationship going forward,” Death says.

And for Radio New Zealand, which has also seen increased investment in its digital offering, the new funding model provides an exciting opportunity for both it and content producers around New Zealand.

Head of content Carol Hirschfeld says there’s a number of independent producers around New Zealand who are making strong content that wouldn’t necessarily find a home with commercial broadcasters but does align with what RNZ produces in-house and hopes to carry online. She gives the example of New Zealand Wars by independent production company Great Southern, which has been granted funding in the factual stream. The interactive online project including a documentary, podcast, battle reconstruction and online museum, will tell the story of the 19th century New Zealand wars and Hirschfeld hopes the fund will pave the way for more series of this kind.

“Given the partnerships and collaborations that we have been building over the last couple of years, these kinds of projects will be more likely for us and offer a great potential for our audience,” Hirschfeld says.

The launch of the new fund follows TVNZ’s confirmation of the changing media environment by rolling out a live-stream of all its channels online. In June, the broadcaster revamped its website and added TVNZ 1 and 2 to its online streaming offering, which already included TVNZ Duke and its on-demand content.

It’s a move that was hinted at by TVNZ towards the end of last year, when it announced its 2017 programme line up and at the time former director of content Jeff Latch told StopPress that the new NZ On Air NZ Media Fund “will mean the entire local slate will have more opportunities and will be thought of much more as a truly integrated multi-platform property, rather than a TV show or an online show”.

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