It’s that time of year when the television networks have strutted their new seasons in front of all of us, promising bigger, brighter, better things for the year ahead and l uring us in with bright, shiny tidbits from upcoming shows. We in turn pretend that those snippets, carefully carved to give an upbeat impression of what’s in store, are indeed representative of the bounty Kiwi audiences will be served in 2011. If the reality is a little different, well, that’s showbiz. A little smoke, a few mirrors, hey presto!
But what can we actually expect by way of television in 2011?
First, let’s deal with the television event of the year: the Rugby World Cup. If 87% of New Zealanders tuned into the northern hemisphere coverage in 2007, the networks forecast of 3.7m viewers tuning into 2011 coverage is not unreasonable. If ever the consumer electronics industry was going to convince New Zealand to purge their households of CRT sets in exchange for modern flat screen technology, this is the moment. Coverage will be across all networks; Sky TV (all 48 matches), Maori TV (16 matches), TVNZ (7 matches) and TV3 (7 matches). The networks are in market now selling a Family of Four sponsorship; in February spot packs will be released to the market.
Elsewhere in 2011, stand by in late January for the relaunch of the rebadged, retargeted FOUR. The onscreen logo changes will happen quickly, the audience migration not so much. And (since even our younger demographics tend to resist change) expect a noisy backlash on the social networks as the newly-disenfranchised C4 fans vent their spleen. In our view, it will take most of 2011 for FOUR to attract its newly-desired audiences, especially given the channel’s current Number 12 position on the Sky remote.
For the other free-to-air networks it’ll largely be business as usual. TV3 will be discarding some of its age-inappropriate programming wardrobe as it starts dating older audiences (25-54 rather than the slightly scandalous 18-49); Television One will disassociate itself from Breakfast hooliganism and assume a more dignified posture (whilst trying to act a bit younger than its appearance would suggest); TV2 will continue its populist American-centric ways (but without the late, lamented LOST); and Prime will continue its dalliance with British and Australian content, mixing the eccentric, the eclectic and the entertaining.
In our view, none of those minor tweaks will have much impact on relative ratings of the networks; there are no game-changing shows on current US or UK channels, so we expect it to be largely business as usual in 2011 for the Free To Air networks.
Our two taxpayer-funded non-commercial channels (TVNZ6 and TVNZ7) are almost past their use-by date –their funding is due to run out at the end of 2011, and their initial purpose (to encourage viewers to go digital) was essentially neutered when the channels were made available via the Sky platform. Current thinking is that TVNZ6 will become a commercial youth channel, while TVNZ7 will remain a non-commercial news & current affairs channel, perhaps structured similarly to the Radio New Zealand model. We’re not sure that the youth channel notion is necessarily the smartest use of the facility (isn’t MediaWorks TV abandoning that space for greener and more commercially lucrative pastures?) but TVNZ7 represents the possibility of an independent news voice – although to achieve that lofty ambition could well require separation from the TVNZ newsroom.
As for MediaWorks TV’s two Freeview-only channels, TV3+1 and C42 – their contractual purpose has been served for minimal programming outlay. In our view they may well be sacrificed to serve the greater good at some future point (if our economy continues its glacial recovery).
We should also note the steady expansion online by our leading broadcasters. iSky will launch before the end of this year, bringing Replay Television to many of its Basic Tier channels (and streaming live sport and news in Multi-Room households as well). TVNZ On Demand has recently added a higher quality video streaming option to its portfolio; and MediaWorks TV continues to increase its online content.
We also see TiVo ramping up its CASPA download service with more programming (including 3D); and MySky HDi is slated to increase its web-sourced content in the near future as well. And our roundup of online television doesn’t even take account of content delivered through a steadily-increasing smorgasbord of hardware such as PS3, Xbox360, Apple TV, Sony Play TV, Google TV, etcetera etcetera.
The New Zealand television industry has enjoyed good audience numbers in 2009 and 2010, thanks to the lingering effects of the economic downturn. Some revenue growth has been in evidence this year (although those increases were over and above the truly dismal earnings in 2009). We expect television earnings to continue their slow recovery in the first half of 2011 in line with economic expectations.