Damien Venuto: Three media storylines to follow in 2022


With its colourful band of larger-than-life characters, the media business generally serves up a fascinating collection of stories in any year.

And as we venture into the third year of the pandemic, we’re set to see a number of shifts that will change the way the media industry looks and operates in New Zealand’s digital economy.

In that foolish end-of-year tradition of trying to gaze into the future, here are our picks for the big media stories of next year.

The great tech bargain

At the beginning of December, the News Publishers’ Association sought Commerce Commission approval for publishers NZ Herald, Stuff, The Spinoff and the Otago Daily Times to collectively bargain with Facebook and Google on payment for their content.

This was a significant move, but the application excluded the names of some of New Zealand’s biggest news publishers.

Submissions to the commission this week suggest there could be a few additional names added to that list of collaborators by the time the bargaining starts.

Discovery, TVNZ and RNZ all expressed concern in their submissions that they were excluded from the application for collective bargaining.

In his submission, RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson said he sees merit in allowing news media to have an option to bargain collectively with the major tech platforms, but felt the wording in the application excluded some news media.

“This seems arbitrary and poses the risk of a ‘closed shop’ being created that would potentially disadvantage those not allowed to join the collective,” Thompson said.

“The widest benefits to the public would flow from a ‘broad church’ approach that gives all accredited New Zealand news media the option of joining this collective or, if they choose, an alternative collective. We think this matter should be considered carefully before provisional authorisation is granted.”

Those sentiments were mirrored in the TVNZ submission, which stressed that television advertising revenue has also been hit hard by Google and Facebook.

“Approximately only 10c in every dollar spent on digital advertising in New Zealand goes to the New Zealand news producers that invest in producing that journalism and content,” the submission says.

“Based on the level of investment required to operate our digital news services to an attractive, informative, credible and competitive quality, that level of return does not support a sustainable future.”

The TVNZ submission notes that since its peak in 2013, the total annual TV advertising market has declined 26 per cent (by $165m), while online advertising revenue (majority controlled by Facebook and Google) has risen 129 per cent ($607m).

In response, TVNZ is calling on the commission to extend the collective bargaining beyond members of the News Publishers’ Association to include other news providers.

Rather than try to stop the collective bargaining outright, TVNZ is instead requesting approval to join the other New Zealand media in their approach to Google and Facebook.

“An authorisation that excluded TVNZ from participating in the arrangement would confer a competitive advantage on participants and put TVNZ at a competitive disadvantage which would reduce the public benefit and in fact be a public detriment.”

International media giant Discovery, which owns the Newshub brand in the local market, didn’t mince its words in a submission from its legal department: “There is no good reason why Discovery NZ has been excluded from the proposed arrangement.”

In a similar vein to TVNZ and RNZ, Discovery argues that it may be necessary to “widen the scope of the proposed arrangement”.

The consistent theme through all three submissions is that the revenue impact of Google and Facebook is a problem best addressed through the participation of all New Zealand’s media companies.

From a bargaining perspective, the contribution of TVNZ, RNZ and Discovery would certainly add greater clout to the attempts by New Zealand’s media to attain fair payment for their content.

As things stand, there are no plans by the Government to introduce Australia-style legislation that forces tech giants to negotiate with local publishers.

That means that for now, any hope of reaching a fair agreement rests largely on the outcome of this collective bargaining.

Should the Commerce Commission give New Zealand media the go-ahead to bargain together, it won’t just be New Zealand keeping eye on proceedings. This could become a template for publishers in other markets, similarly deprived of effective legislation, to attempt to reach fair payment agreements in their countries.

That said, even if the publishers make it to the negotiating table, Google and Facebook won’t roll over and concede to all the demands.

These companies have already shown a willingness to play hardball in Australia – and New Zealand is a far smaller market.

The question facing this country’s media is how much Google and Facebook will flex their muscles once the negotiating starts.

RNZ, TVNZ fusion

It isn’t entirely surprising that TVNZ and RNZ see eye to eye on this issue, given that the fusion of these two entities is expected to begin early in the New Year.

The responsibility of managing this merger will rest on the shoulders of RNZ’s Thompson and the yet-to-be-appointed chief executive who will replace Kevin Kenrick at TVNZ.

The real challenge will lie in bringing together two workplace cultures that couldn’t be further apart. That problem isn’t unique to media businesses.

In their 2003 research paper titled “Cultural Conflict and Merger Failure: An Experimental Approach”, researchers Roberto Weber and Collin Camerer found that most corporate mergers fail, often due to cultural conflict between two formerly independent organisations.

The researchers found that despite the best intentions, finger-pointing often ensues when things go wrong, with staff blaming those who joined from the other organisation.

The bosses at TVNZ and RNZ will have to ensure that the commercially-driven team at TVNZ and the public radio journalists at RNZ find common ground and work towards a shared objective.

Radio and TV wars

Next year will be a case of back to the future in terms of classic radio and TV ratings battles. Tova O’Brien will step into the breakfast role at MediaWorks-owned Today FM (formerly MagicTalk) and go head to head against the king of talkback, Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking.

O’Brien may not have any breakfast radio experience, but she has established herself as one of the finest political journalists in the country. There’s no doubt she’ll put up a fight, despite the odds stacked heavily in Hosking’s favour.

The other battle to keep an eye on in 2022 will play out on Breakfast TV. TVNZ’s solid Breakfast crew led by John Campbell and Jenny-May Clarkson will be pitted against a revamped AM Show featuring co-hosts Ryan Bridge and Melissa Chan-Green, supported by veteran broadcaster Bernadine Oliver-Kerby and entertainer William Waiirua.

With the teams now assembled on both sides, 2022’s battle for Kiwi eyes and ears could be the fiercest we’ve seen in years.

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