Blow for media industry

It is almost 30 years since TV3 made its inaugural broadcast. But will it get to 31?

New Zealand's first commercial channel has changed the face of television in this country, and also had a tremendous impact on the depth and breadth of broadcast journalism.

Long considered the hipper, edgier rival to TVNZ, TV3 had the sense of being a visionary, always willing to take a chance and openly keen to appeal to the younger demographic.

It was all good fun while it lasted. But now the little station that could finds itself embroiled in crisis.

TV3 owner MediaWorks has put the cash-strapped television arm of its business on the market and says it wants a deal in place by Christmas. To whom it will sell, exactly, is the big question, not to mention what any new owner would do with the station's signature products like Newshub and The AM Show.

MediaWorks plans to break the company in two, keeping the profitable radio and outdoor advertising arms, and selling off its Auckland headquarters. That leaves hundreds of employees in limbo, and sets the scene for another seismic shift in a New Zealand media landscape that finds itself under siege.

The rise of digital media and the relentless hoovering of billions of dollars of advertising by tech giants Google and Facebook has created shockwaves that show no sign of easing up.

It is a shame this latest development has been overshadowed by a personal spat between Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and broadcaster Mark Richardson - which all got very tiresome very quickly - as there are major issues to be discussed and digested.

One of those is the role the Government can play in "saving'' TV3, or at least in levelling the playing field.

It has removed the requirement for TVNZ to provide a financial return, a luxury denied a commercial operation like MediaWorks.

The Government could, if it chose, turn TVNZ into an advertising-free, genuine public television station, freeing up millions of dollars in advertising, a fair chunk of which would naturally migrate to other free-to-air channels.

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi is considering the options and has said the Government's plans will be revealed later this year, possibly just in time for TV3. However, many doubt the Government will go all the way down the non-commercial route.

TV3 is no stranger to tough times. It went bankrupt after its first few years, got bought by Canwest, morphed into MediaWorks, and went into receivership a second time in 2013.

Can it survive this latest crisis? It won't be easy.

If TV3 becomes another victim of the digital revolution, it will be a black day for New Zealand media.

 

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