PM Christopher Luxon: TVNZ job cuts 'incredibly unsettling'

Television New Zealand has confirmed sweeping job cuts are planned, as the state broadcaster responds to major economic challenges and audience shifts.

In a statement this morning TVNZ said it would begin consultation with employees tomorrow on proposed structural changes, which could result in a net reduction of up to 68 roles across all business areas (9 percent of fulltime equivalents). The company employs 700 workers. 

TVNZ chief executive Jodi O’Donnell: "Unfortunately we’re now at the point where we need to...
TVNZ chief executive Jodi O’Donnell: "Unfortunately we’re now at the point where we need to reduce the size of our team". Photo: Supplied
Chief executive Jodi O’Donnell said tough economic conditions and structural challenges within the media sector are impacting revenue performance, and difficult choices need to be made to ensure TVNZ remains sustainable.

She said Friday would be a "confronting day" as affected staff were taken through proposals.

“TVNZ’s Executive team has focused on reducing operating costs over the last 12 months. Unfortunately, we’re now at the point where we need to reduce the size of our team to bring our costs more in line with our revenue," she said today. 

"Changes like the ones we’re proposing are incredibly hard, but we need to ensure we’re in a stronger position to transform the business to meet the needs of our viewers in a digital world.

“There are no easy answers, and media organisations locally and globally are grappling with the same issues.  Our priority is to support our people through the change process - we’ll take the next few weeks to collect, consider and respond to feedback from TVNZers before making any final decisions.”

The state-owned broadcaster's move comes just one week after  Warner Bros. Discovery announced it would close Newshub at the end of June, with the loss of around 300 jobs.

A confirmed structure is expected to be finalised by early April.

TVNZ is government owned but commercially funded through advertising. Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said today news of the job cuts was "incredibly unsettling" and he feels for staff. 

Luxon said all media companies in New Zealand and around the world were wrestling with a changing media environment. Minister Shane Jones interrupted, saying "a vibrant economy will be good for the media, bye bye", and then walked off.

Luxon's comments were in contrast to ACT leader David Seymour who this morning, speaking to Newstalk ZB, called the media immature with a lack of self awareness.

Broadcasting Minister Melissa Lee has not yet commented today.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has suggested TVNZ may need public funding.  

Sunday presenter Miriama Kamo. Photo: TVNZ
Sunday presenter Miriama Kamo. Photo: TVNZ
'Devastating news'

Miriama Kamo, presenter of current affairs programme Sunday, told RNZ today's announcement was "devastating".

"It's devastating not just for our business, it's devastating for... what it means for our wider society. Of course we saw Newshub go and that has really, I believe, dire implications for our democracy.

"When we start cutting into news programmes at our state broadcaster then that really speaks to how dire things are and I am very, very concerned about what the landscape looks like going forward."

She says she does not yet know if Sunday will be affected.

Another TVNZ staffer said the cuts were bigger than what they were expecting. People had been nervously checking their email inboxes this morning to see if they were among those who would be called for meetings. Many found out about the changes via other media last night and didn't hear from bosses until this morning.

TVNZ’s news boss Phil O’Sullivan told staff in an internal email people would be given 24 hours’ notice prior to meetings with those whose roles may potentially be impacted.

"This is happening across all departments at TVNZ. This is devastating for those people invited to meetings and very tough for everyone else.

"Myself and our leadership team will be in those meetings tomorrow morning but we’ll hold an all NCA [news and current affairs] hui at 1pm tomorrow. Expect an invite soon.

The announcement was made at TVNZ's Auckland office this morning. Photo: RNZ
The announcement was made at TVNZ's Auckland office this morning. Photo: RNZ
“There is not a lot more I can say at this point, except to please ask we show respect and kindness to those affected by today’s announcement. As always seek out support if you need it. We are in the leadership team are happy to talk despite the limitations on what we can say.”

Cuts to news and shows?

TVNZ's interim financial results last week showed its total revenue has fallen 13.5 percent from last year to $155.9 million and an interim operating loss of $4.6 million for the last six months of 2023.

The company has made no secret of the fact that it is looking at all costs. It has cut back its executive and middle management numbers in recent months and it has been widely expected that its newsroom numbers would come under scrutiny.

Simon Dallow presents the news at 6pm. Photo: RNZ
Simon Dallow presents the news at 6pm. Photo: RNZ
O’Donnell’s statement today gave no details as to which areas of the business will be the focus of cuts.

It also does not mention if there will be cuts to shows - there has been speculation main bulletin 1News at 6pm might be cut in half to 30 minutes, while other shows such as SundayFair Go and Seven Sharp are understood to be in the spotlight.

The New Zealand Herald's Media Insider understands there is a heavy focus on news and current affairs, where at least 35 jobs could go. More than a dozen staff Sunday have been called to a consultation meeting at 9am tomorrow - one of many to be held across the day.

RNZ understands a hui for all news and current affairs staff will be held at 1pm on Friday. This follows separate morning meetings for programmes/platforms including Re: News, Fair Go and Sunday1News Tonight may also be affected. 

Jobs at Māori language news programme Te Karere will not be cut, but the flow-on effect will most likely see the "TVNZ news recharges" thatTe Karere has to pay increase. This could affect staffing later down the track, RNZ understands.

RNZ Mediawatch's Colin Peacock was asked by Morning Report today if he thought there was any merit in the idea that the evening news could be cut back to 30 minutes.

Peacock said most countries don't have news bulletins as long as New Zealand.  "It's possible TVNZ considering something like that but if you have a news operation - the cameras, the studio, the personnel - what do you really save by shrivelling up a bulletin to a half-hour one ," he said.

In a recent interview with Media Insider O’Donnell said there were no “sacred cows” when it came to cuts.

Media Insider understands that includes one of the biggest of all, Shortland Street, TVNZ 2′s 7pm weekday hospital drama, which has been a staple of the New Zealand television diet for 32 years.

However, RNZ understands Shortland Street staff and crew have been sent an email this morning and they assume they are safe for now. 

TVNZ fully funds the programme to the tune of millions of dollars a year (it stretches to eight figures but the exact costs are deemed commercially sensitive) and with no assistance from the likes of NZ on Air.

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
TVNZ chief executive's full email to staff

TVNZ chief executive Jodi O'Donnell has told staff Friday will be a "confronting" day at the state broadcaster.

Her full internal email:

“As our interim results announcement last week illustrated, tough economic and market conditions are impacting our revenue performance, and we need to make some difficult choices to ensure TVNZ remain sustainable.

“Tomorrow, the leadership team will share proposals which could result in a net reduction of up to 68 roles from across all business areas.

“I know this is not the news any of us want to hear, and it’s certainly not a message I want to deliver, but I want to be upfront with you and ensure that you hear it from me.

“TVNZers who may be impacted by the proposed changes will receive calendar invites today for consultation meetings tomorrow.

“The exec team has been focused on reducing costs over the last 12 months. Unfortunately we’re now at the point where we need to reduce the size of our team to bring our costs more in line with our revenue and ensure we’re the right shape and size as we continue to transform to meet the needs of viewers in a digital world.In developing the proposals, the Exec team have considered:

• the potential cost savings;

• the impact on viewers, revenue and audiences; 

• fit with our shift to a digital first strategy and;

• the impact on our people.

“Tomorrow will be a confronting day for all of us here at Te Reo Tataki and it’s going to remain challenging as we work through the change process over the coming weeks.

“There are no easy answers and media organisations locally and globally are grappling with the same issues.

“Our intent is to confirm any changes by early April.

“Yesterday’s media speculation was disappointing but we know there will be public interest so we’ll be advising external media that we’re proposing changes in a release shortly.

“My priority is our people and supporting you through this. My commitment is I will continue to be upfront and open and available for anyone who wants to talk while being sensitive and respectful of the process and the confidentiality of TVNZers in roles proposed to be directly impacted.”

- NZ Herald, ODT Online, RNZ