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One pot to fund them all: a glance at NZ On Air’s dramatic overhaul of funding

New Zealand On Air has signalled a transformation of the way it funds media – the biggest such change in the public body’s 27-year history. What will the new approach look like?

The draft funding strategy published this morning sets out the plan for a single, contestable media fund as part of NZ On Air’s core task, to “reflect and develop New Zealand identity and culture”.

Here is an example of a human basking in the reflection of New Zealand identity and culture:

A human contemplates funding models.

A human indvidual contemplates funding models.

“We’re responding to the massive media disruption,” said NZ On Air boss Jane Wrightson on RNZ this morning.

Up after Wrightson on Nine to Noon, direct from “content creation land”, came The Spinoff founder and thought leader Duncan Greive. “I love it!” he said. But he would, wouldn’t he, given his bloodthirsty imperial cross-platform ambitions?

What does the strategy lay out?

Simples

“In a complicated media environment, and with increased demand for our funds, we are looking for simplicity and flexibility,” begins the draft strategy (their emphasis). At a time where you can’t move for someone puffing on about dynamic-disrupted-converged-fragmented-cross-platform-content-delivery-media-landscape, they have taken the decision to simplify the funding machine, with one big pot, underpinned by one clear strategy. It’s goodbye to the drama, documentary, digital, Pacific and music strategies, enoho rā to the Channel Preference policy and nice knowing you to the Platinum and Digital Media funds.

On the whole, this dings the bell of death for “platform silos”, the idea being that it is no longer critical whether a platform is historically a TV channel or a newspaper or whatever. All in it together.

Three goals

The strategy itself is streamlined, too, underpinned by three goals:

Quality content: “NZ audiences enjoy well made local content that matters”

Diverse content: “NZ audiences value local content made for a range of communities”

Discoverable content: “NZ audiences can find and appreciate local content”

You will be tested on these three goals at the end of this post.

One big fund

The newly created, overarching NZ Media Fund is the big kahuna, encompassing just about everything (with the honourable exception of “research, sector partnerships, and a small amount of industry development funding”).

The millions of dollars of the NZ Media Fund will all be stored in a giant cauldron in a secret warehouse in downtown Wellington, and distributed via four enormous copper pipes, or “funding streams”. Should you want to lob your inflatable device into one of these streams, however, content-creating friend, you’ll need a “qualifying commissioning platform”, which we’ll get to.

But first, those streams:

Factual: Audio/visual documentary and factual projects, really. Stuff important to New Zealand. It “may involve specialist journalism”. (Based on existing funding levels, the factual stream would account for about $42 million.)

Scripted: Scripted things, really. Your drama, your comedy, your animation and your “other entertaining content”. (More outrageous bias against improvisational performance art.) Spans the gamut from small projects to big-budget telly. ($43m.)

Music: Music, really. For the making and distribution of the stuff. ($4m.)

Platforms: This is an “operating funding” category for “specially targeted services to create and deliver audio/visual public media content of particular cultural or social value.” Current beneficiaries from this stream include RNZ, some community radio stations and NZ on Screen. You get the feeling NZ On Air really don’t want to hear about your amazing new post-spatial transmedia platform idea. “NZ On Air will rarely fund new platforms and will not generally accept unsolicited applications to this stream.”

An intriguing illustration

Before we get to the qualifying commissioning platforms, pause for a moment and get a load of this NZ on Air image:

flux

Drawing on influences as broad as progressive rock album cover art, sea-scout instructional manuals and anatomical brain models, this rope-themed flux-capacitor graphic is designed to show the jumble of the existing strategies being streamlined like a whole lot of fibrous cables getting squeezed into a triangular health warning, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.

Qualifying commissioning platforms

“We require market attachment but are platform-neutral. We will accept relevant content applications financially supported by a qualifying broadcaster or platform (“commissioning platform”).”

These platforms, should they wish to be considered both qualifying and commissioning, need to attract a “significant audience”, to be free for users to access and be able to “show a track record of sustained commitment to NZ content”. They will be expected to pitch in, to bring their own cash to the party and explore third-party players who can also bring something to the party thereby making it an excellent party. They need to show how they can get lots of people to experience their excellent party and successfully promote the party.

As before, NZ On Air is not going to cough up public money if your project “can be designed to secure commercial funding”, so don’t even try it.

Te Ao Māori

NZ On Air notes its commitment to “support the production of quality Māori content made for a general audience, to have a good relationship with Māori content creators [and] to uphold the mana tangata and mana iwi of funded content.”

The funding rounds

How will the funding rounds be organised?

This is probably getting kind of inside-baseball. I’m just going to paste this bit.

funding

The plan is for the new strategy to be implemented from July 2017, and NZ On Air is seeking feedback, especially from you.

Now – what were the three goals?

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