28 Apr 2024

Fixing a screen industry in crisis

From Culture 101, 2:00 pm on 28 April 2024
Irene Gardiner smiling

Photo: RNZ / Jeff McEwan

New Zealand’s local production and screen industry is in crisis. But how did it get to this point? 

“It’s been years of international streaming companies operating in New Zealand without any regulation,” says Screen Production and Developers Association (SPADA) president Irene Gardiner.

Speaking to Culture 101’s Perlina Lau, Gardiner explains the streaming companies have been using New Zealand’s broadband, have not followed any broadcasting laws or regulations and have not had to pay any tax. 

“They’ve brought fabulous content but they’ve taken a lot of our eyeballs and have massively reduced our ability of local platforms to make advertising revenue. ”

Meanwhile, big tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, have taken advertisers which Gardiner describes as a double attack that has affected journalism platforms. 

It is an issue countries around the world are facing. Local content is being affected by the international streamers and for several years, SPADA has been urging the government to take action. 

That call is becoming increasingly urgent.

SPADA is now calling for regulation of the tech companies and international streamers. It is suggesting a levy of at least 5 percent of the New Zealand revenue from companies like Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Disney with that money being put back into local production through funding agencies. A 5 percent levy would yield about $20 million a year. 

The guild is also calling for the multinationals to contribute to local production in some way and for extra support to be given to funding agencies.

These changes will take time and the biggest plea is to exempt the screen funding agencies from the across-the-board government 7.5 percent cuts. 

“In an ideal world, if there was a way to get $10 or $20 million more into those (agency) coffers, just to keep us going, until we can get money off the streamers, that would be good to keep in terms of keeping New Zealand content but it’s money that would come back. The return on the investment on that would be really good.”

Gardiner estimates a $20m investment could see a $60m return. The screen industry in Aotearoa is a $3.5 billion industry with a large percentage being international productions.

There is concern that if the local industry is not supported, it becomes harder to feed back into the international productions. 

“To have that thriving international bit of our industry, that puts a lot of money into the New Zealand economy, you do need to have a local production industry to service that. 

“It would be pretty tragic if New Zealand’s screen industry just became a service industry for international - that would be sad.”

The loss in advertising revenue and drop in viewership is causing damage across the sector, says Gardiner,  as seen with the closure of Newshub and significant cuts at TVNZ. 

The Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill, introduced under Labour, went before a select committee in February and a response is expected in May. It would mean social media companies like Meta and Google pay New Zealand media companies to use their content.  

But Gardiner says it us not yet known whether the current government will continue with that bill or set up another path with the streamers or whether journalism and local production will be combined. 

She says it would make sense to combine journalism and local production and ask tech companies and streamers to pay for access to the market. A small percentage levy of their NZ revenue could then go towards funding journalism and local production. 

But it is not just economics. There are cultural and social ramifications. 

New Zealand is proud of its film and television industry and it is a large part of our national identity. 

“What would New Zealand be like if we never saw a local production, you never heard a New Zealand accent, never saw an Indigenous story, no New Zealand humour or journalism?  It just doesn’t bear thinking about.”

But with the new government and a new broadcasting minister this week, Gardiner is hopeful there will be change. 

Minister Paul Goldsmith is a senior minister and has both the portfolios of broadcasting and arts, culture and heritage.

“I felt a bit for Melissa Lee because she’s incredibly passionate about broadcasting but she ended up coming in as a new Cabinet minister as things went into crisis mode very, very quickly.

“I think the fact he has been brought in indicates they do understand we are in something of a crisis and things need to be done, so I am hopeful.”

SPADA president Irene Gardiner spoke to Culture 101