A publicly-funded online platform for commercial-free children’s programmes and content will launch in 2018. Mediawatch says it's a response to modern kids' new media habits, but also our broadcasters’ lack of interest in their youngest viewers - and it won’t reach all Kiwi kids.
A new publicly-funded online platform for children’s programmes and multimedia content has been announced by the government and its broadcasting funding agency NZ on Air.
The service for children aged five to nine will be ad-free but may have commercial sponsors.
Its charter of principles released by NZ On Air says the yet-to-be named site can also have “appropriate sponsorship, where TVNZ and NZ On Air agree”.
State-owned TVNZ will create the platform with $1.5 million from NZ on Air to go live in March 2018. Local content for the site funded by NZ On Air will be supplemented with content from overseas.
The website will be overseen by an advisory panel including Janette Howe of the New Zealand Children's Screen Trust. The group formed after TVNZ’s non-commercial channel closed in 2011 to push for a permanent home for children’s television.
“A digital home for local content will give our children a trusted space they can call their own," says Ms Howe.
The new online service is designed to complement programmes on free-to-air TV funded by NZ On Air.
Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry said in a statement NZ On Air would commission content through its September funding round and was about to start working with children’s content producers for new material.
NZ On Air chief executive Jane Wrightson said this was “a timely and crucial intervention for children’s media in New Zealand”.
New Zealand On Air has a statutory responsibility to provide for children and has spent about $15m a year on children's programmes in recent years. But it cannot force broadcasters to air them and some free-to-air TV channels have turned away from shows for kids.
Viewers lost Kidzone when commercial-free TVNZ 6 closed in 2011. NZ On Air reviewed its strategy in 2015 after warning that broadcasters’ support for local kids' TV “could not be taken for granted”.
A major outlet was lost in 2016 when MediaWorks turned FOUR into reality channel Bravo and some publicly-funded programmes were launched online-only on TVNZ’s on-demand service.
This led to complaints that families without broadband were missing out.
"The digital divide may be closing but it still exists. Kids have a right to media that informs them and educates them about their world," Janette Howe told Mediawatch in 2016.
"When you have an anchor channel you can develop that, and parents and kids know where to find it. We don't have that public space any more. That's why NZ On Air has put the call out to commercial companies to build something online," she told Mediawatch last year.
Is online the answer?
The charter for the new online service says:
“Children have a right to accessible and diverse local media which is made specifically for them.”
But NZ On Air’s own research shows a substantial proportion of families can't easily access an online video service.
A survey of 700 children in 2015 found children’s online time was growing but the survey also found only 77 percent of homes had broadband while 98 percent had TV in 2014.
"TV is still the dominant screen in New Zealand children's lives,” said Colmar Brunton's report, while "on-demand sites are rarely used by 6-14 year olds on a daily basis".
A TV channel for children didn't feature as an option in the discussion paper NZOA put out last year.
In Australia, the public broadcaster ABC operates two children's channels, both of which have interactive websites and on-demand platforms for the content.