16 Feb 2020

A model for RNZ’s new youth service?

From Mediawatch, 9:20 am on 16 February 2020

RNZ’s planned new music-based outlet to hook younger people has been met with scepticism  - even scorn - during the current controversy over RNZ Concert. RNZ bosses and pundits have singled out Australia’s Triple J as a possible model. Mediawatch asks the Kiwi in charge of its content what it does and whether it would work here. 

ABC producer Ollie Wards

ABC producer Ollie Wards Photo: Supplied/ABC.net.au

There's been no shortage of comment on RNZ's handling of its shake-up of RNZ music. 

In its latest editorial, The Listener said RNZ's leaders have damaged the broadcaster's public standing. 

"RNZ must be feeling like a pet cat that was adored until it unexpectedly peed on the best couch and was chased under the house by an irate family," said The Listener. 

Much of the controversy has centred on planned deep cuts to RNZ Concert in order to launch a new music-focused network for younger New Zealanders this year. 

The RNZ Concert cuts are on hold now after a big public and political backlash. 

But the youth network is still on. - after the completion of a business case and with an extra FM frequency and the promise of government support now part of the mix. 

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Photo: Triple J

But many pundits have questioned whether it will succeed - or even if it is needed, given that many commercial and student radio stations already serve younger listeners with music.           

"In deciding to set up a youth station, RNZ is taking a risk, and that risk is funded by the public. Its first steps have not been reassuring. The cat won’t be leaping back in the lap any time soon," The Listener warned this week.

The vision outlined to MPs at RNZ's annual review in parliament this week was ambitious. 

"It is our intent to provide an opportunity for young New Zealanders to build a community designed by them, produced by them, presented by them, and in doing so creating a lifelong connection with RNZ," RNZ's chair Dr Jim Mather said. 

Our vision remains to create a multi-media platform primarily for young New Zealanders which will include:

  • Music produced by local artists as well as live performances (the level of locally produced music will be unrivalled).
  • Commissioned programming content for young people that will explore topics relevant to them, such as civic, financial, lifestyle and well-being issues.
  • Access to complementary RNZ services focused on younger audiences such as podcasts.
  • Trusted news made by and for younger audiences.
  • A range of new employment opportunities.    (RNZ statement) 

Creating a new network from scratch incorporating all that won't be easy. 

In the past week, Dr Mather, RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson and RNZ's music content director Willy Macalister have all cited one existing service as a model for the proposed youth network - Triple J from Australia’s public broadcaster, the ABC. 

Coincidentally, it's a Kiwi in charge of the content at Triple J - Ollie Wards, who was consulted by RNZ in 2017 when it was first forming plans for the network.

Mediawatch's producer Hayden Donnell asked Wards if New Zealand needed its own version of Triple J  - and how it could be done. You can listen to the interview here: