Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Maori have this uncanny knack of planning ahead – generations ahead. They do this by focussing on past injustices and slowly stripping back the layers using the law, the moral high ground, activism and even humour to get to the original source of discontent. Once Maori reach the affected area it’s a build back up strategy employing both tikanga Maori and Pakeha kawa. It’s a long haul approach to life, which confounds, mystifies, and downright befuddles Pakeha and quite a few Maori too I might add.

Now take last week’s shambles over the television rights to broadcast the Rugby World Cup. Everyone knows the background and then the subsequent arguments so I won’t relitigate these. Just to say that some of the arguments boarded on stupidity ie: the 10% Maori language in broadcasts means ‘…we won’t understand, what’s going on..’ 10% in TV language is about 10 words every half hour. While other arguments were ignorant ie: ‘…$3million of tax payers money going on Maori TV.’ The entire RWC campaign will run at a deficit of $32 million and climbing – half of which will be paid off with tax payer money.

For Maori Affairs Minister, Pita Sharples, Maori TV’s bid was about international potential. The potential for Maori to promote its language to the world is obvious while economic spinoffs are evident. The crucial points in Sharples proposal are economic independence – sweet words to right wing capitalists. But it also proved to be the most untenable points for Ministers Brownlee and McCully. Not that these two stalwart Nats want Maori hanging off the government apron strings forever, but neither do they want iwi to make dosh out of this world cup event.

So what’s next? There’s no guarantee the IRB will accept this multi-platform tender. Infact the international rugby board could hold the country to ransom and hike up the price even further.

Maori TV stated they got crumbs out of the broadcast deal. That’s wrong of course, if they got crumbs they would have ended up with less games and no opening ceremony. What they didn’t get was exclusivity full and final. What they did get was public support on top of the already good will they have accumulated over the last five years. Maori TV deserves this good will. They have tried hard and been successful in bringing a wider Maori world to the screen. They have also brought the viewer some insightful and provocative documentaries.

But what Maori TV has failed to do is transfer this good will into bums on couches and eyes on the box. The channel averages 5 thousand viewers per night. The broadcaster's latest accounts show its $37.5 million annual income is almost entirely made up from public funding: $18.1 million from the Government and $16.3 million from Maori broadcasting agency Te Mangai Paho. It also gets about $18 million of Te Mangai Paho's $25 million contestable fund. That’s a total of around $50 million. That means Maori TV spends $10,000 per viewer each year. That’s a lot of entertainment money.

Compare the above figures to say 3News with an average viewership of about 370,000 and ONE News with 600,000, neither of these channels gets $50 million of tax payers’ money – so something is amiss. But what is it?

Could it have something to do with Maori TV’s marketing strategy – or the lack of one? Or could it have something to do with the channel’s lack of understanding of viewer habits? It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with its schedule of programmes. It peaks on days that show cases special events like ANZAC day, Waitangi day, even Sir Howard Morrison’s tangi did well ratings-wise. But the channel can’t leverage off these peaks and push the numbers across the week. Its inability to keep viewers hooked must be a reflection of its marketing strategy and its inability to predict then influence viewing patterns and habits. After 5 years of being on air 5000 viewers is pitiful, shocking.

The IRB will be taking this into consideration when it weighs up the pros and cons of the tender submissions. The money-focussed rugby group won’t want its prized world event to be a guinea pig experiment for a channel of 5000. It’s a high risk business case.

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