TVNZ tightens its belt with ‘tough calls’ citing ad revenue slump

TVNZ headquarters in Auckland
TVNZ headquarters in Auckland . . . staff were informed of the changes in a memo and video address today from acting chief executive Brent McAnulty. Image: RNZ/Michelle Tiang

MEDIAWATCH: By Colin Peacock, RNZ Mediawatch presenter

Aotearoa New Zealand’s public television broadcaster TVNZ is planning significant cuts to content production, programmes and operational spending in response to commercial clients’ reduced spending on advertising.

Future projects are under review and pay rises for executives and top-earning staff have also been scrapped at the state-owned broadcaster.

Staff were informed of the changes in a memo and video address today from acting chief executive Brent McAnulty.

The memo says senior executives have identified “all the possible cost savings opportunities we have” in recent weeks.

“Content budgets have been reduced, both for local production and international content. Remuneration reviews have been cancelled for our exec team and our other highest-earning employees,” it said.

“There have been some really tough calls to make here, but we need to live within our means,” McAnulty told staff.

“All projects are being reviewed to decide whether they should continue, be paused, or be cancelled for this financial year,” the memo said.

Digital technology overhaul
TVNZ currently has a tender out for a major overhaul of its digital technology and internet infrastructure.

“We’re also putting tighter controls on capital expenditure and we’re looking at how we can reduce casual and contractor labour costs,” the memo said.

“The TV advertising market is tough right now, and as the biggest player we are being impacted,” McAnulty told staff in today’s memo.

“Local businesses have been reducing their advertising spend because of the economic conditions, and uncertainty in the lead up to the election,” it said.

The memo urges staff to use up their leave this year.

Recruitment for vacant roles is “paused until 2024” and TVNZ is “choosing not to fill some other vacant roles” and will defer the starting dates for some roles.

TVNZ has more than 750 staff. More than 300 of them earn more than $100,000 a year.

Annual allowance dropped
An annual allowance of $350 paid to all staff — which was effectively a covid-19 relief initiative — will not be paid this year.

TVNZ has “paused” all travel for 2024 except “business-critical travel related to newsgathering, commercial clients and content negotiations”.

TVNZ will also spend less on social media and online marketing and promotion and market research, according to the memo.

“We’re pausing all internal events — though we’re still hopeful that we’ll have Christmas celebrations in our three main offices,” the memo said.

TVNZ reported revenue of $180.3 million in the six months to December 2022, but forecast a loss of $15.6m in the 2023/24 financial year.

The broadcaster has previously signalled that it may need to respond to financial difficulties in the near future.

TVNZ’s most recent Statement of Intent (pdf) says alignment of revenues and costs was under “increasing pressure”.

A ‘dynamic approach’
“We’ll adopt a dynamic approach to the allocation of business resources between investing to sustain our core TV business and accelerating the growth of our future online business. The stronger the commercial performance of our core business, the more actively we’ll be able to invest in shaping our future,” the document says.

Brent McAnulty assured TVNZ staff in today’s memo that TVNZ still had a strong share of television audience and revenue and its online platform TVNZ+ had an “impressive growth trajectory.”

Previous CEO Kevin Kenrick persuaded the government in 2019 to allow TVNZ to effectively forgo dividends to the Crown to allow it to invest in programmes and digital services.

This angered rival commercial media rivals who could expect no such backstop, while also competing with offshore-owned streaming services as well other broadcasters for audience and revenue.

TVNZ has invested heavily in TVNZ+ and recently launched live sport on the platform after securing rights held by Spark Sport until it ceased in July.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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