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New Measurements Needed for Quality in Television Local Content

A new approach to measurement of and reporting on television local content that gives broadcasters credit for investment in high cost, high risk genres such as New Zealand drama is being called for by SPADA, in the wake of the release of NZ On Air’s latest annual Television Local Content Report.

“Measuring performance of local content solely by hours broadcast is too limiting in an environment in which production costs have increased and new platforms are proliferating,” says SPADA (Screen Production and Development Association) CEO Penelope Borland .

“We need indicators that give recognition to broadcasters for the commissioning and screening of quality programming that requires higher levels of investment and are higher risk.”

The current indicators also make little real distinction between “first run” or new content hours, which reflect the amount of new investment in local programming and repeat screenings. 

“The production industry has believed for some time that it would be helpful to have a way of recognising the investment and risk involved in commissioning high cost genres such as drama,” Penelope Borland says. 

“SPADA believes that broadcasters who put in the investment and take on higher levels of risk should get more kudos for it.  There is currently no meaningful measure or performance indicators for cultural investment. Hours broadcast and ratings achieved just don’t cut it,” she says. 

Until new indicators can be formulated broadcasters continue to be under some pressure to keep their hours up without being recognised sufficiently for commissioning and broadcasting high quality genres. This could affect programming and commissioning decisions, says SPADA.

“For example if a network is driven to keep up overall local hours because it knows that it’s these figures that will be released about its performance, what are they going to do when they’re faced with commissioning a new drama that costs more than $500,000 an hour or around five one hour documentaries for the same cost?”

While coming up with new, meaningful measurements will require time and consideration, new indicators could give higher weightings to such factors as:

>>Level of investment
>>Cost of production
>>Production values
>>Whether the programme is first run (new content) or repeat

SPADA is a member of the Television Local Content Group which was formed in 2003 to establish and monitor appropriate targets for local content.  SPADA has formally asked the Local Content Group, which also comprises TVNZ, TV3, Prime Television, the Maori Television Service and NZ On Air to consider new indicators for local content that are more in line with measurements already in place in other countries. 

Initial discussions have resulted in an agreement from the group that new measurements are required to give an accurate picture in the evolving broadcasting environment.