MediaWorks’ announcements in October 2019 that it intended to sell off its struggling television business and cancel or cut back on several popular local programmes (including New Zealand Today, Married at First Sight New Zealand and 7 Days) has sparked considerable debate about the future of the free-to-air television sector in New Zealand.
Although its radio and outdoor advertising arms are currently performing well, MediaWorks’ television holdings, comprising Three, Bravo, ThreeLife and Newshub, have remained unprofitable despite relatively strong ratings in the 26-54 demographic and an increased share of the television sector advertising market. MediaWorks has become increasingly vociferous in its complaints that they face an ‘uneven playing field’ in the free-to-air television market, particularly since TVNZ’s recent indication that it did not anticipate paying dividends to the Crown for the foreseeable future. To that end, MediaWorks’ executives and even its celebrity presenters have been calling on the government to intervene and avert the possible closure of its television operations.
This paper critically assesses MediaWorks’ claims and suggests that its diagnoses of the market challenges it faces are being shaped by both a public relations and investor relations agenda. Although the market position of its television channels is indeed serious (and possibly terminal), addressing these concerns requires a more complete account of the key structural factors underpinning the current state of the free-to-air television sector.