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By Friday, 24 May 2024

Media Insider: Failed TV firms – Boss’ new alias and $2 raised for new film; Redundancy blow for Newshub contractors; Revealed - the price of commercial integration on TVNZ Breakfast

Boss of failed Stripe Studios is using another name for new projects, raises $2 online for new film; Some Newshub staff to miss out on redundancy; Revealed: The price for commercial integration on TVNZ’s Breakfastand Seven Sharp; New ad revenue analysis; Radio station rides Taylor Swift wave; Five things to watch for at Voyagers.

The managing director of a group of New Zealand screen production companies in receivership – owing more than $20 million – has a new alias, a new company in the United Kingdom and links to a range of proposed new TV and film projects.

Stripe Studios boss Alex Breingan has been using another name, AJ James,which has been attached to a series of proposed projects in the UK and US. James is Breingan’s middle name.

Breingan has registered a UK-based company, Loveday Films, and up until yesterday, funding was being sought on the Kickstarter donations website – under the AJ James name – for a documentary film about the life of Spandau Ballet leader singer Tony Hadley.

Stripe Studios managing director Alex Breingan.
Stripe Studios managing director Alex Breingan.

After launching the Kickstarter fundraising project on May 6, with plans to have it open until June 6, the call for donations was cancelled yesterday – of the $10,000 sought for the project, $2 had been raised.

The Kickstarter donation campaign offered a range of options for potential donors, including $500 for a signed mini film poster; $750 for a signed full-size movie poster; $750 for a thank you credit at the end of the film; $1000 for a red-carpet premiere invite; $1500 for an associate producer credit; and $5000 for an executive producer credit.

None of these options were taken up by potential supporters.

The Kickstarter page also outlines details of Hadley’s career and says of the movie project: “This isn’t simply a story of times gone by, as we hear from today’s music royalty such as Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran and Rita Ora who reaffirm Hadley’s significance to the British music world.”

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Breingan is also the managing director of Auckland-based Stripe Media which – along with 10 related companies – was placed in receivership in March.

Creditors of the companies – including Kiwibank, financing firm Fulcrum Media Finance and American TV stars David Hasselhoff and Iliza Shlesinger – are owed more than $20 million and the receiver claims its investigations have uncovered “irregularities” in the company’s finances.

The receiver says these alleged “irregularities” have been referred to “relevant authorities” – this follows the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) referring its own concerns about Stripe to the Serious Fraud Office last year.

The SFO has confirmed it received a complaint from the NZFC but has refused to say whether it is investigating any matters in relation to Stripe.

A promotion for David Hasselhoff's and Rhys Darby's Kiwi TV series.
A promotion for David Hasselhoff's and Rhys Darby's Kiwi TV series.
A promotion for the Iliza Shlesinger comedy series, produced by Stripe but yet to screen.
A promotion for the Iliza Shlesinger comedy series, produced by Stripe but yet to screen.

Hasselhoff and Shlesinger travelled to New Zealand last year to film separate, Stripe-produced travel shows. Breingan was listed as the executive producer for both series.

While the shows have been shot, they have been held up in post-production following Stripe’s financial difficulties, and have yet to screen.

Hasselhoff is reportedly owed money while Shlesinger, who successfully sought to have Stripe Studios (Comedy) Ltd liquidated in March, is owed more than $600,000 for her film work in New Zealand.

Breingan has refused to respond to numerous messages over many weeks from the Herald including questions in the past week about the AJ James alias, Loveday Films, and the Tony Hadley project.

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Up until Thursday this week, AJ James was listed on the IMDb website as being the producer of four new shows – the Tony Hadley film, as well as a Scandinavian travel show featuring British broadcasting stars Pat Sharp and Chris Moyles; and shows with American links called Make or Break and Haunted Hearts.

However, the IMDb page which showed AJ James’ links to those shows has now been edited, with several projects removed or anonymised as ‘untitled’.

AJ James, aka Alex Breingan, had four projects listed under his name on the IMDb website. They have since been edited.
AJ James, aka Alex Breingan, had four projects listed under his name on the IMDb website. They have since been edited.

According to a brief bio on IMDb, “AJ James is an experienced TV director and producer in the reality, unscripted and documentary genres with titles for Discovery, NBCU and Netflix. Additionally, he has an extensive career in UK radio as a producer at the BBC and in commercial radio. AJ’s development slate includes UK titles with significant star talent.”

And on the Kickstarter site, it states: “AJ James is an extremely experienced producer in film and TV having overseen 30+ productions in recent years. He is also a writer and director who has worked with Universal, Netflix, the BBC, Warner Brothers in Hollywood and Sky.”

Meanwhile, back in New Zealand and according to a liquidator’s report into one of the 11 Stripe companies, Breingansaid a funding agreement U-turn by the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) was to blame for the liquidation – but the NZFC has said it “rejects that it is responsible in any way for the financial circumstances” of the company.

A recently released receiver’s report revealed more background, including NZFC concerns over Stripe and alleged “irregularities” involving screen production grant (SPG) applications - the grant, administered by the NZFC, is now called the screen production rebate and is a taxpayer subsidy for qualifying screen projects.

“Prior to the appointment of receivers, NZFC had identified irregularities in relation to the provisional certificates of the SPG, granted to certain [special purpose vehicles],” says the receivers’ report.

“As a result, they sought further information and paused all current SPG provisional and final applications pending further satisfactory information being provided.”

The receivers said that Stripe’s Breingan had advised them “that ongoing funding of the wider Stripe Studios companies required the SPG to be paid out on shows that had been completed”.

“It appears the companies ran out of cash and were unable to continue trading. We understand the companies ceased trading around mid-December 2023.”

Newshub contractors miss out on compo

A number of people who will lose their jobs when Newshub closes in early July are contractors, who appear set to miss out on redundancy payments.

Various staff are in contracting roles, ranging from camera people to some on-air talent, including AM host Lloyd Burr, who started with the business last year after losing his job when MediaWorks’ Today FM closed.

AM host Lloyd Burr. Photo / Newshub
AM host Lloyd Burr. Photo / Newshub

Burr initially returned to Newshub as a reporter in the political gallery in Wellington, before moving to Auckland to host AM, alongside Melissa Chan-Green, from the start of 2024, after previous host Ryan Bridge moved within the company to prepare for a new evening primetime show that never eventuated.

Neither Burr nor Warner Bros Discovery wished to comment when approached by Media Insider this week, but sources suggest he has been considering his options.

One argument might be that with regular hours on a set show, Burr could be considered an employee. It will also be interesting to see whether Newshub has previously indicated it would hire him as a fulltime employee.

Whatever the case, given his wide-ranging talent, it is unlikely he will struggle to find work, despite the well-documented economic challenges in the media industry.

Employment lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk.
Employment lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk.

Employment lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk told Media Insider that contractors were not covered by New Zealand employment laws and therefore could not bring a personal grievance or unjustified dismissal claim.

“Nor do the good faith obligations in the Employment Relations Act apply to them, which means that there is no statutory obligation to provide them with all relevant information relating to the restructuring and consult.

“As the relationship is driven by the contract that they enter into with the business, they can be given notice of termination in accordance with the contract and cut loose, at any time.”

Any entitlement to redundancy compensation would be based solely on the terms of the contract, she said.

“Most agreements of this nature do not provide for any compensation, so contractors generally receive notice of termination and nothing further.

“This could be viewed as unfair, which is why there have been a number of recent cases in which contractors have challenged their legal status and have claimed that they are in reality employees (for example Uber drivers).

“It is also the reason that the former Labour-led Government was exploring how to expand the scope of the Employment Relations Act to cover ‘dependent contractors’, however, this is not likely to be continued under the current Government.”

TVNZ’s big Breakfast and Seven Sharp sale

TVNZ is selling $10,000 spots to advertisers and sponsors for a special integrated contest to run on Breakfast and Seven Sharp in early July, just as it faces new-look competition in the broadcast news space.

One independent and experienced marketer – upon receiving news of the deal – said of TVNZ: “If it breathes, they will sell it!”

Seven Sharp hosts Hilary Barry and Jeremy Wells.
Seven Sharp hosts Hilary Barry and Jeremy Wells.

Sales teams in all of our commercial media companies have unenviable tasks right now – the market is difficult, in a tough economy.

There’s no doubt, though, that Breakfast and Seven Sharp are considered by TVNZ to be strong commercial platforms, rather than traditional current affairs shows – a reason, in my opinion, why they were untouched in the recent round of cost-cutting.

A TVNZ email to potential advertisers, obtained by Media Insider, says the state broadcaster is planning a two-week “Mid-Winter Win-a-Thon” from July 1.

“Each day, we’ll feature an incredible prize for our viewers to win, promoted across both Breakfast and Seven Sharp, supported by our extensive TVNZ marketing assets,” wrote commercial integration producer Becky Busché.

“Viewers will tune in to catch the daily ‘prize word’ for their chance to win, with the daily winner announced on Breakfast the following morning.”

For $10,000 “and a recommended prize contribution” of a further $10,000, advertisers would receive three in-show mentions on Breakfast, of about 45 seconds each – including “one key message per mention”.

Their logos and product shots would be screened prominently on the Breakfast set digital wall, behind presenters.

Breakfast hosts Chris Chang, Jenny-May Clarkson and Daniel Faitaua.
Breakfast hosts Chris Chang, Jenny-May Clarkson and Daniel Faitaua.

There would be another mention – again of 45 seconds – on Seven Sharp each evening.

Attached would also be a “full day” of dedicated marketing time and social media “buzz”.

Integration and competitions like this are nothing new – my own company NZME does this, especially through radio promotions.

But where TVNZ has to be extra careful, especially as a state broadcaster, is in how it presents this content. Last August, the broadcaster said it would “strengthen transparency” over Breakfast content after revelations the broadcaster was paid $300,000 by a Government agency to air a series of climate change pieces.

While this competition is likely to look a lot different from editorial content, the fact is advertisers will be paying for the spot. It will be interesting to see the labelling.

A TVNZ spokeswoman said yesterday: “Running competitions or integrations on Breakfast and Seven Sharp is not new and integrations are clearly marked. We have a rigorous process to ensure every integrated piece of content on these shows is an editorial fit. The support of our advertising partners pays for our journalism. Transparency in advertising is important to us.”

In terms of the industry insider’s comment about TVNZ selling anything that breathes, she said: “TVNZ is fully reliant on advertising revenue and does not receive taxpayer funding. We are mandated by law to act as a commercial organisation.”

She also rejected any suggestion the timing was part of TVNZ’s response to the new Stuff 6pm news bulletin on Three, launching on July 6. The commercial integration team was continuously developing initiatives, she said.

Ad revenue analysis

Fascinating new analysis from Infometrics reveals the ever-changing revenue streams in New Zealand media.

Infometrics has charted overall annual revenue – for digital, television, newspapers, radio and other platforms – for the past 32 years, since 1991.

No surprises in that it reveals declines for television and newspapers, while radio revenue is more stable. Magazines are also declining while outdoor advertising is on the rise.

But none of the trends – positive or negative – are quite like the “unstoppable rise of digital”, says Infometrics.

“However, it was only in the 2021 calendar year that digital surpassed combined non-digital ad spending on other media,” writes Infometrics chief executive and principal economist Brad Olsen.

Infometrics chief executive and principal economist Brad Olsen. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Infometrics chief executive and principal economist Brad Olsen. Photo / Mark Mitchell

“By 2023, digital ad spending totalled $1.87 billion, a 4.9 per cent pa increase on the previous year. Spending on digital-only ads in 2023 totalled just over $370 million more than non-digital ad spending combined.

“Non-digital spend totalled $1.49b, down 7.3 per cent from a year before.”

The unstoppable rise of digital ad spend.
The unstoppable rise of digital ad spend.

Within the non-digital space, television revenue comes out top – $534m in 2023, an 11 per cent decline on the previous year.

Industry insiders expect this number to fall by another $70m this year – a number that is driving many of the cost-cutting decisions at our major networks.

In 2023, newspaper revenues were $297m – also down 11 per cent – while radio ad revenues were $267m, and stable.

Total ad revenue across platforms since 1991.
Total ad revenue across platforms since 1991.

Olsen said everyone knew digital was huge, “but I think a lot of people (including myself) think that all the other media combined still get a larger total sum of ad spending. I think everyone thinks that together, all media ad spend dominates digital still – but it doesn’t”.

“Digital is now larger all by itself than all other ad spending combined.”

Infometrics also went back to 1964 to show ad spending compared to GDP.

“Ad spending as a share of GDP has been falling since 2006, from 1.3 per cent down to a low of 0.7 per cent in the March 2021 year,” says the Infometrics report.

“Although there was a slight rally over 2021/22 and 2022/23, back to above 0.8 per cent of GDP, the latest figures for 2023 year saw a fall back to 0.75 per cent of GDP.”

Olsen picks up this point: “The fact it’s as low as it is now, and lower in recent years than any time since the 1960s, really does show that ad spending is an easier part of spending for businesses to cut or limit – and speaks to the need for more innovative funding models for the future.”

The power of Taylor Swift

There were many highlights, for both NZME and MediaWorks, in yesterday’s radio survey results - and also a few “work-ons”.

I’ve been closely watching the battle between ZM and The Edge over the years - NZME is certainly ecstatic about ZM’s performance which has seen its cumulative audience (537,400) overtake The Edge (510,900) for the first time.

MediaWorks will be happy with the performance of most of its other music stations, in particular The Rock, Mai FM, and Magic - all helping that business achieve a 51.5 per cent commercial share.

But ZM’s rise has been telling, on the back of consistently strong Breakfast and Drive shows, live events - and Taylor Swift.

As Media Insider reported in February, ZM was inundated with tens of thousands of calls over many weeks as it gave away the real-life equivalent of Willy Wonka golden tickets - airfares, hotel accommodation and passes to Taylor Swift’s Australian concerts.

Taylor Swift performs during 'The Eras Tour'. Photo / AP
Taylor Swift performs during 'The Eras Tour'. Photo / AP

Having now attracted such a big audience, ZM will be focused on retaining it.

In a press release, NZME radio boss Jason Winstanley said he was “particularly proud” of ZM and its result.

“NZME has put a huge amount of energy and resource into delivering the most loved and listened to content, investing in attracting the best radio hosts in the country and complementing our on-air offering with strong digital platforms that are an extension of our much-loved radio brands. All of this has led to the growth we are seeing in the results today, with some of our biggest stations showing consistent growth.”

Voyager Media Awards: Who, what to watch for

New Zealand journalism’s big day has dawned. The annual Voyager Media Awards tonight give the industry some respite from an annus horribilis.

As we collectively dust ourselves off from an unprecedented wave of cuts – and the loss of an entire news organisation – tonight’s event and the various after-parties are a chance to celebrate the very best in the business.

Around 420 journalists and media industry guests will gather for the black-tie event at Shed 10 on Auckland’s waterfront.

With a big cut in the number of awards comes the promise of a sleeker, more refined ceremony – Jeremy Corbett and Madeleine Sami have the unenviable task of keeping the show on the rails, and a roomful of journalists in check as much as possible.

There are many juicy categories. Here are five watch-outs:

  • The Digital News Provider of the Year combines the previous Website of the Year and App of the Year awards. Will the Herald extend its four-year reign as Website of the Year? It’s up against Stuff and The Post - one of three paywalled websites that Stuff launched last year.
  • Two Newshub journalists, Alexa Cook and Nick Truebridge, are up against Tony Wall from Stuff for News Journalist of the Year; that should be a cracking contest.
  • As should be overall Reporter of the Year – Sam Sherwood (while he was at the NZ Herald but now back at Stuff) is up against his former Herald colleague Nicholas Jones and The Post’s Nikki Macdonald. Photographer of the Year is down to a three-way battle of the three big publishing firms - Kai Schwoerer from The Press; Michael Craig from the NZ Herald and Stephen Jaquiery from the Otago Daily Times.
  • Political journalist of the year is a humdinger, too – between Amelia Wade from Newshub, Audrey Young from the NZ Herald andJack Tame from TVNZ’s Q+A.
  • The Newspaper of the Year award: Again, down to the NZ Herald and The Post for metropolitan paper of the year; the Weekend Herald, Weekend Press and Otago Daily Times for weekly paper of the year; Waikato Times, Hawke’s Bay Today and Nelson Mail for regional paper of the year; and the Ashburton Guardian, Gulf News and Mahurangi Matters for community paper of the year. Who takes out the overall big one?
  • And a bonus sixth: The food. No dry cabbage this year, hopefully.
The Voyager cabbage.
The Voyager cabbage.

One Good Text

This week we catch up with Jeremy Corbett, who, along with Madeleine Sami, hosts the annual Voyager Media Awards tonight.

Jeremy Corbett. Photo / Three
Jeremy Corbett. Photo / Three
One Good Text with Jeremy Corbett.
One Good Text with Jeremy Corbett.

Don’t worry about the gangs...

The Auckland Writers Festival is celebrating a record year – more than 85,000 people attended the six-day festival last week, featuring 167 events and 240 participants. Almost 11,000 books were purchased at pop-up book stalls during the festival. Hooray!

On Friday, I popped into one of those 167 sessions – a panel featuring senior journalists Jared Savage (NZ Herald) and Benedict Collins (1News) discussing their recent, respective crime books Gangster’s Paradise and Mad on Meth.

The incomparable Steve Braunias – who is on top of his writing game at the moment with pieces like this and this and this – was a brilliant panel ringleader, weaving his way across the hour with questions about the inner workings of gangs, the rise of meth and the wider travails of the New Zealand media industry. He probed them both on the recent, fatal Ponsonby Rd shooting.

Steve Braunias, Jared Savage and Benedict Collins held the crowd captive at the Auckland Writers Festival. Photo / Auckland Writers Festival
Steve Braunias, Jared Savage and Benedict Collins held the crowd captive at the Auckland Writers Festival. Photo / Auckland Writers Festival

It was an intelligent and thoughtful session, with lighter moments.

Savage remembers front page stories in the Herald when the police uncovered 1kg of meth.

“Police don’t get out of bed for at least 100kg these days,” he joked to laughter.

Braunias wanted Savage to list the top five gangs in New Zealand. Savage didn’t want to play that game but did list a few – Comancheros on top and then in no particular order, Hells Angels, Head Hunters, King Cobras, Rebels and the Mongols.

The audience questions were atypical of these festivals. Some oral dissertations, with barely a question in sight.

An anonymous audience member did ask a virtual question: “I live 200m from the Head Hunters headquarters – what is going on there?”

Another audience member asked if the panellists had ever feared for their safety in covering the gangs and meth.

Braunias stepped in, dryly noting that all three of them were part of a media industry where the bigger fear was the wave of an accountant’s pen ... and redundancy.

In case you missed it

  • Fair Go, Sunday messy fallout: TVNZ forced to extend 17 jobs despite shows being off air
  • All Blacks’ comms boss quits; Top Newshub host’s new plans
  • 6pm TV news project F-bombs: Tempers fray at Stuff’s highest levels; Top boss exits ad agency
  • Newstalk ZB, The Breeze top radio ratings; Mike Hosking is king of breakfast

Editor-at-Large Shayne Currie is one of New Zealand’s most experienced senior journalists and media leaders. He has held executive and senior editorial roles at NZME including Managing Editor, NZ Herald Editor and Herald on Sunday Editor and has a small shareholding in NZME.

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