Farewell TVNZ7, but what's next?

Public meetings throughout the country didn't help. Neither did a so-called funeral march held in Wellington to protest against the cancellation. Accusations from the Labour Party that former broadcasting minister Jonathan Coleman intentionally misled the public have largely fallen on deaf ears - even as Coleman admits he got the audience numbers wrong and new documents show the Government tried to save our most popular public service channel.

Even a petition with more than 36,000 signatures didn't stand a chance: as of this Sunday, TVNZ7 will become TVOne+1, completing its transformation from an entertaining and educational station to a slightly delayed repeat of TVNZ's flagship channel.

And despite the fact that shows such as Back Benches are doing a celebratory final lap (complete with a devastating fire that seems all too emblematic of TVNZ7's demise) and others, like Media7, are finding a home on other networks, there is still a feeling of hope among supporters of the channel - hope that something else might step in to fill the gap and hope that viewer demand will force something to take its place.

The problem with TVNZ7 was always the first part: TVNZ. An editorial this week, published on The Press website, reinforced something that the good folks at Throng had also pointed out: TVNZ had no real interest in saving TVNZ7, as the channel was entirely a cost to them - the lack of advertising meant that the channel wasn't generating income for the network. TVNZ was partly supporting the channel out of its own pocket (along with plenty of help from the Government). As a commercial entity, they have no interest in spending money without any chance of a financial return.

To be clear, I don't blame TVNZ for the way things have ended up. Changes to its charter forced our biggest TV network into self-sufficiency, and supporting a financial black hole isn't a good business decision. End of story.

But the end of TVNZ7 forces the viewing public into something that is probably for the best anyway. As Regan at Throng says, "it is time the confusion was ended and there be a separation between TVNZ's role as a public broadcaster and a commercial entity. If they are there to make a profit, let them do it but let's not pretend any longer that they can do that and have success as a public broadcaster at the same time."

Perhaps the answer is to crowd-source our public broadcasting. TV One and TV3 already show plenty of decent public interest shows, and Maori TV is a wonderful display of our culture. As that editorial from The Press says, "while that may be regrettable, in a world in which the media are rapidly evolving any gap it may leave is likely to be quickly filled ... If public-service programmes are worth making, NZ on Air is there to see they get made. Once that is done, programme makers will find no shortage of outlets on which they can be shown."

So, sure, it's disappointing to lose some of the great and unique programming on TVNZ7, but there is also hope. Hope - and a massive opportunity for the remarkable television creators, broadcasting companies and great channels in our country to step into the hole left by TVNZ7 and expand.

Shed a tear for TVNZ7, but don't mourn for too long. Things might be about to get really exciting.

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