TVNZ-RNZ merger: Still unclear if new public media entity will be taxpayer or commercially funded

A new public media giant will be up and running by the middle of next year, with Radio New Zealand merging with TVNZ.

The biggest changes will be for TVNZ, with the return of a charter covering what it makes and chooses to broadcast and a new not-for-profit status - which means it won't have to return a dividend to the Government.

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi says it's a move to meet the changing media landscape that is facing more and more challenges, particularly with the younger and minority audiences.

Not long ago, TV and radio were the first and second-ranked choices for New Zealanders.

"Now they are two and four respectively," Faafoi said. "Number one is video on demand... number three is subscription video on demand."

Initially, at least, RNZ and TVNZ will stay the same - radio will continue without ads and TVNZ will keep its commercial element. Together it will operate under a public media charter. 

But a lot could change depending on what the yet-to-be-formed board of the new public media entity decides.

And there are many more questions, with very few answers.

"It's going to be a not-for-profit - that's already a big change - but having the non-commercial part of RNZ butting up to the commercial of TVNZ in a brand new space, with potentially a brand new brand - that's a lot to figure out," said Duncan Greive, a media commentator and founder of New Zealand news website The Spinoff.

"Will that include bringing the RNZ digital website and the 1News website together? Will it be commercially or public-funded? They're the questions that we need answers [to] before we know about commercial impacts," said Glen Kyne, the senior vice president and general manager of Newshub owner Discovery ANZ.

There are not yet answers on funding levels either - those decisions will be made come Budget time.

Kris Faafoi.
Kris Faafoi. Photo credit: Newshub.

RNZ says it's good news for them after years of underinvestment.

"We have to be part of a bigger entity and it will give us [the] opportunity to look after our people, to develop our capability, to develop our newsrooms, look after our platforms and deliver to more audiences," RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson said. "Yep, we're up for it."

The Government believes this will also help the wider health of New Zealand's media sector.

"We need a strong public media focus and we've got that now and we think there are collaboration opportunities with this new entity," Kyne said.

Glen Kyne.
Glen Kyne. Photo credit: Discovery ANZ

But media commentators say there will be a profound impact on other players.

"There'll be a talent war on - particularly talent that can speak to a younger audience - and that's also some of the most in-demand talent already," Greive said.