By JIM MATHER
We need to ensure that we are not self-marginalised by our inability to recognise that traditional television broadcasting
~ Jim Mather
As Indigenous broadcasters, we have to contend with a multitude of challenges on a daily basis. With our respective Indigenous languages and practices under constant pressure from the majority cultures, we need to stay relevant and actively compete for the attention of our own people and others in a world of numerous options.
Unfortunately being a traditional television broadcaster is not going to enable us to effectively compete in the Internet era of mobile and wi-fi access to content of every imaginable description. Being a traditional broadcaster will soon be akin to being a one dimensional operator in a multi-dimensional world. In short, as Indigenous broadcasters, we, like all other television organizations, must adapt to the changing preferences of our viewers (or more accurately consumers of our programming content) or face a slow path to extinction. The massive changes occurring in the worldwide television landscape should be prompting us all to review how we plan to remain relevant, accessible, and multi-dimensional.
Māori Television’s response to the new world order of television whereby our viewers, and not our programmers, are already deciding what, when, and how they will be consuming our content, is to adapt and prosper.
Our starting point for this journey of change was to identify what we were trying to achieve, what our ‘new’ organization needed to look like, and the actual changes that had to be made. We also had to be prepared to literally start with a blank canvas and re-design our organization, and that is what we did.
At a series of meetings in late 2010 and earlier this year, the various departments within Māori Television were initially written on magnetic carboards and placed on a large whiteboard. This enabled the executive team to constantly move functions around, realign and consider different organizational structures. This review process also allowed the pros and cons of of a range of configurations to be fully explored. These reviews led to robust debates, new thinking and exploration of options which may not have previously been considered.
This process resulted in the creation of two new business divisions, ‘Digital’ and ‘Production’, both of which will be led by new general managers who are part of our executive team.
New Digital Strategy
In June, Māori Television’s Board endorsed plans to augment our traditional broadcaster role with a new digital strategy, on the basis that it will increase access to our content via online, mobile, social media, and other emerging technologies.
This new strategic direction has required us to implement some significant changes to our structure. We also needed to look closely at the way we operated as both a television station and a business. As a result we are presently undergoing a major transformation from being a traditional broadcaster to a ‘media company’ with our historical infrastructure being overhauled to accommodate many of those essential changes.
Before establishing the new Digital division we commissioned Stephen Smith, a former deputy chief executive of TVNZ, to undertake a complete review of Māori Television’s digital capabilities and options. Smith had also been the Head of Digital for both Vodafone NZ and then Fairfax Media prior to undertaking consultancy work.
Smith developed a ‘Digital Roadmap’ report based on a three-month review of our organization that related to our digital plans. The report included discussions with a range of staff as well as senior managers. It concluded with a set of recommendations that identified strategic priorities and key objectives, including the establishment of a separate division to oversee the major changes needed. We were pleased when Smith subsequently accepted an offer to join Māori Television as General Manager – Digital to oversee the implementation of the ‘Digital Roadmap’.
The Digital division will ultimately be responsible for making more of our programming content available via online, mobile, and social media access points as well as other means yet to emerge. As the influence of digital will permeate all areas of our business, a working group of representatives from every department will be established to ensure that all areas of the company are engaged with the changes needed.
Establishing In-House Production
Aligned with the digital developments is recognition that ownership of intellectual property rights and the associated ability to make programming widely accessible, has reinforced the adage that ‘content is king’. Accordingly, we consider having the ability to efficiently produce more than our current level of 50 percent of content each year in-house to be a key competitive advantage. We will also continue to commission production externally because it would be extremely difficult to produce all of our content in-house. Furthermore, we also recognise the need to support our independent production sector, which provides a diversified range of programming content for broadcast.
For Māori Television establishing a dedicated in-house production business unit is the means to achieving the multiple goals of:
- increased in-house programme production;
- more cost-effective production; and
- full ownership over intellectual property.
We have also promoted a very experienced broadcaster to achieve Māori Television’s production goals. Carol Hirschfeld was promoted to the General Manager - Production role, having previously served as head of programming for the channel. Hirschfeld has had an impressive broadcasting career, which includes 11 years at TVNZ and 13 years with TV3 before she joined Māori Television in 2009.
The establishment of the new Production division has required that it have control over key factors of production, including the resources from the Operations division required to produce programs as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. Accordingly, Hirschfeld now leads the largest division within our organization with 60 out of 169 staff employed in that area.
Given that the breadth of the changes were organization-wide, we needed to ensure that the rationale for those changes and the actual steps needed as part of that change were clearly communicated to all staff. Although these structural changes have only been implemented since July 1, the early signals are that the transition has been smooth and for many staff the changes have been minimal. Most importantly, the new direction has not resulted in any job losses or changes to working conditions for any of our people.
Change is often challenging for some, but our collective WITBN mission to ‘retain and grow our Indigenous languages and cultures’ requires us to be bold and take the necessary steps to adapt and increase our relevance into the future. We need to ensure that we are not self-marginalised by our inability to recognise that traditional television broadcasting is no longer the omnipotent force of yesteryear.
New Māori Television Structure
Key Organisational Changes and Rationale
||Sales functions transferred to Finance unit.||Implement new approaches to sales to improve revenue performance.|
||Establishment of a Digital division.||Strategic decision to augment traditional broadcaster role with enhanced access to our programming content via online, mobile, social media and other emerging technologies.|
|3||Establishment of a new Production division and its separation from Programming.||Increased in-house production of programming and strengthening of intellectual property position.|
|4||Transfer of production components from Operations to Production.||To optimise performance of In-House Productions by consolidating production resources with development of programmes.|
|5||Establishment of Te Reo channel in-house production team.||Aligned to strategy of increasing Te Reo channel hours and genres.|
|6||Marketing function transferred to Programming.||Improved coordination between Marketing and Promotions, greater alignment with digital marketing options and potential for significant cost reductions.|
|7||Digital enhancements for News and Current Affairs.||Adapt to changing preferences of viewers and provide new features e.g. community journalism.|
Jim Mather is the chief executive of Māori Television since February 2005 and was the the inaugural chairman of WITBN. Mather holds a Master of Business Administration from the Henley Management College in England and a Bachelor of Business Studies. His business management experience spans over 15 years.
Prior to joining Māori Television, Mather was chief executive of the Pacific Business Trust based in Auckland, New Zealand. A qualified accountant by profession, Mather has held a variety of private sector roles including general manager of a marine engineering business and financial controller for a local subsidiary of a Swiss multi-national.
Aligned with his commercial background, Mather is also a former officer in the New Zealand Army and was awarded the Sword of Honour in recognition of his distinguished achievements in officer training.