TV’s moment of truth


“The Moment of Truth” was a livestreamed event held at a packed Auckland Town Hall just before the general election of 2014. Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party had lined up Julian Assange (at the Ecuadorean embassy in London) and Edward Snowden (in Russia) and Glenn Greenwald – all appearing on video link – to expose a US electronic surveillance network in New Zealand. The editor of The Daily Blog was the MC and was assisting the Internet Party – I was with the Mana Party – we had high hopes this moment would capture the media space and lift the Internet-Mana ticket above two percent where it was hovering and get three MPs. The impact was blunted in large part by John Key’s pre-emptive admission just a couple of days beforehand that it was, sort of, true, but don’t worry it never eventuated, sort of.

Although the NSA’s Operation “Speargun” disclosure was not wholly anti-climatical, the effect on the election was muted and things didn’t go our way (God’s quite conservative after all). The impact of the “Moment of Truth” was however a turning point in New Zealand media and in particular television.

It was a live event, a show, a programme, and yes a broadcast despite not being aired on the traditional TV and Radio channels. I watched it that evening with my father on his laptop. This was almost ten years ago and it was the first time I had seen a livestreaming of a thing that was television quality: the production and more importantly the picture – no lags, no glitches, delays or problems – just like watching TV. I remember being impressed and thinking this was a landmark event on a technical level and that a profound and disruptive change was going to occur.

The National government had terminated TVNZ 6 & 7 two years prior. The bait to induce TV set owners to convert to digital from analogue had been sold on these extra channels and now people were left feeling short-changed by the stingy renege. What value is your digital television going to have, with its shrinking number of channels, if the internet is now delivering to broadcast standard… with potentially infinite channels from every perspective and corner of the world? “The Moment of Truth” proved to be a watershed because of the timing. It came at that point where high-speed internet had just rolled out to the cities and into provincial areas and when the terrestrial and satellite TV channels were being reduced.

The essence of television, just as it is with radio, is that it is LIVE! This was recognised in the very first years of radio where live sports, news bulletins and weather reports were brought in almost immediately after music as the main features of the medium. The value has always been that broadcasts were live, with the immediacy, tension and thrill of experiencing things as they happen. This crucial aspect has been, seemingly, almost forgotten. Who remembers the time you watched the best episode of Friends or Seinfeld or MASH or the end of season Shortland Street, or some documentary? I struggle – there’s no emotional impact. Apart from “Threads” and “The Day After” (the terrifying existential threat of nuclear annihilation) and “The Omen” movie series on the Sunday Night Horrors – watched as a child – nothing comes close to live TV. But.. who remembers the time you watched live the Twin Towers going down, the under-arm bowl as it was delivered, live, Lance Cairns smacking six sixes, live, the Queen Street riot report on Eye Witness News that night in 1984, Bush Snr declaring war on Iraq, live, Bush Jr declaring war on Iraq, live, the Beslan siege, live, Jacinda announcing lockdown, live, phalanxes of police and smoke rising from the parliamentary precinct, live – these are the images engraved into our memories, the live images, the collective experience. This is what television is all about.

The pre-programmed channels without any live element at all are essentially an archive – but an archive the viewer cannot control – and as such these channels are not true broadcasting and, furthermore, in the age of on-demand they would seem to have a limited and decreasing value. If the live elements are stripped away – no live sport, no live events, no live news – what are these channels except archive material? Which brings us to the fate of Newshub.

Warner Bros. shock decision last week to shitcan Newshub, the TV3 news division, eliminates the main live element on that channel. The amount of live broadcasting on TV3 will then most likely be live-to-air final episodes of reality TV series. With no news and current affairs programming it would be a channel rather than a network. The degradation in kudos and standing would be fatal to viewership and commercial return in my view. I am surprised the American owners cannot see that.

I have seen it all before – and from the same outfit. As a TV reviewer in the ‘90s I was invited to the launch of TV4. TV… what? – the younger generation will be thinking – TV4 eh, never heard of it! The reason you may never have heard of it, or cannot remember it clearly, is because the owners (Canwest/Mediaworks, ie.TV3) totally failed to understand what the value was, made terrible and irreversible decisions, and now it’s called C4 and exists at the three digit arse end of the remote control. When it was launched all the TV listings published (The Listener, The TV Guide, the newspapers) had TV4 alongside One, TV2, TV3 and Prime as co-equal. TV4 had network cred, skewed to youth, but they made the tragic, suicidal decision that the content was costing too much and they would turn it into a music channel instead and re-brand it as C4. Instantly they lost the 4th slot on everyone’s remote control, instantly they lost an equal listing in the publications. Millions of dollars in goodwill and free advertising instantly down the drain. A monumental corporate blunder. They had no appreciation of the space it occupied and that ripping out the core programming would necessarily change viewers and the market’s perceptions and relegate the channel very rapidly downwards. Oh sure a lot less cost, but no visibility or influence. And it’s happening all over again with their plans for TV3 to pay it’s way… no matter what.

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Like many others I don’t own a TV set anymore (I used to have three). As a former professional TV reviewer it will sound blasphemic, but I haven’t had a TV for 14 years and I don’t want one either. If I’m at someone else’s place I will watch, but as an observer rather than as a viewer because I’m appreciating it as a rare outing to a familiar place, like going to the zoo: you remember the same old animals in the same old cages and though you are happy to see them you are also sad that they are still trapped. I watch what I can on my mobile and my laptop – mostly whatever is on YouTube which thankfully includes credible news channels like Al Jazeera, DW, France 24 and ABC (Australia). And from my trawling the amount of movies now on YouTube will likely render the classic movie channels obsolete fairly soon.

With the rise of Netflix and the other quality content providers streaming online combined with the proliferation and low entry costs of broadcasting on YouTube what is broadcast TV offering to viewers (and advertisers) as a point of difference now their exclusive ground has been overrun by these usurpers? One would think the legacy TV networks would be playing up their traditional strengths, such as news and current affairs, not jettisoning them. TV3 was on the ground to bring us the Berlin Wall falling – that is one of my memories from the first days of the network in November 1989. It would be a myopic error to cease making news. Things have come a long way in ten years since “The Moment of Truth” with many benefits, but the competition online has been savagely, relentlessly ruthless towards broadcast television and their response to flee rather than fight will benefit none, least themselves.


  1. Good post @ T.S.
    Russell Brand’s show is an interesting watch IMO fyi. I respect the fact that he engages with both sides of the dark side.
    I also like reading through Sun Tzu’s quotes. It’s extraordinary to read such an ancient speaking such relevant words for today. To paraphrase: ” To defeat the enemy it’s best to do so covertly from within.”
    I sometimes, actually most times, suspect that we have an invading force covertly defeating us from within via the MSM. Or I could be paranoid? But then the definition of paranoia comes from knowing all the facts.

  2. Thankyou @ Tim Selwyn. Its good to get a different perspective. Most commentary to date has been either outrage or sentiments of good riddance, or concern over the accelerating demise of the Fourth Estate, for what’s left of it. Outrage that such a institution, such as NewsHub, deeply flawed as it is, has been thrown under the bus with little inclination of state intervention; good riddance since the product on offer was mediocre, to put it kindly, a tired old format of selected hard, soft, feel-good items with sport and weather tagged on (oh and don’t forget the attentive glances between the auto-cue readers) that only the elderly watched, most educated folk and almost all under 40 preferring something more critically informative; concern might well be justified as one less player in the media space simply highlights the slippery slope legacy media finds itself on. To say its a complex space is an overstatement but ‘the moment of truth’ is indeed upon us.

  3. Lols, most of TV “live” on-location shots involved spending thousands to get the presenter to some location where they could stand outside some venue, with yet another brick wall in-shot behind them, and breathtakingly describe what might be happening indoors for 20 seconds. Whilst rolling the on-screen banners to remind viewers it was all live.
    The heart of television, my arse.

  4. If is a very difficult thing to sustain a loss making business. It relies on the goodwill of whoever is carrying the debt, in this case a large US corporate. The miracle is they have let it continue so long. Perhaps if viewers were increasing instead of only being targeted at the minority Greens/Labour/Maori Party segment it might still hav had a future.

    • You must have missed the information that the lack of advertising dollars was the issue with the main cause being that it was taken by online companies instead. While a bigger audience for TV 3 would have helped them I cannot fathom how you think that they aimed for the audience on the left, they shut down John Campbell which should be enough to tell you that they wanted the red neck audience.


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