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Broadcasting Minister told last week about TVNZ mass job cuts, staff distraught

Shayne Currie,
Publish Date
Thu, 7 Mar 2024, 7:39am

Broadcasting Minister told last week about TVNZ mass job cuts, staff distraught

Shayne Currie,
Publish Date
Thu, 7 Mar 2024, 7:39am

Grim scenes are unfolding within TVNZ today as staff receive emails inviting them to meetings, in the wake of a plan to cut almost 70 jobs.

Up to 68 roles at TVNZ will be cut and some of the company’s top news and current affairs shows are facing an uncertain future, as the broadcaster strives to remain “sustainable”.

More than a dozen staff from the Sunday show have been called to a consultation meeting at 9am tomorrow - one of many meetings that will unfold across the company through the day. Fair Go staff have also been called to a meeting.

A source said today that staff were receiving meeting invites on their computer, without any direct conversation with leaders. The Herald has been told of some staff being left distraught as they receive an email.

TVNZ confirmed today up to 68 roles are set to be cut across the business - Media Insider understands around 35 are in the news and current affairs division.

Broadcasting Minister Melissa Lee said in Question Time today she talked to the TVNZ heads last night after getting an email from them about the proposed restructure under the “no surprises” policy, but did not have the details of what was happening.

“They haven’t actually asked for any financial support, but I sent a message that I was feeling for the staff and they should do it with heart and care,” Lee said.

She said TVNZ had also spoken to her last week about a potential restructure.

In a media statement, TVNZ chief executive Jodi O’Donnell said tough economic conditions and structural challenges within the media sector were affecting revenue performance. Difficult choices needed to be made “to ensure TVNZ remains sustainable”.

Kia ora. TVNZ has today told staff it will move to cut 68 jobs. Here's what you may have missed so far:

  • Up to 68 roles at TVNZ will be cut.
  • TVNZ chief executive Jodi O'Donnell said tough choices need to be made "to ensure TVNZ remains sustainable".
  • The news comes days after the broadcaster announced an interim operating loss of $4.6 million for the last six months of 2023.
  • A confirmed structure is expected to be finalised by early April.



TVNZ’s news boss Phil O’Sullivan has told staff in an internal email the proposed cuts are “devastating” and O’Donnell told staff that tomorrow will be a “confronting” day at TVNZ as it starts rolling out proposals to affected staff.

It is understood several of TVNZ’s top news shows, including Sunday and Fair Go, are in the spotlight and there were earlier reports that even the 6pm news could be cut back to half an hour.

Staff would be taken through the proposed changes tomorrow, a TVNZ spokeswoman said.

The TVNZ moves come just a week after Warner Bros. Discovery announced it would close Newshub at the end of June, with the loss of around 300 jobs.

The 68 roles to go represent almost 10 per cent of the state broadcaster’s 700-strong workforce.

“We are giving 24 hours’ notice prior to meetings with those whose roles may potentially be impacted,” news boss O’Sullivan said in his message to staff.

“This is happening across all departments at TVNZ.

“This is devastating for those people invited to meetings and very tough for everyone else. Myself and our leadership team will be in those meetings tomorrow morning but we’ll hold an all NCA [news and current affairs] hui at 1pm tomorrow. Expect an invite soon.

“There is not a lot more I can say at this point, except to please ask we show respect and kindness to those affected by today’s announcement. As always seek out support if you need it. We are in the leadership team are happy to talk despite the limitations on what we can say.”

In her media statement, O’Donnell said TVNZ’s executive team had been focused on reducing operating costs over the last 12 months.

“Unfortunately, we’re now at the point where we need to reduce the size of our team to bring our costs more in line with our revenue. Changes like the ones we’re proposing are incredibly hard, but we need to ensure we’re in a stronger position to transform the business to meet the needs of our viewers in a digital world.

“There are no easy answers, and media organisations locally and globally are grappling with the same issues. Our priority is to support our people through the change process - we’ll take the next few weeks to collect, consider and respond to feedback from TVNZers before making any final decisions.”

Simon Dallow hosts TVNZ's flagship 6pm news bulletin. Photo / File
Simon Dallow hosts TVNZ's flagship 6pm news bulletin. Photo / File

A confirmed structure is expected to be finalised by early April.

In an internal note to staff, O’Donnell said: “I know this is not the news any of us want to hear, and it’s certainly not a message I want to deliver, but I want to be upfront with you and ensure that you hear it from me.

”TVNZers who may be impacted by the proposed changes will receive calendar invites today for consultation meetings tomorrow.

”The exec team has been focused on reducing costs over the last 12 months. Unfortunately we’re now at the point where we need to reduce the size of our team to bring our costs more in line with our revenue and ensure we’re the right shape and size as we continue to transform to meet the needs of viewers in a digital world.”

She said tomorrow would be a “confronting day for all of us here”.

“Yesterday’s media speculation was disappointing but we know there will be public interest so we’ll be advising external media that we’re proposing changes in a release shortly.”

It is understood every news and current affairs show has been put under the spotlight in recent weeks, aligned with O’Donnell’s clearly stated position that there are “no sacred cows”.

RNZ’s Checkpoint has suggested the broadcaster is looking to cut the length of the 6pm news from one hour to 30 minutes.

The Herald understands shows such as Sunday, Fair Go and Seven Sharp have also faced scrutiny and staff are anxiously awaiting to hear today of any proposed changes in those areas.

TVNZ Sunday host Miriama Kamo.
TVNZ Sunday host Miriama Kamo.

And it’s not just in news - TVNZ has been looking at its entire slate, including entertainment.

Media Insider understands this includes one of the biggest sacred cows of all, Shortland Street, TVNZ 2′s 7pm weekday show, which has been a staple of the New Zealand television diet for 32 years.

TVNZ would not answer any questions directly yesterday, issuing a broader statement that said the company had been upfront about reducing jobs and needing to develop “a more sustainable operating model to take us into a digital future”.

TVNZ - which last week reported a half-year loss of $16.7 million - has made no secret of the fact that it is looking at all costs.

It has cut back its executive and middle management numbers in recent months and it has been widely expected that its newsroom numbers would come under scrutiny.

“We’ve been upfront with TVNZers that we will need to reduce our headcount to meet the immediate revenue challenges facing the business,” a TVNZ spokeswoman told Media Insider on Wednesday.

“We also need to develop a more sustainable operating model to take us into a digital future.”

One source said a meeting had been scheduled to discuss a future strategy but the spokeswoman would not confirm this or any details.

“We will always take our people through proposed changes first, and so we have no comment to make on the timing or details of any business restructuring at this stage.”

Last week, TVNZ told Media Insider that its headcount had come down over the past 12 months.

“We report on FTE [fulltime equivalent] each year in our annual report, for FY23 this was 735 and today we’re around 700,” said the spokeswoman. “We do not have an FTE target that we’re working towards. As a commercially funded business, we’ll always need to align our costs with our revenue position.”

There are just under 300 news and current affairs employees.

On Friday last week, TVNZ delivered a “tough” interim financial result reflecting a challenging media market - an EBITDAF of $100,000, a $4.6 million operating loss and an impairment of $12.2m, resulting in an after-tax loss of $16.7m for the six months to December 31, 2023.

The impairment pushes the six-month loss past the full-year forecast loss of $15.6m.

New TVNZ CEO Jodi O’Donnell in the heart of the 1 News newsroom. Photo / Dean Purcell
New TVNZ CEO Jodi O’Donnell in the heart of the 1 News newsroom. Photo / Dean Purcell

In a recent interview with Media Insider, O’Donnell was clear there were no “sacred cows” as the state broadcaster considers all of its costs.

Shortland Street is one of those shows under scrutiny.

TVNZ fully funds Shortland Street to the tune of millions of dollars a year (it stretches to eight figures but the exact costs are deemed commercially sensitive) and with no assistance from the likes of NZ on Air.

“Everything is under the spotlight,” said a TVNZ spokeswoman. “There are no changes for any shows that I can give you information on today.”

Several options are likely under consideration - production costs most definitely, but also the frequency of the shows, and whether the 7pm linear timeslot might be freed up for a more commercially attractive offering.

Broadcasting Minister Melissa Lee. Photo / RNZ, Samuel Rillstone
Broadcasting Minister Melissa Lee. Photo / RNZ, Samuel Rillstone

Broadcasting minister Melissa Lee told Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allan on Wednesday evening that she had “no idea” what TVNZ’s announcement to staff would be.

“I don’t know the details. I haven’t actually caught up with any of the messages that have come through as I’ve had a busy day today.”

Lee said she did have a meeting with TVNZ last week.

“[In] the conversation that I had with TVNZ last Friday, we talked about a range of things. They were talking about some of the things they will have to do to make sure they are financially viable. I don’t think I can say that [what they said]. Because they did not tell me that they were cutting staff.

“They’re talking about programming that they will have to consider. It is for TVNZ to answer those questions [about job losses], it is an operational matter. They were looking at many things.”

On RNZ’s Checkpoint on Wednesday evening, Lee also confirmed she had spoken with TVNZ on a range of matters - including the revelation, first reported by Media Insider - that Warner Bros. Discovery had approached the state broadcaster to set up a joint newsgathering service to cut costs.

TVNZ rejected that idea, and a week later Warner Bros. Discovery announced Newshub’s pending closure.

Du Plessis-Allan asked Lee what the Government could do to help media.

“There aren’t that many levers that a Broadcasting Minister actually has.”

One way to potentially help was with regulation. However, Lee told du Plessis-Allan: “I do not believe the Government should be propping up media companies.”

  • 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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