HomeNewsTVNZ confirms Shortland Street under review

TVNZ confirms Shortland Street under review


New Zealand media feels like it’s in a critical condition this week. And as TVNZ eyes further cost saving, Kiwis are wondering whether the country’s long-running soap is safe. “We need to look at everything across our slate to ensure we remain commercially viable,” TVNZ told the New Zealand Herald today. “This includes Shortland Street.”

The cut would seriously be a big loss not just for audiences but also for NZ’s showbiz industry. Temuera Morrison, Karl Urban and KJ Apa, to name a few, all had roles on ‘Shortland Street’ and went on to be in massive movies and TV shows.

It’s also put New Zealand on the map. Like that iconic “Please tell me that is not your penis” line, which went viral after Jimmy Kimmel recreated it with actor Alec Baldwin on his late-night talk show.

It’s hard to imagine a time (other than its annual summer hiatus) when Shortland Street wouldn’t be there when you turn on the TV at 7pm, or load up the TVNZ+ streaming platform. Kiwis have been watching it for 32 years, following the personal and professional tribulations of Dr Warner et al.

And while it’s still one of the most popular local shows, viewers watching linear television have declined to a third of what they were between 1999 and 2010, a period that saw highs of almost 350,000 viewers in the critical 25-54 age group.

Simply put, and as we all know, we watch shows differently now. And that’s affecting what we have to choose from.

As New Zealand companies restructure and grapple with the changing media landscape, even the nation’s favourite soap might not escape the scalpel.

Its stability has been thrown into question once again this week, following the confirmation of cuts at TVNZ (including the axing of Fair Go) with what is perhaps Shortland Street’s biggest cliffhanger of all time looming over the show’s cast and crew.

“In a classic case of life imitating art once again on Shortland Street we can confirm we are in close conversations with TVNZ about the future of the show,” said Kelly Martin, South Pacific Pictures CEO, in an official statement. “As yet, we do not know what the outcomes of these discussions will be.”

Shortland Street is produced by South Pacific Pictures, and the show is fully funded by TVNZ. While we don’t know the exact figure – the numbers are commercially sensitive – they are understood to be millions of dollars every year.

“Shortland Street is a commercially funded show, paid for entirely by TVNZ’s advertising revenue,” TVNZ told the NZ Herald in a statement when contacted for comment today.

“Like many businesses across Aotearoa, the current recessionary environment is having a big impact on TVNZ,” they said.

On Thursday, TVNZ confirmed it would be cutting Fair GoMidday and Tonight from its programming – an announcement that was preceded by the announcement of Newhub’s and Sunday’s closure by Warner Bros. Discovery.

“There’s less advertising revenue going around as businesses tighten their belts, and that makes it increasingly difficult to fund our programming slate and provide our services to viewers,” TVNZ said. “As a result, we need to look at everything across our slate to ensure we remain commercially viable. This includes Shortland Street.”

The vulnerability of the show was flagged in March by the Herald’s Shayne Currie, reporting in Media Insider that the seismic changes at TVNZ might extend to the seemingly sacred Shortland Street.

At the time TVNZ chief executive Jodi O’Donnell said that there were no “sacred cows” and “everything is under the spotlight” as the state broadcaster considers all of its costs. “The revenue isn’t in the market,” she told Currie at the time. “We are a commercial business. We have to make sure costs align with revenue.”

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), explained Currie, with no assistance from the likes of NZ on Air.

A sharp eye on costs isn’t new for a commercially funded programme like Shortland Street, which requires analysis of audience performance and forecast, budgets, revenue outcomes and commissioning principles before renewal. TVNZ have always made it clear that it is a regular part of their process.

However, it can’t be said that what’s happening at TVNZ now is regular, although with the myriad cuts and closures across New Zealand media, you’d be forgiven for feeling like this is a new normal.

The cost of making media is at the root of all this, with media companies being frank about the disconnect between revenue, production and audiences.

Can Shortland Street afford to keep going? And what prognosis or treatment could protect this cultural icon?

It might look different. Currently the show airs five nights a week, though changes to this aren’t without precedent; during the pandemic it was scaled back to three nights a week.

We can assume, and hope, that all options are on the table.

TVNZ told the Herald that its conversations with South Pacific Pictures are ongoing and that it couldn’t comment further.

This article republished courtesy of NZME, NZ Herald. Emma Gleason is the New Zealand Herald’s lifestyle and entertainment deputy editor. Based in Auckland, she covers culture, media and more.