JMAD has published a new report “Media ownership in New Zealand from 2011 to 2020: A longitudinal data analysis of the information gathered by AUT research centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy”. It is authored by AUT Doctoral Candidate Saing Te. The report observes some of the main shifts in media ownership and finds four major themes or phases of ownership that can be recognised from this work. In general, the ownership has moved from multinational, corporate ownership to financial and independent media ownership, although there are exceptions.
This 10th JMAD New Zealand media ownership report finds that in 2020, the country’s media landscape changed dramatically. Stuff became an independently owned media outlet, Bauer Media was sold to a private equity firm, and MediaWorks’s television arm was acquired by Discovery. As a consequence, New Zealand had more independently and privately held media companies than at any time in the past decade. During 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic had a major impact on New Zealand media outlets. The majority of news websites reported a strong increase in their audience numbers, but at the same time their advertising revenue declined sharply. News companies’ finances were boosted by the Government’s $50 million crisis package and wage subsidy, but some of them also gained reader revenue enabling outlets such as BusinessDesk, The Spinoff and Newsroom to expand. However, the overall picture was not as rosy. During 2020, approximately 637 jobs disappeared from the New Zealand media industry. In 2020, it emerged that Google was more involved in the New Zealand media sphere than was previously the case. During the pandemic, the search-engine company provided financial support to 76 news organisations across the Pacific, including non-profit news outlet Crux in Queenstown. Over the years, it has trained hundreds New Zealand of journalists in technical skills.
This New Zealand Media Ownership Report is the first published by AUT’s Centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD). In March 2011, JMAD took over the New Zealand media mapping project from Bill Rosenberg, who delivered his last media ownership report in 2008.
Download the New Zealand Media Ownership 2011 report
This report finds that New Zealand media companies are increasingly dominated by global and pan-regional media corporations, and that they are vulnerable to commercial and shareholder pressures. In response to these pressures, New Zealand media companies have continued to economise and started to digitalise. These developments have led to the closure of a 20 year old weekly business paper, job losses for journalists, printers, advertising and distribution workers, and government loans for a conglomerate with major broadcast holdings. Secondly, with APN’s and Fairfax’s withdrawal from New Zealand Press Association NZPA, and the governments funding cut for the state owned digital TV channel TVNZ7, public media space is shrinking as commercial influence has expanded.
In a time of rapid technological change and economic uncertainty changes in media ownership patterns require even more intense scrutiny. International scholarship in this area reveals how cross ownership patterns shape the business objectives, work environments, content formats and journalistic practices of particular media institutions.
Against this background, it is only natural that the AUT Centre for Journalism, Media & Democracy (JMAD) has taken over mapping and researching New Zealand media-communication ownership patterns and producing related reports. JMAD is taking the leading role on this field- no other New Zealand university has addressed these themes on an ongoing basis.
We owe a big thank you to Bill Rosenberg who has pioneered media ownership mapping in New Zealand and has produced numerous reports on the subject. Handing over his research material and archives to JMAD enables us to continue his important work and generate further research on this field.
This New Zealand Media Ownership Report is the second one published by AUT’s Centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD). This report finds that in 2012 the ownership of New Zealand media companies concentrated even more tightly in hands of transnational corporations, financial institutions and private equity firms, following the international trend. It also discovers that the financialisation of media companies has intensified their need to maximise revenues. Consequently, media companies have implemented cost cutting programmes, outsourced jobs, closed down operations and sold core assets. The speed of these developments suggest that the future of New Zealand media companies is even more unpredictable than in September 2011 when the first JMAD report was published. At the same time print media organisations and online news formats struggled for commercial viability. In these fraught circumstances the principles of public broadcasting and public interest journalism were difficult to sustain.
The New Zealand Ownership Report 2013 published by AUT’s Centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD) outlines how the financialisation of New Zealand media intensified as News Limited pulled out of Sky TV, and as lenders took 100 percent control in MediaWorks.
In 2013, controversy erupted when it was revealed that a journalist’s phone records had been handed to a ministerial inquiry without her consent. The move was condemned by over 300 journalists as the government’s invasion of privacy was seen as a threat to media freedom.
The government also passed legislation giving extra surveillance powers to its security bureau (GCSB). This represented an institutional threat to journalistic autonomy.
The report also finds that the bloggers and the blogosphere gained prominence and influence in relation to the commercially driven mainstream media. In October 2013, there were 280 ranked blogs in New Zealand, and the top political blogs recorded high visitor numbers.
This New Zealand Media Ownership Report is the third published by AUT’s Centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD).
The New Zealand Ownership Report 2014 report finds that the New Zealand media market has failed to produce new, innovative media outlets, and that all the efforts to establish non-profit outlets have proved unsustainable.
The report confirms the general findings of previous reports that New Zealand media space has remained highly commercial. It also confirms the financialisation of media ownership in the form of banks and fund managers.
The report also observes that in 2014 convergence between New Zealand mass media and the communications sector generally was in full swing. Companies, such as Spark (former Telecom NZ), started to compete head-to-head with the traditional broadcasters on the online on-demand video and television markets. The American online video subscription service Netflix is entering the NZ market in March 2015.
Additionally, the report notes evidence of uncomfortable alliances between citizen media, politicians, PR companies and legacy media. As Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics book revealed, the National Party and PR practitioners used the Whale Oil blog to drive their own agendas. Also, events related to Maori TV, TVNZ and Scoop raise questions about political interference in media affairs. It is now evident that the boundaries between mainstream media, bloggers, public relations practitioners and politicians are blurring.
The JMAD 2015 New Zealand Media Ownership Report observes that New Zealand media companies are now owned by a small number of private funds and investment banks. In the case of MediaWorks, financial ownership has intensified its profit imperatives, and led to the demolition of its news and currents affairs programmes. In this context, it is encouraging that independent news organisations such as the National Business Review (NBR), BusinessDesk and Scoop, have continued to operate in the market.
In 2015, New Zealand media companies were implementing ‘digital first’ strategies, and integrating newsrooms across the print and online platforms. Unfortunately, this didn’t put ‘journalists first’, and newsroom layoffs continued.
The revenue structures of media companies continued to encounter difficulties, and new forms of partnership and collaboration emerged. For example, Fairfax partnered with Sky TV, The Huffington Post and The New York Times; and APN with News Corp and The Washington Post in content delivery. Additionally, NZME, TVNZ, MediaWorks and Fairfax joined forces in advertising against companies such as Facebook and Google.
In 2015, Rupert Murdoch returned to the New Zealand media market by acquiring a 15 per cent stake in APN, publisher of The New Zealand Herald. In contrast, mining billionaire Gina Rinehart sold all of her Fairfax shares. Consequently, the investment bank Morgan Stanley became the company’s largest shareholder.
Yet again MediaWorks became owned by one financial institution. In 2013 it went into receivership under its private equity owner Ironbridge Capital. In 2015, American hedge fund Oaktree Capital emerged as the biggest MediaWorks owner.
The JMAD New Zealand media ownership report 2016 observes that New Zealand media institutions are facing major changes in ownership and management, but it is not clear what combinations will eventually emerge.
For the first time in six years, New Zealand media companies are exclusively owned by financial institutions. Media moguls and News Corp have sold all their shares in New Zealand media companies. The report also finds that the board structures of New Zealand media corporates favour further consolidation. This is not surprising, as many board directors have other directorships in financial institutions and corporate advisory businesses.
In November, the Commerce Commission declined its preliminary merger approval of NZME & Fairfax. Unexpectedly, the commission stated in strong terms that the merger would give the combined company too much editorial and commercial power in print and digital platforms. It concluded that the merger failed the public benefit test, and would not be beneficial for democracy.
However, the Commerce Commission makes its final decision about the NZME and Fairfax merger on March 2017. It is still possible that the merger will go ahead.
In October, the commission delayed its decision about Sky TV & Vodafone NZ merger as it sought answers to “unresolved issues.” The commission raised concerns about the merged company’s market power in premium content such as live sports, as well as the likely impact on consumer prices. The Commerce Commission decision about the merger is expected on December 21.
Both media merger proposals were not well received by the public and competing corporations. The Commerce Commission received 56 submissions about the NZME and Fairfax merger of which only three were supportive of it. The commission received 16 submissions about the Sky TV & Vodafone NZ merger, and they were all against.
This JMAD New Zealand media ownership report 2017 reveals a considerable shift in the pattern of New Zealand media ownership. For the first time in seven years, the number of privately/independently owned media outlets exceeded the number of publicly (shareholder) and Crown owned companies.
In 2017, there were seven privately owned media companies: BusinessDesk, NBR, The Spinoff, Allied Press, Newsroom, Bauer Media and MediaWorks - five of these were locally owned. Additionally, Scoop was owned by a New Zealand based non-profit charitable trust.
The media market maintained some competition as the Commerce Commission ruled against NZME & Fairfax and Sky TV & Vodafone mergers. However, at the time of writing it was not clear how the competitive landscape will evolve. In October, NZME & Fairfax took their fight to the High Court, and that decision was pending when the report was published. In June, Sky TV and Vodafone decided to abandon their merger.
The report notes that the digital news market expanded during 2017. There was more available digital news and current affairs content for the public. Yet, at the same time the print newspaper market shrunk with regional and local newspapers reducing staff and publication dates. Commercial television broadcasting showed signs of distress.
This eighth JMAD New Zealand media ownership report observes a considerable shift in New Zealand media ownership. In 2018, Australian Nine Entertainment took over Stuff’s parent company Fairfax Media. The report notes that the impact of this merger on the future ownership of Stuff and its New Zealand media holdings remain unknown. In 2018, New Zealand’s print newspaper market had already shrunk considerably after Stuff closed more than 35% of its print newspapers and announced additional cuts in community papers.
During 2018, the New Zealand media market remained at least partly competitive. In September, the Court of Appeal rejected the NZME-Stuff merger, and the two companies continued their duopoly and dominance in print and online news.
In November, MediaWorks announced that it had signed a conditional merger agreement with Australian outdoor advertising company QMS. If the deal goes through, QMS will have a substantial shareholding in MediaWorks. However, its current owner Oaktree Capital Management will maintain the majority shareholding in the merged entity.
The New Zealand media is facing the biggest changes since the first publication of the JMAD New Zealand media ownership report in 2011. In 2019, major New Zealand media organisations were put up for sale, and hundreds of jobs were at risk. In 2019, MediaWorks was seeking a buyer for its television arm including Three. Furthermore, the government was considering a fundamental restructure of the public media sector including TVNZ and RNZ.
In late 2019, MediaWorks was on the verge of becoming partly owned by Australian Quadrant Private Equity (which bought Australian outdoor advertising company QMS in October). Earlier, MediaWorks became partly owned by QMS as the two companies merged their operations. If Quadrant receives the final approvals to buy QMS, MediaWorks will once more become a 100% private equity owned company. Investment management company Oaktree Capital still holds 60% of MediaWorks shares.
In November, NZME confirmed that it was in discussion with Australian Nine about buying Stuff. To this end, NZME had made a proposal to the government about the deal, but the details were not announced. The outcome of the merger discussions is not yet known.
During 2019, pay models for news expanded in the search for extra revenue: the NZ Herald introduced a paywall and other outlets introduced other charges and voluntary payments. Our analysis shows that the NZ Herald’s paywall is a ‘soft model’ as the majority of the site’s content continues to be freely accessible. This softness may explain why the NZ Herald traffic has not been severely affected by the paywall.