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Where’s our digital TV revolution? 11 ways networks can innovate online

There’s no reason New Zealand can’t be world-class when it comes to online TV.  If old fashioned broadcast viewership was eclipsed by massive online engagement it’d be a win for viewers, networks and advertisers alike.  So why is it so hard to make this digital product work online?

andrew spear wheres our digital tv revolution idealogWe have plenty of proof that failing to reinvent yourself in light of new technology is certain doom: Trade Me vs Trade & ExchangeXero vs MYOB and digital vs physical music stores – not to mention newspapers.

But New Zealand’s TV networks still have a small window of opportunity to become the centre of online entertainment before they are leapfrogged by the likes of NetflixHulu or YouTube.

In reality the TVNZ and TV3 on-demand sites have become a modest evolution of the VCR: it’s the awkward place you need to visit to catch up on a missed episode.  It’s such a waste because there are a lot of simple ways to engage users, offer amazing new content, add value to old content, become an essential and loved part of Kiwi culture.

So here are a few suggestions for achieving this:

Zero delays

Currently shows are not available online until after they’ve finished airing on old-school broadcast TV.  Why intentionally delay the online release?  Surely blocking viewers from ad-laden shows is not in anyone’s interest.  How about streaming an exact copy of the broadcast show on the website, ads and all?  Then add some live chat features to encourage interaction, both on the site and on your mobile for second-screen viewers and you’ll get a massive increase in view engagement.

Celebrity commentaries

For New Zealand movies or shows offer commentary by the actors and directors as an optional audio track that can be turned on and off at any time.  It’s great promotion for the stars, cheap to produce and provides valuable content for the viewers which they can’t get anywhere else.

It could even simply be a five-minute intro by an actor or director – you could get through a dozen intros in a couple of hours!  How about a series of Peter Jackson’s top 10 horrors, each starting with a video message about why the movie  is special to him? For extra launch buzz there could also be an live online AMA-like event with the bigger stars.

Simpler tech

Our culture of watching shows on the big screen in the lounge isn’t going away and on-demand services need to break the perception of being an “on my computer” activity.  Why not an AppleTV channel, apps with more than one smart TV provider, their own $50 set-top box that “just works” and removing the baffling limitations on mobile users (on the websites and apps)?

Podcast broadcasts

Film all the most popular New Zealand podcasts and stream them live on the site, plus archive them long-term, making the on-demand site the place to go for premium kiwi podcast content.  These podcasts already have solid followings who could jump on board; the content is high quality and production costs would be minimal.

Other high-quality content creators such as 90 Seconds are also producing hundreds of free interviews and presentations around the country.  This type of content could be indexed by theme and special features made with the best episodes of the week.

Time-aware comments

If a user posts a comment during the show, the time that the comment was started is also recorded.  When watching a show you can choose to display user comments at the time they were made, creating a user-generated commentary with trivia or thoughts on the content, similar to what you see on SoundCloud.

Festival content

I work in the cinema industry and there are some great film festivals that take place in New Zealand.  However not everyone can make it to a cinema to see the particular release they want.  

Why not release a couple of sessions of all (or selected) films for online attendance? You could buy a ticket online to access the film and it would only be online for the duration of the festival.  Film buffs who purchased tickets to a physical cinema could also re-watch at home for free by entering the barcode from their ticket stub.

Reward viewing

How about letting users earn rewards for using the site? These wouldn’t cost the provider anything; in fact the purpose is to promote the provider.  Instead of paying to watch shows you earn credits for watching special shows, sharing episodes, posting comments and other engagements.  These points could earn rewards such as ad-free periods, arbitrary badges, and other on-site digital rewards.


I was in Los Angeles in 2012 and had the pleasure of being seeing the incredible Paul F Tompkins improvise over the classic silent movie Dementia at a local theatre.  It was an amazing night.  Other comedians do this regularly and you can even download comedy commentaries for hundreds of films online.

New Zealand has some of the best comedians in the world, why not have them do comedy tracks for on-demand content?  This could be turned on or off and could be for news, dramas, movies, TV shows, anything.  The comedians would get some good promotion and users could even vote and share their favourite one-liners.

Show checkins

How about encouraging users to check-in to a show they’re watching via an app on their phone, even if they’re watching an offline broadcast?  The app could be smart enough to listen to what’s playing in the background and automatically check you in, à la Shazam.

This would be a simple way to merge the offline and online viewing data.  Viewing suggestions could then be made on your history, the users could get rewards for tracking their shows and the network gets invaluable data.

Sponsor free events

I’m sure there are plenty of events that would love national video coverage.  If the on-demand providers had a dedicated roaming crew they could cover all sorts of events like university exhibitions, community events, and live music performances at cafe-size or stadium-size venues.


Drop the “on demand” wording, no-one knows what it means and it’s a mouthful.  Just go with TVNZ Now or TV3 Online, or better yet drop the parent company name completely and create a shorter brand name that could become the Hoover of online video in New Zealand.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Why do networks favour broadcast TV models from the 1970s over modern technology?  Could online TV benefit viewers, advertisers and the networks themselves?  Who’s most likely to leapfrog the incumbents completely? Have any of your own ideas how to improve things? 

Andrew Spear is chief executive at Movie Manager, a guitarist, designer, author, and family man. This post originally appeared on his blog

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