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Bauer Media is leaving NZ

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With no NZ Listener, Women’s Day or North and South, is there a future for local NZ voices?

On Thursday Bauer Media announced that they were leaving NZ. With that announcement famous NZ titles like NZ Listener, North and South, Metro, Air NZ’s Kia Ora and NZ Women’s Weekly could disappear from our lives as will employment for over 400 staff, countless other writers and we will lose another publisher for local New Zealand stories.

While the blame has been placed at COVID-19’s feet it seems a convenient excuse as the PM pointed out, Bauer showed no interest in taking up the Government subsidy nor responded to Government overtures.  Ultimately the decision is a result of a steady decline in advertising revenue to support local media. New Zealand is a small market and publishers rely on advertising support rather than subscriptions to stay afloat. As a small struggling market, it’s an easy decision to close NZ operations by big international organisations such as Bauer. But the closure is part of a major structural change to our media landscape that COVID-19 is accelerating, if not the root cause of. Media is changing and revenues are now sucked up by the likes of Facebook and Google with an unending appetite to engulf local advertising revenues.

Sustainability for national media is not just a Bauer issue and won’t be the last major change we see this year. Australia’s Nine Network, now the owner of Stuff NZ, our alternative national news service and publisher of the only daily papers for a number of cities and towns including The Southland Times, Christchurch Press and Dominion Post in Wellington, is looking for $50 million is savings across the group and has made no secret of its desire to exit NZ. NZME, the Newstalk broadcaster and owner of NZ Herald doesn’t have a rosy balance sheet either and, in a market where advertising has all but dried up, will be looking at how to survive.

MediaWorks, the owner of MoreFM, Magic, The Breeze and another 6 brand is in a critical condition, not because of radio which was healthy, but because it also owns TV3 which is haemorrhaging cash and cannot find anyone interested in taking it on. MediaWorks threatened to close its TV arm last year because they cannot see a future where national television is sustainable and this shows how desperate things have become. TV’s audiences and revenues have been declining for years and while COVID-19 will provide a short-term lift in viewing it doesn’t come with an uplift in revenue, quite the reverse.  

TVNZ, the country’s dominant network is also now a loss-making venture. The government is loath to get more involved in media but is being dragged into the business once again and is talking about providing a life line to TVNZ and TV3 through the merging of TVNZ and RNZ and probably either TV ONE or Two becoming limited or non-commercial.  That will give Mediaworks a small window to dispose of TV3 as competition for the precious few declining TV dollars narrows. Given the current Covid-19 situation and apocalyptic recession approaching, its unsure whether they will be able to provide a rescue package for MediaWorks in time.

What is clear is that New Zealand will, before the end of the year, see a major structural change in the media landscape certainly at a national level and a likely swing to more local independent media.

Queenstown is not immune to these market shake ups, its only just over a year since Stuff’s Queenstown Mirror closed its doors, as part of a pull-out from regional markets and moving the business digital.  MoreFm and The Hits are the only radio stations to run a local weekday show. Remember when local radio was broadcast all day across a number of stations?
Local independent publishers including The Queenstown Media Group, publisher of the Lakes Weekly, have significantly increased investment in content creation in order to provide a curated environment for a wider range of readers and businesses to reach the Queenstown market. Many of the categories that the Lakes Weekly and indeed Source Magazine [which is also a part of the QMG family] used to rely on, have moved their focus and budget to social media or online. That revenue heads to Silicon Valley and doesn’t contribute a cent to local media, journalism or to New Zealand’s tax base.

There are new forms of local independent story telling appearing and some of it is promising. Crux as a regional digital news and opinion source. The Queenstown app is producing local news and information which is locally owned, by The Queenstown Media Group.

Locally owned media are connected to the local communities they serve. They are owned by locals and employ talented journalists, content writers, graphic designers, sales people all of whom live in their community and in Queenstown’s case are broadening the employment base beyond tourism. 90% of these businesses rely on local advertising to grow and invest in the local stories that will replace the hole being left by national media.

David Gibbs
Operations Manager
Queenstwown Media Group