Bernard Hickey was forced to watch some TV ads during the holiday rain and was stunned with what he saw

By Bernard Hickey

There's a saying that you don't know what you've got til it's gone.

I discovered over the summer holidays that free to air television is going, going and is almost gone. This surprised and saddened me more than I expected. I grew up in what seemed like a golden age of free to air television in New Zealand when the advertising was often as entertaining and memorable as the regular programmes.

I remember the Crunchie ad, the Barry Crump Toyota Hilux ad and the Telecom meerkats ad from the 80s and 90s. There were the occasional ads from The Warehouse and Michael Hill Jeweller that seemed to tout their wares in the simplest and most irritating ways, but I remember it as a relatively rare thing.

Six years ago I was an early adopter and got a MySky recorder that allowed me to fast forward through the ads and record series of programmes weeks in advance. Since then we've stopped watching ads at anything less than 30 times speed.

But this week I found myself stuck in a motel room in Whitianga watching the rain on the window and trying to watch free to air television without MySky. The change in the content and style of the advertising over that six years since I stopped watching ads shocked me.

It had become so unwatchable as to make me wonder if free to air television funded by advertising has much of a future beyond the next decade.

Most of the ads were of the flashing, loud and cheap style pioneered by the likes of Harvey Norman, Noel Leeming and The Warehouse. These ads look a lot like a full page or double page ad in the newspaper, but with the addition of a soundtrack of a man (usually) yelling out the details of the special offers.

My (least) favorite is the one advertising 50 months interest free loans (over four years!) that implores me to "GO HARVEY NORMAN!"

I decided to note down the number and type of ads shown on Television One on Thursday night over one hour of prime time. There were 33 of the cheap and nasty retail ads from 6.27 pm to 7.39 pm and just 20 of the more traditional ads without the blaring collection of special offers.  Even the 'normal' ads were very simple affairs without any attempt to entertain. Only 3 (ANZ, Finish and Regal Salmon) of these were traditional brand building ads. None of them were entertaining.

After just over an hour my family forced me to call off this exercise because it had become too irritating. We turned off the television and chose to play a board game instead.

It struck me that many New Zealanders are now making this choice, relegating free to air television to an increasingly cheap and nasty spiral towards irrelevance, if not death.

This spiral accelerated markedly over the last 18 months, thanks to a 47% rise in the number of MySky subscribers in the year to June 30, 2011 to 279,875. If that growth continued over the second half of 2011, then almost 20% of New Zealand households had MySky by last Thursday night when I reacquainted myself with ads.

As more people stop watching ads, viewership drops and splinters, driving advertising quality even lower. The most lucrative viewers have already left, as can be seen in the average monthly revenue per MySky subscriber of $84.79, versus $65.19 for regular subscribers. This reinforces Sky's drive to convert regular subsccribers to MySky, which also reduces Sky's churn rate. It remains at a near record low 14% despite the four year long consumer recession.

The last bastion will be motels in Whitianga. The first one to get MySky has a potential customer. At least while the weather is so bad.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Stratos channel was the best free to view channel around.
Very few ads but has been consignedto the list of also rans.
Come back soon please i need my supply of different opinions.

Bernard I agree with you – shocking ! Bombarded with consumerism – great to kids to learn what parents already do – daily.
What is to me also shocking are the fishing/ hunting programs – almost daily. When we think fishing is fun, then there is nothing left for our kids.
Happy holiday !

Fishing shows do seem popular.  What hunting shows are you referring to though?  Being a hunter I'd be quite interested.  I miss many ads advertising other shows because I time slip with a DVD recorder :-)

I only lasted 30 minutes , watching free-to-air TV , last November ...... the half hour show was punctuated every 5 to 6 minutes with 3 minutes of blaring in-your-face screeching ads ....
..... couldn't take anymore of that . Dragged out the DVDs for the rest of my stay in NZ ...

Nz tv is simply terrible.
It's not just the ads.
It's the general lack of quality programming, and the joke that is the news.
Why stop there? The newspapers are poor. I can read the weekend herald in about 30 mins, i need at least 2-3 hours for the weekend Australian, and there is often enough depth in articles to want to go back for more

Excellent points Iain, I completely agree.
Nz television probably vies with American TV as the crappest in the world.
One of the best public channels I have witnessed is the NHK in Japan - superb  

 Just watched a good french comedy on the Maori channel. Always a good art movie on a Sunday night. With only a couple of ad breaks. Its now the only TV we watch.
Hubby calls the news " 800 ways to die horribly in NZ'. As for the rest, its mostly about people at work . Police,life savers, customs, SPCA. Plenty of murder.  Then there are the  fame seeking singers, endless cooking, fishing. Complete drivel.

Ahh yes, the Maori channel. What did Mandela fight for exactly... ? Wasn't anything about preference or funding of one race over another was it,?   As for the lack of advertisements, don't worry, they are taxpayer funded, it's all free money to them, as usual.

Most of us have cut the cable cord full stop. I even have ‘freeview’ and I never use it. I would say that within 3 years 60% of Kiwi’s will be getting 100% of their home entertainment via the web.
If you’re stuck with cable, my advice is to put your ‘mysky’ shows or burn an entire season of shows form DVD to an external HDD and then watch them as your traveling.

No Advertising, No Revenue, No/Cheap (poor) Programmes.
Illegal Downloading of movies, No Revenue, No/Cheap (poor) Movies.
What "seems" like the goldilocks years will lead to the obvious conclusion...
Just like, cheap money, loose lending and debt... ey...

You actually wrong about that, excluding it's recent marketing blunders, Netflix on demand programing has shown the way to profitablity by providing a quality service via the web. It has nothing to do with what you think is illegal download and everything to do with quality service.  The movie and music industry has belly acted about every format change since the early 1930’s yet time has shown  that it was the movie and music industry that  have profited the most with each format change.

Sky brought out that new SOHO channel, they had Boardwalk Empire 2 on it. The only thing is, half way through the series you had to pay extra to subscribe to SOHO. Well guess what Mr Marketing genius at SKY, spend 0.5 sec googling and it's there for free. Ha ha ha

The real mugs in my opinion are those paying Sky to take advertising feed from them - and then paying them a top up for the privilege of being able to fast forward during those ads!!! 
Think of the board game collection you could have for all the monthly subs over the years.  And playing games with children is far more healthy for them than sharing a sit down in front of the tv - same goes for interaction with your partner even if you don't have kids.  And as for sport - again, much more sociable to head to the local for a pint and a meal with the rugby.
And if you really need a movie fix - fatso delivers just what you want to watch to your letterbox - and the catalogue is amazing.
I'd recommend you take the $80+ per month - sponsor a couple of children in a developing country and see what benefit your family gets from a lifetime of correspondence with them.

I have sky and also sponsor children in developing countries. I don't know what your letters are like, but the ones I get have very poor entertainment value.

But you can dump Sky and sponsor even more children.  Never said the correspondence would be entertaining - the real world often isn't.

..... our little fellow in Brazil wants to be a foot-ball player when he grows up .....
Rugby isn't the thing there ... weird place , Brazil  ....

But what's the end plan here?  Train the kids as circus performers?

No, grow them into healthy, educated adults.

Where's the entertainment in that?

Kate, If I dumped Sky then my quota of impoverished children sponsorship would also decline. CNBC is not available on Freeview, and streaming online out here in hicksville is definately not would it could be. Also, I couldn't bear the thought of missing the delectable Beccy Meehan discussing the in's and outs of Eurpean debt.  So you see, keeping Sky keeps the revenue up, which in turn funds underdeveloped children. So I must keep Sky, for the sake of the children of course.

I find CNBC more annoying than a Noel Leemings ad.
CUE channel on freeview has a great int'l news programme - no studio presenters - just the clips and voice overs - much better int'l coverage than you get from any of the MSM... including NZ productions.

Well Kate I just sampled some CUE TV, and nowhere did Roy Rodgers or The Cisco Kid offer any direction on where the ASX will open tomorrow. Pacific Beat was OK though, gave me a clear idea of where 39% of my income will vanish to.

Video Killed the Radio Star
My sky killed the freeview tv star.  The internet killed my appetite for TV in general.  I can watch what I want, when I want, for free.  Creative destruction at work.
I find it far more interesting, learning every day, something new.  It's all out there, in the global brain that is the internet.

Same here.   It's years since I've lived anywhere that had any TV reception, but I didn't care enough to subscribe to sky.  Don't miss it.  It's only ever been for background noise while working on projects, and if there's something specific I want, then I can get it. 
People slag mp3 players, and they've somehow become a symbol of decadent Gen Y extravagance, but for versatile cheap entertainment they can't be beat.   All the free audiobooks and podcasts are available that anybody could possibly want.

Bernard, what good old days of free to air tv are you talking about? Did you never pay your tv licensing fee? You know, the one that was finally scrapped the same time car registration shot up a whole lot...

Sky is one of the only few things I consider value. $135 PM for entertainment/sport/documentary is value when I think about how many hours I view it. We also have multi room as well for the bedroom.

Doco's, yeah sure if you want to waste an hour watching something that you could learn in 5 mins reading on the internet or an encyclopedia. They are dumbed down for American audiences unfortunately, I even had a producer tell me to talk slowly one time because of this. Sorry but they are no better than the degraded advertisements of Bernards article.

You want to try US TV Bernard! Hence we don't have a TV(connection) here, We just watch NetFlix programmes/episodes of Party Down, Portlandia, Arrested Development which are all bloody good shows or we rent a DVD. 
I remember when Sky started in NZ and NO ads other than their own were to be found.......because... you paid for the privilage. Ain't the case no more. 
I also don't get the Marketing industry if they think I will frequent a store that obnoxiously 'yells' ads at me. Last time I heard Harvey Normans were getting run for their money from a new Aussie outfit who took them to task about their adverts.
A small taste of Party Down:

Public TV is OK - for what it is. It's free content for the viewer - what do you expect? I ceetainly do not want to go back to paying fees to subsidise unwatchable dross
However, I will admit that I'm a MySky user - and do not watch anything in REAL time - prefering to record and then start playing at least 30-45 minutes afterwards.
Most of what I want to watch is not played at a convienent time anyway - as prime time viewing tends to be reality shows (dance this, sing that, cook some food) or gruesome crime forensics - which does not go down well in our household as entertainment.
But a daily news show (timeslipped so 60 minutes takes about 12 minutes to watch), a sci-fi series (Caprica, SGU), local shows like 7Days and the odd doco from Prime means that free-to-air is not toally irrelevant.
Our consumption would be a couple of hours a day ... about 50% pay TV (sky), 25% Blu-ray box sets, and 25% delayed free to air.

fishing/ hunting is fun -
....then there is nothing left for our kids - Animal lover. racing is fun too

Animal lover - do you honestly believe human’s having fun killing animals are valuable contributors to the planet ? Human eat meat, so killing of animals is a necessity  - and it shouldn’t be more then that. Neandertaler’s and some native tribes practiced/ managed that, better then today’s often stupid civilisation.
In modern days, fun are cycling, horse- riding, playing sports, socializing and other activities, which do not harm or cause minimal damage only for our environment or/ and resources.
“Animal lover” there is the next generation and they have children too.

PS  this is a financial issues blogsite   e.g "  helping you to make financial decisions"

gonz – don’t challenge my bullish, animal instinct mate. I poke one of my horns in your bum.

Bernard did mention something of the sort , when Elley & me were swapping chocolate recipes ..
.. money or finances ..
.. anything along those lines keeps Hickey's hair on ...... yer reckon that thing is a toupe ? .. he really should stop shopping at the Salvation Army Store  ...

Speaking of recipes, if you're still interested in those books, let me know. I'm about to burn the few boxes of leftover stock (despite hubby's loud protests!).

Don't burn them !  .... send  some  to Amanda !
... Mummy Gummy would love a copy of each book , too . As would my little Boss , but we're over in Sth. Australia now .....

Not a problem about being in Oz. You can email me your address to . I'll send some to Amanda too, good idea :)

Bernard got MySky 6 years ago! He is the 1%

Muah hah hah....
If only. There was a special offer. And it's the quid pro quo I have with my wife for not subscribing to movies and sport.
We just have the basic package. I quite like UKTV and my youngest daughter is a big fan of discovery and BBC knowledge.

Come on Bernard!  You've got MySky so you can series link "A Place in the Sun",  "Location, Location", "Hot Property" and "Selling Houses"!
(Bernard of course just loves watching Brits and Aussies flicking property for a quick profit, or driving up property prices in Bulgaria!)

Free to air tv in NZ is certainly a joke, and has got worse since tvnz6 closed down, and will be even worse after tvnz7 turns into a home shopping channel.
TVNZ7 is probably the best channel in NZ. No adverts, and some really interesting programs, although now largely reruns.
The first thing that needs to be done is introducing legislation to make the adverts no louder than the program. Our childrens hearing must be getting damage by these changes in volume. They have done this overseas to prevent this problem.
 In a way it is a pity the broadcacsting feee was removed, becuase it means we now have no say over our tax payer money being spent, and means that people think they have no ssay as they think it is free, but it comes out of our taxes instead. 
The content on TVNZ 1 & 2 especially is rubbishy reality shows or circus feakshow type programs/'documentaries'. Obviouly people like them though, as they must get ratings off them. Tv3 & 4 are  better, but not by much.

Rob, I agree. TVNZ 7 is showing some of the best BBC Documentaries available. I would be happy to pay a fee if our TVNZ would incorporate good documentaries. 

Heard a rumour that BBC was going to open up iPlayer internationally.  Haven't followed that up in any way, but if correct, that's definitely something I'd use.

Of bigger concern is the fact that you fastforward at 30x... you are indeed the timeslip ninja... I have only just mastered stopping at the right point on 12x after many years

Animal lover - I see myself as a recreational fisher/ hunter. It is neither enjoyable nor fun, but a necessity to provide food – but an animal died.
So – why do we go for hunting trophies - the heaviest stag, the biggest pig – in fishing competitions - for the biggest, longest or ugliest fish - the glorifying of killing in civilised societies especially now - when the world is getting short of food?

There's an easy way to sort  out that particular problem: don't have TV! We don't, and quite frankly don't miss it a bit, and nor do the kids.
They spend a heap of time playing outdoors, or indoors for that matter - all sorts of games and doing activities with us too. Our oldest, 5 & 7, are book worms and I buy them books on Trademe regularly to add to our big library. They also constantly beg me to do maths, piano lessons, and play scrabble with them...
Once or twice a week, I do put a DVD for them (so they actually think we do have TV and don't feel deprived a bit!). We rent movies too, no ads, it's great. Ads + the pathetically low quality of the programmes are the reason we decided not to get connected when we moved. One of our best decisions I reckon. Some friends just bought their 3 flat-screen TV (on credit of course), Smart phone for a 9yo and play stations for 3 & 5 yo. I thought that was a bit sad.

Oops just read your post Elley. Wow, that's admirable given your big family. My mammoth old school TV gets used for weekend DVDs....library is well loved and used. Great resource.

I think the fact that we have a big family actually helps: the oldest four kids, aged 2 1/2 yo trough to 7yo can all do "role" play together (the 2 1/2 yo usually gets the role of the dog, lol) so they entertain themselves quite well. I feel like I should have been a professional referee at times but they're usually quite good, and baby is a dream so no trouble at this stage.
The hardest bit is making them understand that just because mum & dad are at home most of the time doesn't mean we can do activities with them all the time. The "working from home" concept is a bit difficult to get through :)

Wait until the punch ups start, then you will wish they each had their own playstation.

Look Elley ,  this'' big family stuff ''will have to stop . Powowkiwidowm says we need to knock 5 billion peaple  off the planet asap to get it into line with a 1920 s theory !!

... When we had #4 (which made 4 kids under 5), my mum told me that it was a bit crazy and it'd be really too hard, especially with no family around etc. I asked "so which one should we shoot?"... I was "joking"/a bit cheeky but it worked. I've never had another similar comment since ;)  

You persist in failing to get your facts straight.
The reference to the 1920's, and to 'theory', are yours, and yours alone.
But spin and outright lying are so, so close, eh?
As to the population problem, Elley is aware of my thinking on the matter.

theres no population problem -  so dont worry,be happy. Dont believe everything you read

Here's a thought or perhaps a bold experiment for you Bernard. Kill your TV, then see what happens in your household.
"Four Arguments for the elimination of Television.''

Enter the new error of advertising. Product placement. Immune to piracy and fast forward as it is imbeded into the story line of the movie/program. The Transformers franchise has got to be one of the worst culprates. Hero cars by GM, villan car is a Merc.

Very good non pc retort of the day -  almost Richard Prosser standard ,really

Animal lover - there is nothing wrong with your "line in the sand". Considering your last description (except the last sentence ?), you are obviously doing your gathering for food in a sensible way.
We live in a world, where people should become more protective, preservative and respectful about environment / nature. Unfortunately there are so many examples, where we go in the opposite direction - often with irreparable  consequences.
One of the reasons, why I’m against the glorification of killing animals, which should be neither fun nor enjoyable – that’s all.
Adbusters - trying to convince us not to buy stuff that we don't need to impress people that we don't like for ages...... 
Here is an idea...
What if the governement tried to control inflation by redcuing the advertising density allowed in our society instead of using only the blunt tool of the reserve rate....???
Or what if advertisments pushing imported products were hit with an "anti New Zealand tax" with revenues used to fund more R&D... ???