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Interview with TVNZ U Live Creators Juliet Jenson and Maria Mahony

By March 24, 2011Opinion


I had the opportunity to interview TVNZ Digital General Manager Juliet Jenson and TVNZ Station Manager Maria Mahony, the women behind TVNZ U and U Live. We talked about what makes good social television, why U was created, how the interactive elements work and where U is heading in the future. Juliet and Maria also responded to some of the negative feedback the new channel has received online.

For a full transcript of the interview, please read below.

Head of TVNZ Digital Eric Kearley has said that ‘TVNZ is delighted to bring New Zealand its first true social television experience’, can you please tell us what makes good ‘social’ television?

Juliet – TV is lean-back traditionally, you sit and watch from the couch and don’t engage, good social TV is lean-forward and interactive, you get a pay-off from watching on-air and online, it’s a continuous circle of engagement, viewing and participation rather than a one-way experience of watching and consuming and that’s the end of your experience. Social TV means there’s a back and forth between viewer and broadcast, so the viewer doesn’t get told one thing and moves on.

Maria – We are reaching the audience where they are already hanging out, Facebook. We are meeting them on their playground.

Lewis – Audiences will have the opportunity to look into the studio during ad breaks via the U live application, given our bandwidth caps in New Zealand, what is the added value if audiences ‘take-a-peek’?

Juliet – U live will comes into its own, when you watch the TV show and the online stream together, that’s when you ‘get it’. The audience gets to see how segments are prepared in the studio, something you would never see otherwise unless you have worked in TV.

Maria – The bandwidth hasn’t caused problems. We’ve been streaming successfully. And bandwidth is not a barrier to our audience, bandwidth goes up all the time. And it’s not necessary to watch the livestream. We don’t see it as a barrier.

Juliet – When we were developing the channel, one of the things we had set-up to do is not put on a big glossy front and tell you how it works. We are trying to show what we do, the livestreaming camera really delivers that, the camera is behind the scenes, revealing more to the audience. You see some things go wrong and how we deal with that, something people using our Facebook app really respond to.

Lewis – Competition winners will have the opportunity to ‘own’ a slot, choosing what viewers watch on Sunday nights, can you please explain in detail how this will work? What kind of content will be available?

Maria – We have a competition on u.co.nz where we draw one winner, actually, we draw a few winners as we need to make sure the video we get from the applicant is good quality. The winner receives a web-link to where they can view clips on all the shows that they can schedule. Our producers get in touch with them via Skype and email.

Juliet – We give them a big bag of content to choose from, the rights are already cleared.

Maria – But we make sure that they can choose from a variety of genres. We have heaps of entries, lots of people are really interested in becoming a programmer because you not only get to decide what others watch but you get to own the slot.

Lewis – Your target demo is potentially very tech-savvy, are there plans for other types of interaction, e.g. YouTube, user-submitted content, video-making competitions?

Maria – Currently Tuesday and Thursday nights are hosted, coming up in April is Super Fans. Using the Cover It Live software, our audience will be given the chance to moderate the conversation about what’s going on on-air.

We want to give responsibility to our audience. The moderators or ‘Super Fans’ are featured on the website with a profile so the audience can get to know them.

Juliet – People love to talk about TV as they’re watching it, our Super Fan idea ties into that, so the audience is interacting in a meaningful way. We are sticking to where the audience is and where they want us to go. We are driven by them.

Lewis – Eric Kearley told Stuff.co.nz that social networking would help localize content and help the TVNZ become more than just a meaningless aggregator of TV programmes, how exactly does Facebook help TVNZ achieve this goal?

Juliet – Sure, you can put in a schedule of programs that have been made overseas, but taking it to next level is Facebook and Cover It Live, which make it interactive and engaging. Examples of the localized elements are U live, and U tv, giving New Zealanders the chance to be a programmer.

Maria – U Live is local because our hosts are local, and we talk about what’s happening here in New Zealand, not to say everything we talk about is local, but we know what’s going on here. We don’t hear it second-hand.

Our hosts of course experience what it’s like to be the audience and what’s important to them. They are smack bang in the middle of our target demographic and they have close input in the content of the show.

Juliet – When choosing our hosts, we didn’t want to have traditional hosts. We wanted them to be real people and to show who they are on screen. What they say and do and wear is uniquely them, it’s not contrived.

Lewis – I’ve heard people say that U live is ‘essentially C4’s Select Live with added Facebook chat’, and the rest of the U schedule is ‘filled with MTV knock offs’, what is your response to this kind of feedback?

Maria – The feedback about U Live being like Select Live happened before launch. Sure, we are broadcasting in the same time slot and showing music, but U Live has its own unique personality and a point of difference.

Juliet – There is a practical reason why that time slot is used across channels, it’s when our target demographic is available, but also, and this is not something we can get around, according to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, from 4.00pm – 7.00pm is G time, it is hard to get content from overseas that sits within that rating. In terms of the similarities to other channels, we are not out there to compete –

Lewis – [interrupting] But Four is nevertheless a competitor?

Maria – We are there for the same audience but we are different, it’s about giving our viewers a choice, it’s about an alternative.

When people hear reality TV, they think of one kind of reality, or one kind of reality TV. MTV‘s Jersey Shore is highly successful, but our whole schedule is almost entirely new content to the region, content that hasn’t been seen here before, for example, we are bringing Ginx TV here for keen gamers but also appeals to a broader audience.

Juliet – The schedule is broader than just reality TV in the perceived sense, it’s not Jersey Shore. A lot of people think scripted reality and the schedule is not that, it’s real TV not just reality TV or portraying people’s reality without the reality TV label.

Maria – There’s room for everything.

Lewis – TVNZ 6 has already folded, and the speculation that TVNZ 7 will be axed is rife. Where do you see TVNZ U in 6-12 months after launch?

Juliet – We are aiming for world domination. [laughs]

Lewis – [laughing] Or just world famous in New Zealand?

Juliet – We aim high. The reality for TVNZ is that this is a genuine proposition that fills a need and fills a gap in the market, its part of the expanding TVNZ portfolio. We are here to stay, and we are very positive.


[Image Credit: DanNews]