After making his debut as Radio With Pictures’ new host on 9 February 1986, Dick Driver was only in the job a few weeks when, in April, a stand-off took place between TVNZ and the recording industry over payment for music video clips.
1986 music video embargo
Essentially, the argument revolved around two different perspectives toward music videos: the record companies believed they were providing content to fill TVNZ’s programming, which they should be paid for, whereas TVNZ believed that they were generously giving record companies free advertising for their products and shouldn’t have to pay anything.
In the 1970s, in the very early days of music video, TVNZ paid a nominal fee of $50 per clip for screening rights, as well as handling freight and customs charges. However, by the 1980s increased competition between record companies led to TVNZ being offered music videos for free. TVNZ schedules became increasingly populated with music video shows in the mid-1980s; in 1986, TVNZ was running Radio With Pictures, Shazam!, Ready to Roll, RTR Video Releases, and 12 O’Clock Rock, following which was Video Music, a three-hour block of back-to-back videos playing in the early hours of Saturday morning.
The record industry estimated that TVNZ was earning $5m annually from video-based shows and argued that TVNZ ought to treat music videos the same as any imported content. At a meeting with TVNZ in April 1986, they demanded payment of $US27.30 per minute ($NZ47 in 1986 dollars), which was the same rate TVNZ paid for international content like dramas and comedies. Threatened with the removal of all video clips, TVNZ controller of programmes Des Monaghan announced “I don’t accept ultimatums like that” and walked out of the meeting. Supply of video clips ceased at that moment.
In the US, MTV had been involved in a similar spat several years earlier, when record labels objected to its business model of basing its content on videos supplied for free by the record companies yet reaping all of the advertising revenue. The issue was resolved with MTV paying a flat fee to record companies for the exclusive right to play particular videos for a 30-day period. Most other countries paid fees, Germany over $US100 per minute, but New Zealand and Australia were hold-outs.
TVNZ head of light entertainment Malcolm Kemp held firm that these clips should be treated as advertising: “Each clip is like an advertisement for a record. We know that record sales go up when a record hits number one on Ready to Roll. We know that record sales are largely governed by the exposure they get on these programmes.” Listener staff writer Gordon Campbell pointed out some holes in that argument: “But if video clips were nothing but advertisements, he could screen six Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials and call that Ready to Roll. Isn’t it more correct to describe video clips as an entertainment package that has a commercial spin-off? On that basis, shouldn’t TVNZ pay, since the provision of entertainment is TVNZ’s main motive in transmitting the video?”
In the wake of the ban, Ready to Roll and RTR Video Releases were removed from the air, but Shazam! and Radio With Pictures continued for several more weeks, relying on New Zealand videos it had produced itself or were supplied from independent labels.
Peter Grattan: In mid-1986, the record companies demand compensation for their videos. TVNZ play around 50 a week on Ready to Roll, Shazam! Radio With Pictures, etc. In my view, TVNZ should have agreed a deal, or offered advertising discounts. So music videos disappear from New Zealand TV screens for around six months.
Keith Tannock: Pretty straightforward – it was the end of Radio With Pictures. The record companies imposed a ban. They wanted, as with radio, a payment for each play, whereas TVNZ, probably rightly, saw it as a promotional tool that they should get for free. So no videos became available. We still shot things that never went to air, the John Cale video for instance.
Dick Driver: We got about five or six episodes into Radio With Pictures [when the dispute happened] ... So I had to endure three or four months off after just starting the job, just getting into it, there was this lay-off time, which was really awkward for me. For most of the winter, we were off air.
Brent Hansen: I mean it is interesting – it was never really explained to us, I don’t think, what was going on apart from being a high-level corporate conversation about payment. We had no say in it, absolutely no say. One day we were called and told “you can’t play any overseas videos,” so we said “we will just play New Zealand videos.” And then we got told “you can’t play those either.” And that was it. So I just left the country.
Peter Blake: TVNZ management disagreed [with the recording industry] and took the view that they were promotional vehicles, as did every other television company in the world at that time, to my knowledge. For the record, I agreed. An impasse ensued and all clip shows were taken off air. A new local series, produced by myself, called True Colours replaced them. This was short-lived as the record companies capitulated and the programmes returned.
¶ The resolution wasn’t quite as neat as Peter Blake remembers. During the boycott, Kemp speculated in a Listener interview that TVNZ might combine Radio With Pictures with Shazam! to create a live performance “C’mon type show, 1986.” The resulting True Colours, which debuted on July 11 in Shazam!’s former prime-time slot of 6.30pm Friday, caused Blake some production headaches.
With three weeks’ notice, Blake began to piece together the concept and format of True Colours, being directed to fill the channel’s public-service obligation to serve young viewers while also attracting high viewership. Blake targeted mainstream pop groups, planning for Peking Man to play live in the studio for the show’s debut, which coincided with the release of their new album. However, their record label CBS worried that the live studio sound might be inferior to the album, and thus be a poor promotion for it. It was then suggested that the band mime their performance, even though it countered the live premise of the show and risked being seen by the rest of the recording industry as crossing the picket line. The next plan was for the vocal track to be removed so that singer Margaret Urlich would be performing “live” rather than the band. The recording industry then objected to CBS “giving away about 50 percent” of its argument, leading CBS to make demands that included the show playing three Peking Man videos at the cost of $US27 per minute, an offer Blake couldn’t but refuse. Eight days before the programme’s premiere, Blake had no act. Instead, Ardijah, signed to independent Pagan Records, was the featured act on the first show.
The show’s format also attracted the ire of other independent labels, who had until that point been keeping TVNZ’s music shows afloat by supplying content but felt abandoned by True Colours’ emphasis on mainstream pop groups. At the time, Blake openly admitted that the show’s timeslot and “teen-orientation” meant “there won’t be any serious attempts to cover the alternative area at all.” Head of Jayrem Records, Jim Moss, responded by refusing to supply TVNZ with his label’s videos or recording tracks; TVNZ was suddenly fighting on a second front. Although he had no role in boycott negotiations, Blake was forced to defend TVNZ’s policy to the media. At the time, Blake replied: “Sure, we’re anticipating a little flak there … but what you’re talking about is really minority music … of course I feel regret. I feel regret over a lot of things in this whole situation. Sure, I feel regret for the small independent labels that have supported us, and also for those alternative bands out there that have gone to the trouble of putting their last penny to make a clip to submit to Radio With Pictures. But this programme has got to rate or it won’t stay.” Only four of the show’s allocated 10 episodes made it to air before it was cancelled.
Brent Hansen: So basically what happened was that we were squeezed, we were restricted on what we could play, we pretty much used all our local stuff up pretty quickly. We went off air but were allowed to come back as another programme which we called True Colours and that ran for a period of time until such point as the rug was pulled out from underneath us and it got taken off air.
Simon Morris: I think that what they tried to do is to make it so it was exclusively New Zealand music; they were going with that, they weren’t allowed to play overseas clips so they would play only New Zealand stuff. And I think that audiences were prepared to put up with New Zealand stuff if it was part of a bigger programme – they liked to have it as an element – but they didn’t want to have it so it was just that. It’s like having a pizza where there’s only one flavour. They started to just sort of fall away and then the people who were in charge of the rock shows, I guess, started panicking and handed it over to various commercial people. And the commercial people were saying “Well I know what its problem is: it’s got to be a lot more like a commercial radio station.” And we just sort of thought, “Oh God, we’re out of here!”
¶ When True Colours was pulled off the air, there was a barren period when the only pop-rock music programme left was 12 O’Clock Rock, relying on concert footage rather than music videos. There was suddenly little room for local music on air. That the boycott was caused by two enormously wealthy entities each refusing to pay for music videos struck many as somewhat ironic. For an independent filmmaker like Stuart Page, who produced music videos with no funding and no financial reward – and who didn’t stand to profit regardless of how the stand-off was resolved – the situation was particularly galling.
Stuart Page: They were saying “We are providing you guys with free content” and the TV guys are going, “Nah – we are giving you free advertising” and that was what it came down to. It was ridiculous; nobody wanted to pay for it.
Brent Hansen: The programme wasn’t really the programme without the big guns. It has got to provide a credible point of view. And that credible point of view was that we were a window to the world of music and those New Zealand bands were a part of that but they were just a part of it. I think that was good for them as well, because it was seen as context.
Liam Ryan (The Narcs): When the boycott happened and they didn’t play any clips, it felt like a desert, it felt like the water had dried up, you know, it was gone and it was terrifying to think that that was gone.
¶ Ready to Roll eventually returned on October 1, and Radio With Pictures the next day, but the ramifications of the video boycott were long-lasting.
Peter Blake: The loss of momentum to my production team was damaging. I had a sense this might occur before resolution, and warned some of the record companies. We were a very well-oiled machine up to that point and were all believers, music enthusiasts, and passionate about our work, which the companies respected. Perhaps we were nearing the end of our tenure, who knows? The series never really returned to their former selves. Brent Hansen headed to MTV, Simon Morris hung in for a while and I left in 1987 to pursue a career composing music for television, docos, dramas and themes.
Brent Hansen: And the set – when we tried to bring the programme back at some stage, the set disappeared. It was miraculously found on a rubbish heap somewhere but it had disappeared. So things were changing in that regard.
Exodus, cancellation and resurrection
The video boycott precipitated – or at least coincided with – a period of change for Radio With Pictures. Partly, this was due to individual decisions that the show’s creative personnel made, such as Karyn Hay’s decision to leave for Europe being followed by Brent Hansen and his partner Pip Dann (host of Shazam! and co-host with Dick Driver of True Colours) in 1986, and Peter Blake stepping away from production in mid-1987.
Wider changes to broadcasting were also affecting the atmosphere at TVNZ. In 1986, TVNZ was established as a limited company, and Julian Mounter was brought in as chief executive to scrutinise its readiness for competition in anticipation of the arrival of privately-owned television channels. The deregulation of broadcasting intensified as TVNZ was officially declared a profit-seeking State Owned Enterprise in December 1988, creating a more competitive environment at the expense of the public service ethos that had long guided television production. Widespread re-structuring and job losses ensued.
Brent Hansen: I only took a job at MTV Europe because they approached me and offered me the job. The plan was to work there for a few months. I saw MTV as the enemy – I was a public service guy so I just wanted the money to buy my Kombi van and hit Europe. And I remember saying to Pip, “If I had stayed at TVNZ, I would have been made redundant.” I would have been gone – that would have been it. I would have had to have had another life.
Simon Morris: By that stage Peter Blake had had enough of TV and wanted to get back to music. I think suddenly it just turned into something else and a whole bunch of other people started working on it. By that stage it stopped being Radio With Pictures and it had started turning into something else. I think I was still there when Dick Driver was there but then after that it sort of shifted over and a bunch of other people came in. And it also became a little less important because there seemed to be more video clip programmes and so it was all a bit spread out. And as soon as you have that then everyone starts thinking that they want to make it a bit more commercial, they wanted to make it a bit like more something else. And as soon as you actually start worrying about what anybody else thinks then you’re fucked, I think.
In early 1989, Radio With Pictures was axed, the last of its three “farewell” episodes airing on March 19. A new show, CV, was developed, which aimed to capture what was perceived as a shift in music tastes and to cater to the new deregulated environment. Producer Gary Ryan explained, “We’ve been aware for quite some time that the music’s identity had changed. What used to be exclusively RWP material is now getting on the charts within weeks, and we have to reach that mass audience. So we’ve packaged the two ends, from more commercial to less commercial, together.” Laden with three hosts, the intent was that over the course of the show’s three-hour running time, it drift from the pop mainstream into alternative music by the show’s end.
Simon Morris: I think a lot of stuff got moved to Auckland at that stage and maybe it was something to do with the music as well. The music took itself a little bit more seriously after that maybe.
Bruce Russell: By 1989 they dropped Radio With Pictures and they replaced it for a while with something called CV which didn’t last very long which, and was a terrible programme. I mean I felt really put out and I can remember Peter Jefferies took it very personally; there was something about it that he really fucking despised and he was very outspoken on the subject of how appalling this programme was.
¶In the wake of dismal ratings, CV didn’t return in 1990. As Peter Grattan admitted at the time, “It probably tried to be all things to all people … it tried too hard to be commercial.” Meanwhile, Grattan, who’d been working in the UK on sabbatical after Shazam!’s demise in the wake of the video boycott, got called back to TVNZ and was given the chance to resurrect the show he conceived back in 1976.
Peter Grattan: Things are good in the UK until late 1989. I was working 15 hour days, producing Star Search, five one-hour talent shows a week, night shifts, weekends, and my marriage ended. But thankfully TVNZ’s new CEO, Julian Mounter head-hunted me, offering a three-year contract to be TVNZ’s newest and last head of entertainment. It was great to be back in New Zealand for the summer of ’89, but unbeknownst to me, the long-term plan was to wind down the Entertainment Department. I arrived to chaos in the Entertainment Department, I was to oversee 50 staff, making 600 hours of TV across two channels with an annual budget of around $20 million. The dream job, one would think … TVNZ had launched a horrendously expensive Saturday Live show, hosted and produced by Australians who knew nothing about what Kiwis wanted to see. It debuted on the night I got back from London. It was panned by the public and critics alike and lasted 12 weeks. There was a late-night rock show called CV which was costing a fortune, with three hosts and low ratings ... In 1991, John McCready became the “no nonsense” head of programmes, and he shook up the schedule. John had turned the fortunes of Radio Hauraki around. He lives and breathes music, discovered The La De Da’s and Sharon O’Neill, was head of Philips Records in the 70s. He let me bring back Radio With Pictures. Dick Driver, who’d been its host, was now its producer. It only lasted for 13 shows. But by 1992, TVNZ was starting to feel the economic pinch. So slowly, they wound the Entertainment Department down. There were staff redundancies throughout TVNZ, many in my department. Experienced, dedicated creatives like Simon Morris and Gilly Tyler and half a dozen other top producers/directors lost their jobs. They got good redundancy packages, then within months, many were back working on contract.
Legacy of Radio With Pictures
Radio With Pictures was resurrected after the abject failure of CV. It relaunched on Friday August 31, 1990, as “a straight-ahead video show, free of the gig-guides and review/previews that cluttered last year’s CV, but retaining that show’s relatively mainstream format.” After 15 years, Radio With Pictures had come full-circle, back to being a show without a host, featuring nothing but back-to-back videos. On Friday March 8, 1991, the show finished for the last time without much fanfare, its timeslot taken by Australian rugby league coverage.
By this time, TVNZ was operating in a deregulated broadcast environment, competing for advertising dollars against TV3 as well as the new cable network Sky, its public service values diminishing by the day. With TVNZ abrogating its responsibility to promote New Zealand music to local audiences, the task of trying to prevent New Zealand music from being totally overwhelmed by foreign imports was eventually assumed by NZ On Air, which funded its first music video in 1992. Still, in the 1980s at least, Radio With Pictures fulfilled its remit to be a “channel of record” and left an indelible mark on New Zealand’s music landscape.
Peter Blake: I must admit I continually come across people who grew up with the shows and watched them religiously. Sunday night with Radio With Pictures before the Horrors and RTR in its popular early evening Saturday night slot. Videos both international and local were new and influential. What can I say? I’d like to think it’s been beneficial culturally for the New Zealand scene. I came from an era where the public didn’t have much faith in New Zealand culture and products generally and it irked me. This was the conservative Muldoon era with its protectionism and intervention. New Zealand was very insular.
Liam Ryan: By the time Phil O’Brien has gone off and Dr Rock [Barry Jenkin] was gone and Karyn Hay took a hold of it on Sunday nights and all that Dunedin stuff was coming through – I think that’s where New Zealand actually defined its own sound, you know. Because really a lot of what we were doing up till that time, especially with The Narcs, is quite derivative. It was derivative of Australian rock for a start and then that whole Tears for Fears kind of power-pop thing; we weren’t thinking about a New Zealand sound at all.
Keith Tannock: We’d see things here they didn’t see overseas. They were risk-takers; they put stuff on that was a bit out-there. You weren’t struggling for ratings, that wasn’t a priority. Those were the days when there were just two channels, when everyone saw the same things and talked about the same things. It was a matter of “this was what was going on”. An exciting time.
Dick Driver: That has been one of the nice things about Radio With Pictures … it broadened the musical horizons of New Zealanders, never stopping to apologise to those who couldn’t keep up.
Karyn Hay: I think because it was truthful in regard to what we were doing in the office; that spirit of it came out on television. You know, it was anarchic, two fingers up, “we’ll do what we want,” not in a punk way but just in a way that says “this is the spirit of rock and roll.” That came through and that was because it was honest, because nobody was telling us what to do.
Simon Morris: I think that it was … it was the thing between. Prior to that, pop music on television had been a sort of a necessary evil and it was put together once a week, if you’re lucky, by people who didn’t really like it much but would tell people how to do it, you know, “we’ll do this, you stand here and you sing this song” and all that sort of stuff. And suddenly the lunatics took over the asylum for a while, and you could try anything and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t but it didn’t really matter. And then after that, after us people started taking it seriously again, except this time it was the music industry that was taking it seriously. And once you start doing that, once you suck all the fun out of it, then that wasn’t just us either. I mean I notice that in overseas clips as well it became standard ways in which you make a video where in the past Godley and Creme and Bob Giraldi and all these sort of guys had been just making any old shit, you know “I’m going to do this.” I remember they would do a lot of copies of classic movies and things. But then there was the kind of thing where they would say “this is the standard heavy metal clip so basically I have to stand up the front here, stand with a leg up on the speaker and the two guitarists have to do that swaying thing together” and “oh man!” you know. And then there was the REM-type band and it would have to be black and white. It just got so formulaic and once it was formulaic, once you know what you’re doing, it takes all the fun out of it.
Brent Hansen: [At MTV Europe] people kept leaving or burning out or getting fired, and I kept getting bigger and bigger jobs until I ran the place. And really, it was Radio With Pictures all over again, but huge. In the early days, MTV was a radical alternative to the mainstream, and really, all I was doing was using the philosophy I'd developed at Radio With Pictures.