Then and now


In the beginning...

NZ On Air (officially the Broadcasting Commission) was born in 1989.

Prior to 1989, broadcasting operated in a highly regulated monopoly environment. The state-owned Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand (BCNZ) owned the only two television networks (TV One and TV2) and a majority of radio stations throughout the country. The Broadcasting licence fee contributed to some of these services.

Broadcasting reforms in the 1980's brought about the establishment of NZ On Air in 1989.


The state of broadcasting in 1989

Early days TV3

The dissolution of the BCNZ created the new State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) of TVNZ (TV One and TV2) and Radio New Zealand. At this time Radio New Zealand had some 34 commercial and non-commercial radio stations as well as Radio New Zealand International. There were also some privately-owned radio stations in more populated areas.

In November 1989, TV3 became New Zealand's first privately owned national television network.

The independent production sector was quite limited. Most television production, particularly drama and documentary, was made in-house by TVNZ. TV3 had limited in-house production resources.

Community broadcasting was in its infancy. There were four access radio stations in operation – Wellington Access Radio, Plains FM (Canterbury), Auckland Access Radio, and Wairarapa Access Radio. There were no regional television stations.

On commercial radio, a voluntary quota of 10% New Zealand music content had been agreed.

Remember Teletext? It began in February 1984 and was operated by TVNZ providing, among other things, sub-titles for viewers with impaired hearing.

In 1989 New Zealand’s first international internet connection was established.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) was also established in 1989 to handle complaints from the public and monitor standards.


Compared to today

We now have five free-to-air nationwide television networks to choose from – TVNZ, MediaWorks, Prime, Māori Television and Choice; one nationwide pay television network – Sky; a second regional pay television network – TelstraClear/Vodafone; and more than a dozen regional, ethnic or religious television channels.

The independent television production sector has grown exponentially, while TVNZ has wound back its in-house production capabilities. The majority of New Zealand programmes, excluding sport, news and current affairs, are now produced by independent production companies.

Radio New Zealand continues to provide public radio through Radio New Zealand National and Radio New Zealand Concert, as well as operating Radio New Zealand International. It is also moving into the digital realms, including a youth-oriented website The Wireless. It no longer owns any commercial stations. There are two major commercial radio networks – MediaWorks and NZME (previously The Radio Network) – and a host of other private, student, Pacific and access radio stations. Listeners can now tune in to radio programmes in more than 40 different languages.

The industry target for New Zealand music content on commercial radio has doubled – reset by the Radio Broadcasters Association in 2006 to 20%.

Online and mobile devices have proliferated. Users now enjoy a vast array of content in their own time on a myriad of devices. NZ On Air now funds ground-breaking projects for online audiences.

Teletext is gone, superceded by technology. A new entity Able, fully funded by NZ On Air, provides captioning and audio description services for people with hearing and sight-impairment on a selection of mainly prime time programmes on TV One, TV2, TV3 and Four.

The public no longer pays a broadcasting fee, instead NZ On Air is funded directly by Government.

Our Chief Executive Jane Wrightson talked to NZ On Screen's Screentalk about 25 years of NZ On Air, among other things.

Jane Wrightson, Chief Executive


Next Article: Our stories and characters on screen

For 25 years a vast range of TV programmes funded by NZ On Air have entertained audiences of all ages and interests. These programmes reflect our national identity, serving an important cultural role.