Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Ralston Gone; Bank tells Govt: Sell TV2

A few days is a long time at TVNZ... News chief Bill Ralston officially quit New Zealander's state broadcaster before he was more unceremoniously dumped in the next month or so. The former journalist was originally brought in by former CEO Ian Fraser in 2003 to bring "a bit of mongrel" to the TV One newsroom.

He refused to censor himself, making infamous comments like suggesting former Prime TV's Chris Taylor should be "throwing himself off Auckland's tallest building" (after poor ratings for Holmes), and TV3 had cocked-up and must be "wetting themselves" (after moving John Campbell & Carol Hirschfeld from 3 News to Campbell Live).

Unfortunately for Ralston, ratings for State TV's flagship One News hit a fairly steady slide during his reign. In mid-2004, 809,200 viewers (aged 5+) watched One News... last week that had slumped to just 487,300.

However, media commentators are quite rightly pointing out that Ralston shouldn't shoulder sole blame for the ratings slide, noting the poor marketing campaigns (Text Yes or No now... It's not about us... It's about You! It's Your News!"), and the major controversy over salaries.

He also seemed to struggle to change entrenched habits and working styles at TVNZ, and while the news has changed a lot during his reign, not all the changes are what I would have expected given his background as a top notch journalist. (Former TVNZ employees Paul Cutler and Trish Carter are being tipped as possible replacements.)

Meanwhile, investment bank Goldman Sachs JBWere is encouraging the New Zealand Government to take advantage of the current shake-up in Australasian media ownership, and sell State TV2.

The bank reckons TV2 could fetch $436 million, based on recent media deals. Last week, Tony O'Reilly's Independent News & Media made a bid for full control of APN News & Media (NZ Herald, Radio Network).

CanWest Global Communications is also preparing to sell Australia's Network 10, and is reviewing its stake in CanWest MediaWorks NZ (TV3, C4, RadioWorks).

Selling TV2 is a great idea that is well overdue, although I'm less convinced by their suggestion that TV1 be "transformed into a BBC-style, commercial-free, public channel fulfilling TVNZ charter obligations".

However Goldman Sachs JBWere does admit that privatising key assets is "not within the psyche" of the Labour-led government. It may take a change of government to see a change in attitude towards state-owned broadcasting, but by then the NZ taxpayers may have lost the opportunity for a decent return.

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An Eclectic Library of Articles

An increasing number of "Web 2.0" sites have been hitting the internet recently, and one of the interesting ones I've come across is Encyclocentral.

The eclectic site hosts an alphabetised library of thousands of articles covering a huge range of topics, with an emphasis on products and services available online. The main page lists the most recent articles, as well as ranking them by how popular they are.

Starting with the A's, there was an article on Antique Jewelry which gave me a quick lesson in period piece jewellery through the ages.

But it was an article on the front page of the website that proved more intriguing... Elite Titles. I discovered I could actually become a legitimate Lord, Duke, Baron, or Count (for a small payment ;-)

The non-seated titles are sold on a "first come, first served basis" (they apparently check there is not "an existing person with a similar Title granted by Royalty, Government, or Inherited by birthright").

Seated titles are rarer and more expensive, but include a named area of land, and give you the legal right to be called the Lord and Lady of (for example) Westminster. (I might start saving!...)

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Saturday, 27 January 2007

The Future Queen of England...

Kiwi blogger Blair Mulholland has brought an important point to the attention of local readers... To quote Blair, "Kate Middleton is HOTTTT!"

Those in the UK are probably well used to seeing photos like this (taken back in September, while the pair were holidaying in Ibiza) and reading about Middleton, but she is less recognised overseas. (And is it just me, or does she look a little like Ms Victoria "Posh" Beckham??)

Tipped by many Royal watchers as a future Queen of England (actually 'Queen consort' to be precise), there has been much media speculation recently that an engagement between Prince William of Wales and Kate Middleton was imminent.

British retailer Woolworths has apparently already commissioned Wills & Kate engagement memorabilia, despite any evidence of royal plans. Bookmakers William Hill have stopped taking bets on whether the pair will get engaged... although you can still have a wager on the exact date.

William Mountbatten-Windsor and Kate Middleton began dating in 2003, while they were students at St Andrews University in Scotland, and have been together ever since.

Earlier this month, Prince Williams asked the press to respect 25-year old Middleton's privacy and stop taking her photo, after she was mobbed by photographers outside her London home on her birthday.

Britain's main tabloid newspapers have now agreed to stop printing paparazzi photos of Kate Middleton.

* Full Photo Gallery (circa Sep '06) at

* Hat Tips: Blair's Mulholland Drive and DPF's Kiwiblog

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Maori Party right on Work for Dole

The Maori Party are a very interesting party on the New Zealand political landscape. On the one hand they've got socialist activist and loose cannon Hone Harawira (son of veteran Maori activist Titewhai Harawira)... but on the other hand they've got the more sensible and straight talking Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples.

While the National Party tries its best to "redden" up its "true blue" image, Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples is talking tough on welfare dependency, with calls to make work-for-the-dole mandatory.

The party wants to see all beneficiaries in some sort of compulsory work or training scheme, to help "attack entrenched attitudes of state dependency".

Sharples admits its a hardline stance, but rightly points out "It's our people trapped in that whole benefit package idea. If we are going to break it, then that's how we do it." (Latest figures reveal Maori make up 36.5% of those on the unemployment benefit).

The current minority coalition Government has seen youth unemployment drop over the last few years. However there's still a massive number on the DPB, Sickness and Invalid benefits.

(The figures: Sickness beneficiaries increased by 569% since 1981, from 7,104 to 47,527 in September 2006; Invalid beneficiaries increased by 348%, from 16,961 to 75,988; and those on the Domestic Purposes Benefit increased by 155%, from 39,412 to 100,579).
Tariana Turia says the Maori party was "very keen to have a look at the whole benefit system... we don't think it's healthy for [our people] to be beneficiaries of the state." However it is worth noting the party is "not promoting a crackdown on the domestic purposes benefit".

Meanwhile, Blair Mulholland notes that the National Party's ideology of supporting private property rights is also looking shaky, as they prepare to back away from supporting the Maori Party's Foreshore and Seabed Repeal bill.

* NZ Herald: Make work-for-dole mandatory to break habit, says Sharples

* Mulholland Drive: Unbelievable!
* NZ Herald: National denies it's ready to help Turia on foreshore bill

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Thursday, 25 January 2007

Keep up with the latest Tech Gadgets

The much-hyped Apple iPhone was all over the media recently, but its just one of many cool uber gadgets being released this year.

The internet is the best way to keep track of what's hot, and a new website Techzoogle promises to be one of the best places to read about the latest cool gadgets, technology, and trends.

The site features reviews of the latest and upcoming products, and news on new developments in the world of technology, computers and software.

One great new gadget they've been looking at is the Bluonyx. Its about the same size as an ipod or cellphone, but lets you share your videos (as well as music and other files) with others, simply by connecting it to a TV, phone or PC.

Techzoogle's story says the Blueonyx will host almost any media file, which makes it great for sharing those downloaded tv shows or movies in formats like Divx or Xvid. It can even access the internet. There's no word on when it'll be available to buy, but expect a price tag of $100-$200 depending on the storage size you want.
[ Right now I'm listening to:
^ Markoolio & Linda Bengtzing - Värsta Schlagern ]

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Yet another example of why the Environment Court needs to be ditched

Recent media reports have looked at how the cost of property ownership has put owning a home out of reach for many New Zealanders. The reality is there is high demand for too few properties, but red tape here causes huge delays for developers.

New Zealand is ranked 75th in the world in terms of total Land Area (out of 232 countries). That's slightly larger than the United Kingdom (including outlay territories for both countries), which comes in at #79.

However when ranked by Population, New Zealand sits at #122 (with a little over 4.1 million people) while the slightly smaller UK comes in #25 (with 60.5 million people). Why then are property prices so high here, when there is so much empty land around?

One big reason is the so-called Environment Court and the Resource Management Act. Both are strangling development and progress in New Zealand, and both need to be abolished now. They are anti Property Rights.
The Otago Daily Times newspaper today reports that two appeals have been lodged in the Environment Court, against a 15-unit residential apartment complex planned for the Oamaru Harbour in North Otago.

The Comorants on Waterfront redevelopment was granted resource consent by the Waitaki District Council last month (after considering 18 submissions on the proposal, most against).

The two groups holding up the apartment development are the Whitestone Civic Trust and the New Zealand Historic Place Trust, which is trying to get Oamaru Port nominated for World Heritage status.

A free-thinking, progressive Government would abolish the Resource Management Court and its trusty sidekick the Environment Court. Developers and businesses could then grow and invest in this country, without wasting time, money, and resources fighting pointless bureaucracy and red tape.

Then we can look at changing our attitude to immigration, and encourage more skilled workers to move to here. New Zealand needs strong growth to help turn our low wage economy into one that rewards hard work and individual responsibility, but is still internationally competitive.

* This old NZ Herald column by Auckland architect Peter Cresswell has some compelling arguments on why the RMA should be abolished

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Sunday, 21 January 2007

Conclusive Proof the US Govt Caused 9/11

Kyle Broflovski, Stan Marsh, and the South Park gang capture on camera Conclusive and Irrefutable proof that the conspiracy theorists were right... and that US President George Dubya Bush and his government were really behind 9/11...

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Friday, 19 January 2007

10 Seasons of Friends in 90 seconds...

Nobody's Watching was a television program created and written by Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence (along with Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan). A pilot show was made for the old WB Network, but they didn't pick it for their 2005 season.

However, last June the pilot was leaked on YouTube, and following a great response online, NBC agreed to produce a number of "webisodes" while they consider whether they want to pick up the show.

Here's one of their classic webisodes from last year... 10 years of Friends in 90 seconds... ;-)

* Nobody's Watching - Derrick & Will's official site

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Amazing Race All-Stars Revealed

After months of speculation and rumours, CBS has finally announced the official lineup for the upcoming All-Stars edition of The Amazing Race.

Eleven former teams will return for The Amazing Race: All-Stars Edition, including former million dollar winners Uchenna & Joyce (Season 7).

One of my all-time favourite teams will be back, trying again to win the top prize... former Survivor stars Rob and Amber Mariano. Other popular pairs include Jon Vito & Jill (Season 3, though no longer a couple), Beauty queens Dustin & Kandice (Season 10), and Kentucky couple David & Mary (Season 10).

The only "new" team is Eric Sanchez and Danielle Turner... who met as competitors in Season 9, but began dating once their race ended. Other firey teams are grumpy old couple Teri & Ian (Season 3) and Joe & Bill, aka 'Team Guido' (Season 1).

The 11 teams will compete on a gruelling month-long trek around the world, for the $1 million prize.

* Rob and Amber Lead 'Amazing Race: All-Stars' Cast
* CBS: The Amazing Race: All-Stars
* TARflies Times: Keep up with The Amazing Race All-Stars season with this top blog

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Thursday, 18 January 2007

Dunedin company uses Red Tape to knock down Wall Street

The Dunedin City Council's proposed "Wall Street" retail and office development has been scaled back, after a rival company threatened to drag the development through the Environment Court.

The DCC was hoping to convert the area around the former Deka building in George Street into a three-building retail and office development, featuring a four-storey stone wall and an internal street.

But local company Duv Lin Properties lodged a surprise appeal in the Environment Court, which threatened to derail the Wall Street proposal. The company (which owns the Westpac Bank building opposite the George Street site) claimed the new building would be too high, blocking sunlight to other buildings and footpaths, and objected to the provisions for car parking.

Following mediation, the Council's property company has agreed to drop the plans for an office tower in Filleul Street, and to lose one floor of car parking. One floor of retail space is also gone, with shops now only on the ground floor.

The cost of the Wall Street development has been revised downwards to $26 million, but the council will now have to consider whether the proposal is still feasible.

It is disappointing to see a competing landlord can use New Zealand's lengthy red tape procedures (Environment Court, Resource Management Court) to force a rival development to alter its plans, simply to block any new competition for high-rent central city offices.

Of course, there's still the question of whether Local Government should be in the business of private property development and management in the first place... but that is a debate for another day ;-)

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Sunday, 14 January 2007

How does your Employer compare?

Are you happy in your job? Does your employer offer many perks?

I'll bet you're not as well looked after as workers at Google in the US...

All employees have access to 11 Gourmet Restaurants onsite (and all the food is free), a free Fitness Centre, a Barber Shop, Car Washes while you work, Lap Pools for exercise, Volleyball Courts, company Massages, free Laundry at work, 5 free company Doctors onsite, and a US$5,000 subsidy to buy a Hybrid Car.

- The only catch? Google receives over 1,000,000 applicants a year, for just 4,000 positions...

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Why TV Weather presenters should stay in the Studio!

Dutch TV Weather man, Piet Paulusma, discovers the dangers of leaving the safety of the TV studio to do a Live Cross...

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Thursday, 11 January 2007

State TV launch New Season; Signs BBC deal

TVNZ have just signed a new deal with BBC Australasia for a 40+ hour package of Drama, Factual, and Natural History programming, to screen on State TV this year.

UK hit Sci-Fi drama Torchwood is a major scoop, and is one Prime Television may well have been after, following their success with the revamped Doctor Who.

Torchwood follows a team of modern crime fighters and alien investigators in Cardiff, led by Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). A spin-off from Doctor Who, the BBC3 series is bound for TV2 here.

The rest of the programming looks more like TV One fare, although Primeval, a six-part series about prehistoric creatives living in modern day Britain (from the creators of Walking with Dinosaurs, and partly shot in New Zealand) is also likely to screen on TV2.

Ancient Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire is an acclaimed six-part dramatised documentary series telling the story of Ancient Rome, while The Innocence Project is a new drama made with half an eye to the US market, about a Law professor who takes on cases with his students.

Under the "worthy but dull" banner comes Simon Schama’s eight-part series, The Power of Art, focusing on "8 iconic works of art". I'll be sure to glue myself to the seat for that one.

Both State TV and TV3 are launching their New Season schedules over the coming weeks. Unfortunately, both suffer from the fact that this past year in the US was spectacularly bad for new shows, with very few lasting the full season.

After the success of shows like 24 and Lost, US networks ordered up a bunch of serial dramas, but viewers wouldn't commit to that many weekly shows (or were burnt by previous cancellations, like ABC's Invasion).

TV2 do have one of the few breakout hits in Ugly Betty, adapted from a popular Columbian telenovela series.

Less successful shows heading to State Television are Smith (cancelled, pulled from screens after 3 episodes), The Nine (pulled after 7 episodes), The Class (almost ran a full season before being pulled), Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (struggling, but survived a full season), Men In Trees (ditto), Six Degrees (pulled after 6 episodes), and In Justice (cancelled after 13 episodes).

TV3 fared only slighter better with its new season buys. The Superman-esque Heroes has proven a big hit with American viewers (about ordinary people who find out they have extraordinary abilities after a total eclipse).

Other shows set to screen on TV3 this year include Jericho (survived the US season), Shark (ditto), Saved (full season then cancelled), Vanished (pulled after 9 episodes), and 3lbs (cancelled after 3 episodes).

* NZ Herald: TVNZ turns to BBC for drama and docos

* NZ Herald: New hit show Heroes has some big ideas
* NZ Herald: The inner beauty of Betty

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Monday, 8 January 2007

24 Season 6 Leaked on BitTorrent

The first 4 episodes of the new season of 24 has been leaked online.

Episodes 1-4 of Season 6 of the hit Fox TV show starring Kiefer Sutherland were released to TV reviewers and industry insiders on a special pre-release DVD. It seems likely this is where the leaked episodes from the new season came from.

The four new episodes have been flying like wildfire across file sharing networks like BitTorrent, as well as being available to watch online in realtime through some sites (your own internet speed permitting, of course ;-)

Season 6 of the action-packed show 24, featuring another bad day for Jack Bauer, is due to launch in the US with a special 2-hour premiere on Sunday January 14th, followed by episodes 3 & 4 on the Monday night.

read more | digg story

* Entertainment Now: Countdown to 24 - Jack's Sixth Bad Day

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CanWest tipped to quit NZ & OZ

Media reports suggest CanWest Global Communications is looking at quitting the New Zealand and Australian markets, as it moves to expand its Canadian interests.

CanWest and investment bank Goldman Sachs have launched a joint $C2.1 billion bid for Toronto-based media group Alliance Atlantis. The company controls over 13 Canadian cable tv channels, including BBC Canada, Food Network Canada, History Television, and National Geographic Channel Canada.

Alliance Atlantis also produces the hit CSI franchise of tv shows, which is expected to be sold in a separate deal, with US Broadcaster CBS a likely bidder.

In New Zealand, CanWest Global owns 70% of CanWest MediaWorks, the parent company of TVWorks (TV3, C4), and RadioWorks (The Edge, The Rock, Radio Live, More FM).

It also controls Australia's third-ranked broadcaster, Network Ten. Ten is Australia's most profitable network, thanks to top-rating shows like Big Brother, Australian Idol, and The Simpsons.

* NZ Herald: CanWest may sell New Zealand, Australia assets
* CanWest may drop Ten to pursue deal

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Friday, 5 January 2007

Phonecard with Free International Phone Calls

My friends know how much I've been bitten by the travel bug ;-) Every year without fail I have to travel overseas to the UK and USA at the least.

It's great catching up with my friends in those various places, as well as catching up on all those little things we don't have in New Zealand (Hello Taco Bell, Midnight Milky Way Bars, Abercrombie & Fitch, Steve & Barry's, Ben & Jerry's, Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper...!)

Apart from the obvious saving it takes to fund the annual trip(!), one of the most important things I need to have sorted out is an International Phone card, to get hold of my friends while I'm travelling, and make arrangements on where to meet, etc.

Ever since my summer camp seasons, I've been a big fan of pre-paid International Calling Cards... Not the dodgy ones those street vendors try to sell you, but quality ones that let you recharge and check your balance over the internet.

One of the best International calling cards online is Pingo. It's really convenient, you can use your "card" from payphones or landlines around the world, and the rates are way cheaper than using your cell/mobile phone on 'roaming' overseas, or feeding coins into payphones. Save your money for spending on your travels!
You don't have to be a traveller to use Pingo though... You can use your account to get really cheap rates when making International calls (or calling Long Distance in the US). For New Zealanders, we're talking just 3.5c a minute to call the USA, or 3.9c a minute for the UK.

Right now if you sign up for Pingo, they'll give you US$5.00 worth of free calls. (Depending on where you're calling from/to, that converts to up to 4 hours of free International calls!)

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Monday, 1 January 2007

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