New Zealand on Air (NZOA), the body that provides funding for local television, radio and music programming, may soon change the way they distribute their money.

The plans propose a fundamental change to NZOA funding, from traditional broadcasting platforms, local productions, TV dramas and public service broadcasting (PSB) to a more platform-neutral approach.

This would entail an allocation of funds for online outlets, web-based shows and digital projects, reflecting the more volatile media market and diverging audience habits, as they move away from traditional broadcast programming.

“Our own audience research confirms there are fast and significant audience shifts taking place. NZOA will remain a passionate advocate for our own stories and songs in a tough environment where local content must foot it with the world’s best. These changes will encourage new ideas and new opportunities,” NZOA chief executive Jane Wrightston said.

All available funding will be placed in a single pool, meaning that digital content will have the same priority and bidding rights as more traditional broadcast media. In addition, the funding will be prioritised according to how innovative a programme is, its potential audience size, and its cultural and social value.

The funds for 2017-2018 will be divided into four categories: factual work (e.g., documentaries), fictional work, music, and more specific services such as community radio. A breakdown of this planned distribution can be found via Radio New Zealand.

“At our core we are still about backing the best ideas, and providing content free to New Zealanders. But how we deliver this must be flexible enough to recognise a volatile media environment, and changing audience behaviour,” – Wrightson.

The reallocation of funding is nothing new, however the wider distribution of formerly ring-fenced funding for broadcast projects is of major concern to free-to-air broadcasters and the country’s PSB, Radio New Zealand.

Funding for PSB in the country is already fairly  precarious. Whereas once PSB was funded by a household broadcasting fee – much like the BBC – it was scrapped in the 1990s and replaced with a system that allowed NZOA to decide which programmes and services should be publicly funded and by how much. Furthermore, many local broadcasters are reliant on NZOA to fund programmes dedicated to covering politics and social issues.

Now with more players fighting for a slice of the cake, questions arise as to whether these subjects – likely to be deemed “special interest” content – will be able to compete with online content that may not have such a broad demographic appeal or reach the intended local audience. According to NZOA, 70% of the budget will specifically support “mainstream projects”.

The proposed changes come at a difficult time for Radio New Zealand, which has endured an eight-year funding freeze by the NZ government despite wanting the organisation to continue its digital developments and its popular backing by 90% of New Zealanders, according to Coalition for Better Broadcasting (CBB). CBB also recently revealed that Radio New Zealand would be selling its five-storey office and studio building in Auckland in response to “precarious finances”.

NZOA is looking for feedback on the new funding proposals, which close on 18 November. A final plan will be released in early 2017.

Find out how to give your feedback here.