The wealthy Tauranga family behind the BestStart preschool empire has emerged as the sole backer of Sean Plunket’s new radio service, The Platform.
The Wright family, whose interests include Best Start Educare and Birthing Centre, has taken a majority stake in Plunket’s new broadcast venture.
The family has acquired 75% of The Platform through its commercial arm, The Wright Family Trust, or WCW Trustees.
The Wright Family Trust is a separate vehicle to the Wright Family Foundation, the charitable trust which houses the Best Start and Birthing Centre assets.
The Wright family, headed by rich listers Wayne and Chloe Wright, officially became shareholders on May 2, according to filings at the NZ Companies Register.
The family has provided Plunket with millions in funding to launch the new digital audio and online platform, sources said.
Ex-Magic Talk and RNZ host Plunket will retain 25% of the new company following the Wrights' investment.
Wayne Wright Jr, leading the investment for the Wrights, said the family teamed up with Plunket last June, and formalised their involvement with company filings this week.
“We thought that New Zealand could benefit from a non-biased, open broadcast media, but didn’t know how to do it,” he said. “Coincidentally, Sean knocked on our door, and asked us if we’d be interested in partially funding his idea. We listened and decided to fund the whole operation.”
“We’ve brought some commercial experience and insight to get it where it is today,” he said.
Following the deal, Wayne Jr and Chloe Wright, the founder of BestStart, will take directorships on The Platform’s board. Plunket will hold the other board seat.
A capital trip
Wayne Jr and Chloe travelled to Wellington to meet the Platform team today following the formal completion of their stake purchase.
“My mother is an advocate for free speech, and that’s why she has taken a particular interest in The Platform,” Wayne Jr said.
“We think the fourth estate should be truly independent and should be separate from government,” he added. “We think the media has a responsibility to be fair and balanced. So we're hoping that The Platform will serve that need.”
Wayne Jr said the investment was funded by the family’s commercial interests including the development of subdivisions, retirement villages, and hospitality, not the “distinct and separate” charitable foundation.
The emergence of the Wrights' investment puts an end to months of speculation about Plunket’s backers. Reports have suggested Plunket has raised more than $3 million.
According to Wayne Jr, the Wright family’s cash injection will help The Platform “get to commercial sustainability” as it looks to build subscribers and get off the ground.
“We’re at the stage where our initial capital costs have been dealt with, and now we’re dealing with regular cash flow and supporting the team,” he added.
The Platform will go live next Monday after months of preparations. The new broadcast service has hired hosts including former Newstalk ZB broadcaster Martin Devlin and former Whanganui mayor Michael Laws to spearhead the launch.
North and south
The media startup has invested in new studios in Wellington, Auckland, and Queenstown, developing video and audio capabilities. Aside from broadcasting online, the company aims to grab a slice of the podcast market.
The Platform has launched on the Apple and Android app stores, and plans to build an audience base before moving to a subscription model, Wayne Jr said.
“We're looking for subscribers much like the Herald or NBR, but we know that they won't come on immediately,” he added. “We were still talking about our timeline, but I expect that there will be a bit of a lag between us launching the platform and inviting subscribers to come on board.”
Until now, Plunket has kept The Platform’s backers a closely guarded secret.
He said the Wrights now felt comfortable revealing their identity as the new service nears its debut.
“I had some criteria for the sort of people that I wanted to invest, and they [the Wright family] are very good New Zealanders. They aren’t parochial political people. I’ve been bloody lucky, to be honest.”
Plunket said there were no other financial backers involved in The Platform.
“We are what you see now. No Steve Bannon or Russian oligarchs, which I’m sure will disappoint the mainstream media,” he said.
The new business enters a highly competitive radio sector, with NZME-owned Newstalk ZB, state-backed RNZ, and new MediaWorks station Today FM.
“We now have to go and deliver The Platform and get people on board,” Plunket added. “It’s just the beginning. It’s not the time to say we’ve done it. It’s nowhere near nailed.”