Thursday, April 25, 2024

Bruce Cotterill: When TV news is the news

Media people love reporting on the media. As a result when media companies start shedding services, people or programmes in this case, it can become the biggest story in town.

And so we’ve had the news items, the coverage of meetings with staff, and finally the announcement about where to next. Compare the coverage to any other company or government department decreasing personnel numbers at the moment and you get the idea.

Television news has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. Back then the key was to control news, current affairs and sport, in order to have a crack at “owning” the peak viewing time of 6pm to 7:30pm. If you could do that, you could dominate the viewer numbers and as a result the advertising revenue that flowed.

Logically, that TV strategy extended to ensuring strong programming at 5:30pm in order to have good audience numbers running into the 6pm bulletin. TV One still use “The Chase” for this purpose, and of course TV3 losing Home & Away a few years back cost their news audience numbers dearly. Having entertained the audience until 7:30pm, the next trick was to hold them. That’s when the most popular programmes appeared. It used to be that popular comedies occupied that spot, and before that Coronation Street, but as time has gone on reality TV has become the new staple.

In our case the changes started a long time ago. TVNZ lost control of sport to Sky. Suddenly, our major news channels were dependent on a competitor to provide coverage of the national pastime. And of course, over the last twenty years we’ve seen the gradual decline of prime time current affairs, as hard hitting shows have been replaced by magazine style programmes, such as Seven Sharp, and until recently, The Project.

As has been well documented, the arrival of the internet, gave viewers an explosion of channels to watch, including other news options. As viewers left mainstream TV to get their news elsewhere, advertising revenues shrunk and our traditional news channels had less money to invest in the news product.

As a result, that news product has gradually declined in quality over recent years. You only had to look at the cringeworthy Breakfast TV interview with Finance Minister Nicola Willis, earlier this week, about why the Finance Minister was traveling to Washington DC, to see that some broadcasters have lost the plot entirely. Elsewhere, Newshub’s fascination with how much Christopher Luxon spends on social media was equally embarrassing.

Here’s a hint. The reason politicians are spending money on social media is because they cannot rely on the traditional TV news channels to deliver the audience numbers or to accurately portray the information that they are trying to convey to the voting public.

When the last Labour government was busy borrowing, spending and wasting our money, I never once heard a television news journalist ask why they were traveling or how much their social media cost. If the TV broadcasters want to know why they’re in trouble, they need only look in the mirror.

And so we have now arrived at the point where Stuff, an online news service with deep roots as a newspaper company are going to run one of our two daily 6pm news bulletins. They are taking over the Newshub service from Warner Brothers Discovery (WBD) effective July 6th. They are going to do so on a limited budget, and for a fixed fee, for an overseas owned television network, that will collect whatever advertising revenue they can to cover the costs.

As we know, most reporting into media bias will tell us that both Stuff and Newshub feature political reporting that has a major bias in favour of the political left. Unfortunately for the state of our political commentary, the great majority of our mainstream media does the same. The new deal will likely further cement the left leaning presentation of television news in this country.

I’m sure that the team at Stuff are excited about the new revenue stream, and perhaps even lifeline, that the new deal provides. But can it work?

The challenge for Stuff TV News is that they don’t control the viewing audience that is delivered to them at 6pm. Without control of the 5:30 programme or the 7pm programme, Stuff will have to rely on WBD attracting sufficient audience to generate the advertising revenue to pay their fee. There is a view that WBD will ultimately turn TV3 into a local channel through which to pass their international programming, some of which may well be of little interest to Kiwis. If no one is watching at 5:30pm, a low budget Stuff TV product is unlikely to drag eyeballs from elsewhere.

On the other end of the deal, WBD are going to rely on Stuff to deliver a news hour that holds whatever audience they have at 5:30pm, and carry that audience over the news hour, in order to provide a viewer base for their evening programming, viewers that will enable them to sell enough advertising to pay Stuff’s fee.

With seasoned media executives on both sides of the negotiating table, I expect that both parties will have given undertakings to ensure that programming and journalistic standards are maintained. But it won’t be easy.

And as for the consumer, our news viewing options have narrowed further with the deal. After the latitude given by TV broadcast media to our last government, there’s been no shortage of people wanting to see investment into a 6pm news service that is politically centrist.

The events at Newshub over the last few weeks may have left a small opening for a smarter news organisation to provide consumers with just such a different view.

Bruce Cotterill, a five time CEO and current Company Chairman and Director with extensive experience across a range of industries including real estate, media, financial services, technology and retail. Bruce regularly blogs on - where this article was sourced

1 comment:

Allan said...

Reading this is the closest I have come to any NZ MSM in years.