NZ Broadcasting not feeling 100%

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It feels like a lost war, a defeat. Already in crisis, under existential pressure, the opposing forces sue for an armistice and a settled peace that is commercially viable. The collapse and retreat of the TVNZ board on the news front simultaneous to the forced surrender of NewsHub by the Americans on 10 April 2024 – a dark day for journalism, for broadcasting and for the nation – has been received in part like a general capitulation of television as an ongoing medium ie. Freeview, and a general capitulation of news and current affairs as an ongoing genre, as a thing.

There’s an audience for news talk but there’s not enough ad revenue for the actual news. And at the same time as this – like barbarians or mercenaries entering the city – from several sources, studies are released showing that there is rapidly falling public confidence in the neutrality of news media in NZ. Normal people avoid the news – can you believe it? I thought normal people avoid the ads. Less controversial is the gist that no-one new is watching traditional TV anymore, it is an aging demographic, and so that audience and its platform are therefore according to Adam Smith and Charles Darwin doomed.

The greats all say that morale is essential to win a war – with this assault on public confidence in the media it culminates like sabotage in that struggle.

The corporate executives are defunding the one thing that gives their brand currency and credibility – they wouldn’t be the first management regime to self-harm with the best of intentions. The movie ‘Network’ envisaged what that would look like fifty years ago if the news division surrendered the main bulletin to reality TV and light entertainment. But Warner Bros. isn’t even offering us the Howard Beale Show.

It was an arm wrestle and an arms race from the start with TVNZ even before TV3 aired in late 1989. TVNZ raison d’etre became to out-perform TV3 and compete by copying. The news used to be at 6:30pm. TV3 moved it to 6pm and made it an hour. TVNZ followed so close it was lock-step. Paul Holmes was brought in to compete with TV3 and their counter, Leighton Smith. TV3 had Nightline so TVNZ created a tonight news show that was always a poor imitation. 3News broke the rules: Bill Ralston broke them, Duncan Garner broke them, Paddy Gower broke them – they took news in that direction and in that confrontational style, the tone, like the competition – aggressive. 3News had a separate website that was very successful and so One News followed that template.

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And now TVNZ has won the war without having one creative brain cell in their hive mind, just by outlasting them in what transpires has been the final elimination round – and is immediately demobilising. There never was any underlying commitment to news evidently, TVNZ’s decisions were all reactionary to match whatever TV3 were doing or going to do. TVNZ is a fat parrot that will stop talking now it’s frenemy mate is going to have its tongue cut out by its owner in the belief it will eat less.

If you didn’t get the memo from Warner Bros. the news is like lawn bowls, or stamp collecting, or Laotian puppet theatre, it’s a minority interest… apparently, like crochet, or miniature railways, just nerdy dork stuff that no-one likes and costs a fortune. So rather let’s have reruns of M*A*S*H and some Discovery stuff about Pyramids or the Simpsons and skip the news permanently. Yes, Warner Brothers just cancelled the whole news division of New Zealand’s largest and oldest privately owned TV network. And as for the state-owned network and their taonga such as it is – they cancelled our collective heritage when they said they would dump ‘Fair Go.’ You can’t be doing that. It’s like Edmunds saying forget the cookbook, or Watties saying they’re getting out of tins, Whittakers changing to carob, Granny Herald without the racism and death notices.

And the Minister is working on a Cabinet paper. It is the bit in the war at the end where the good guy loses very badly I’m afraid. If the government can put something together to save even some of the furniture it would be a miracle.

There’s drama, tragedy, sacrifice, irony, farce (provided by the Minister), and everything except money. There’s no money anymore, no cross-subsidies, no loss-leading. Mean times. The most they can hope for is TV advertising revenue getting hooked on a snag part way down the steep cliff it’s falling off. If this avalanche had not been triggered this week it would have been next week, or next month or next year at the latest – it was a grim outlook under any scenario.

NewsHub worked coherently as a news service across TV3 and radio channels when it was all Mediaworks. A lot less efficient for just TV3 alone. Was there any one reason for the defeat? Everyone has a pet theory. Paddy “This is the fucking news!” Gower had a few takes on what could save NewsHub during his Berlin surrender vibe appearance in the TVNZ studios, but they didn’t sound remotely realistic given the branch manager’s troublingly nonchalant attitude of taking everything to the tip without the possibility of a garage sale.

Paddy believes in the place of the 6pm bulletin as an anchor programme for the evening viewing of a mass audience – I agree. It is TV3’s flagship show – a 7 nights a week live show. That does not seem to impress the Warner Bros. guy who doesn’t seem to think that TV3 needs news and current affairs at all to hold audience numbers. I think he is mistaken in presuming that no news at all is an option in the brand expectation of what a network TV channel looks and feels like. I don’t know if Paddy’s rabid gnawing gerbil approach and appearance was an attraction or repellant for the mild-mannered American, but one can imagine. My forecast is a fall in ratings once the impact of cultural desolation is felt.  Something like what Today FM achieved over successive quarters when they ended Radio Live.

The admin persists, not the creative spirit of TV3, that will die with the final broadcast news bulletin. That is the real agony and loss never to be recorded on the spreadsheet. If you had experienced what stultified and uptight state TV was like before TV3 you would appreciate what the people of that new network did to reflect ourselves and how refreshing that was and will appreciate what we are about to lose. If a distinct culture existed on an island for 34 years and had a population of about 400 and about 300 were going to be deported and not exist anymore as members of your community then would that be genocide? In the media ecosystem that is what is happening, ecocide. The forest still stands but there are no birds anymore. An ocean without fish.

Like other communication systems that become legacy platforms – the copper wire telephone circuits that are being replaced by fibre – after a hundred years broadcasting is at a stage in its lifecycle that is either renewal like the phone network, or termination like telex, teletext or fax machines and ever more likely the postal system. Radio is at 100. The RNZ predecessor started 99 years ago. If this centenary stress is not the natural inflection point what is? It is human nature to respond to anniversaries consciously or subconsciously.

It took a hundred years for the broadcasting system to be replaced by something better, but it looks to have happened – the internet. Ten years ago the livestreaming capacity reached broadcast standard into the provincial and rural areas. The paradigm of the last three generations was reconfiguring. Now the starlink satellite platform and mobile coverage has filled in the gaps and the new paradigm is upon all of us. Devices and the wireless data mobile networks have improved to a level people aren’t watching the loading trance spiral more than the video anymore. YouTube, Twitter and Tiktok had not begun twenty years ago now are leading in content distribution. It all seems inevitable. Video killed the radio star and Netflix killed the video store and later went on to stab television, currently in critical care.

Can NewsHub or the news be saved isn’t the question – it’s can television be saved and should it be saved?

17 COMMENTS

  1. Broadcast TV is dead, TV itself has a healthier future with on-demand streaming & choice. Lifestyles have changed. Radio is still very relevant though. There’s choice, music, information, talk straight to your ears from a wide range of devices, free, cheap & common devices, everywhere, in your phone, in your car, in your work place, plus you can access it while you work, run, cycle, drive, relax. Try watching TV at work and see how that goes.

  2. Probably not
    You can’t lead with the news when the majority of the population are actively avoiding it!
    I’m sure an alternative will arrive, just not in time for existing stars

    • I don’t think you speak for “the majority of the population” – I know plenty of people who still watch at 6.

  3. Probably not
    You can’t lead with the news when the majority of the population are actively avoiding it!
    I’m sure an alternative will arrive, just not in time for existing stars

  4. By the time the “news” is on at 6pm, it is all things that i have read about during the day, and in the case of overseas news usually from a range of (sorry all you conspiracy theorists) MSM outlets. If I want a political update from the USA I’ll get a lot more from the thehill.com then I will from a 5 minute segment at 6:15

    I saw Samantha Hayes lamenting that they’d loved “bring me the news”. Except she didn’t. She and Mike McRoberts were paid I assume incredibly well for reading something off a teleprompter.

    I also find it hard to accept that the “senior political reporters” out there are holding the government to account. They seem to be more interested in “gotchas” that can be cut down to a 2 minute piece rather then anything of value. We have some good reporters in this country, and a lot of lazy ones.

    I feel sorry for anyone losing their jobs. I don’t wish that on any person. But the outrage and wailing and gnashing of teeth from people about this just shows that they won’t accept that people have moved on from huddling around the TV in silence at 6pm

  5. Well I’ve adapted to the dearth of real news, and by golly I don’t miss the advertising. The field is wide open for a disruptive model running factual reporting – it would clean Stuff’s clock too. But I don’t expect it.

  6. A nice little summary of TV-land in the 1990s that was.
    Let’s face it, television has degraded its product so completely that it has driven itself into irrelevancy.
    I always knew it was on the road to Destination Fucked, and here we are.
    They’ve no one to blame but themselves.

  7. AUT 2024 report- 69% actively avoid all or some of MSM news.
    I can see why TV3 are getting rid of it. Not a great way to increase audiences!

  8. AUT 2024 report- 69% actively avoid all or some of MSM news.
    I can see why TV3 are getting rid of it. Not a great way to increase audiences!

  9. I’m old enough to remember NZBC, and the change to BCNZ. I’ve watched with trepidation as the predictions of the Head of NZ journalism school have come to fruition. Following the failure of NZ journalists to challenge the mantra of rogernomics and ruthenasia, followed by the craven disgusting sycophantic acceptance of key and the knights of the business round table, the writing was always on the wall. Instead of reducing the coverage of sport and challenging head on the myths of neoliberalism, and showing the victims, the tv media joined the rush for the ratings war – a race to the bottom. The day of reckoning has come due in my lifetime. I for one, won’t miss NZ tv news – it’s long passed its use by date. I suspect TVNZ may continue for a decade or so, but will become a sports channel with the occasional propaganda thrown in.

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