John Drinnan 's Opinion

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan: Sainsbury facing the chop

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TVNZ Close Up presenter Mark Sainsbury with his lookalike Mark Muppet. Photo / Richard Robinson
TVNZ Close Up presenter Mark Sainsbury with his lookalike Mark Muppet. Photo / Richard Robinson

Mark Sainsbury's days presenting Close Up look numbered and he should be preparing for the worst, sources say.

TVNZ bosses are cooking up a revamp of the 7pm current affairs show for next year and Sainsbury is unlikely to be in the recipe.

The viewer numbers are still strong - and about 150,000 more than rival Campbell Live - but the TV3 show has held firm, while Close Up has fallen substantially over the past five years.

Like all shows, Close Up has had good stories and bad. But for a long time it has been bedraggled.

Sainsbury is very likeable but that does not compensate for some terrible interviews.

For Ross Dagan - the Aussie import head of news and current affairs - there is no more important challenge than reviving the dynamism and authority of TV One at 7pm.

Its prime time current affairs programming is at a tipping point.

TVNZ announced last week the weekly long-form current affairs programme Sunday would be halved to a half-hour show, to make room for the variety show New Zealand's Got Talent.

TVNZ says Sunday will be going back to an hour probably in the new year.

But there is no guarantee of that, and TVNZ journalists said they were looking to Dagan for some leadership, but this is new territory for him as well.

Dagan has a background in news rather than current affairs, and he has joined a company that is heavily focused on profits and taxpayer-subsidised entertainment.

There will be some at TVNZ who ask whether we need daily current affairs at all.

The biggest problem for Close Up is that it lacks a vital ingredient: love.

Corporate bosses regard news and current affairs as cost centres - an annoyance to the main business of advertising and entertaining.

The attitude is a legacy of former Rick Ellis' term as chief executive.

But even with Ellis gone and a new chairman there is no immediate sign that the attitude has changed.

MISSING IN ACTION

Close Up has been troubled behind the scenes for years.

Sainsbury suffered from an unsupportive relationship with executive producer Mike Valentine, who had lobbied for Paul Henry to replace him.

Sainsbury - who has been criticised for his interviewing skills - complained to chief executive Ellis he was being undermined and secured his position.

But for all Sainso's jolly chuckles, the chill came across on air.

Valentine stepped down at the start of the year.

I find Campbell a little unctuous, but look at the results for Campbell Live, a show that is a key part of the TV3 brand.

It has noticeably more energy.

This week Campbell Live thrashed Close Up on Wednesday with a half-hour long piece about Macsyna King.

Likewise, Close Up has been missing in action for the DotCom debacle which has been dominated by Campbell Live and the NZ Herald.

Close Up seems to have lost its mojo.

WHAT ABOUT PIPPA?

Who would replace Sainsbury?

If the job was about appointing a strong journalist and interviewer TVNZ would try to secure the poker-faced Mike Hosking, who presents Close Up one day a fortnight.

I'm told that, even if he were interested, TVNZ would be unlikely to pick him.

Based on ratings appeal, the ideal choice would be Pippa Wetzell, who was straight woman to Paul Henry on Breakfast, and who scores very highly in TVNZ marketing focus groups.

MAD MEN ETHICS

Advertising agencies have launched a new code of ethics today to improve the industry but also to rein in what are incorrect perceptions about Mad Men-style behaviour.

Industry ethical codes are not unusual and ad industry groups create them as benchmarks for good business behaviour.

But the code also steps into issues of personal freedom for players to criticise the industry and one another, which might raise some hackles in the ad agency cheap seats.

Many of the ethical comments make sense, but some might argue the rules challenge the image of advertising as a dynamic, highly competitive business where agencies win or lose because of personal relationships.

The Communication Agencies of New Zealand (Caanz) is launching the Code of Ethics, Practices, and Obligations of members "to clearly demonstrate the value member agencies make to New Zealand business and society".

"Our members are professional businesses that are committed to bringing value to client organisations," it says.

The code includes sensible internal rules for members with practical issues such as taking gifts from media, and making claims about their involvement in projects.

But Caanz steps into more contentious waters with rules about what individuals can say about the competition.

Caanz says debate is healthy. But the code seems designed to rein in an industry built on firms selling themselves ahead of the competition.

It even includes what people are allowed to tell the media.

"There is a type of public statement that is harmful and unfair to the industry and must be regarded as an unethical practice by members," the code states. "Statements of the unethical kind are the sort that tend to denigrate the business or practice of another agency," Caanz said.

Caanz has the approval of members but ad professionals approached by the Herald were more cautious.

Whybin TBWA chief executive David Walden said he was wary of commenting on the new rules in case he was in breach of them.

He said that having made the new code Caanz would have to consider how much it was prepared to police them.

ONLINE RIGHTS

Long-running negotiations between Sky TV and APN News & Media have come to nought, apparently foundering over whether Sky has rights to pass on clips of sports events.

As broadband improves demand is growing for video content and Sky makes an attractive partner thanks to its hold on TV sport content.

Jeremy Rees, editor of nzherald.co.nz, said there was no plan to rebroadcast whole events, and the negotiations had been aimed at clips with a maximum length of three or four minutes.

Sky chief executive John Fellet said that in some cases it turned out that Sky did not have the appropriate rights, and had to refer APN on elsewhere.

In the meantime, nzherald.co.nz has reached an agreement with half-sister company, The Radio Network, for co-operation on Newstalk ZB.

SHOP SHOP

Fellet has been namechecked recently as being involved in the new shopping channel planned for Sky and Freeview later in the year, but he has stressed that Sky is not involved beyond a contractual basis as for other channels on Sky TV.

Sky is also providing some of the production facilities.

Fellet confirmed there had been suggestions that he personally had a stake in the company, but he said that was "absolutely not the case" and it would be a clear conflict of interest for his role as chief executive of Sky.

An adman who owns a substantial part of ad agency Ogilvy described the contractual relationship between Sky and the Shopping Channel as an endorsement.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan is the media writer for the New Zealand Herald. A business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s. He is focused on the business side of the digital revolution in media.

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