Long wait for Downton 'out of our hands'

By Amy Shanks

Last hurrah for English drama screening tonight — the first opportunity, says Prime.
Prime says the long wait for the finale of Downton Abbey couldn't be helped.
Prime says the long wait for the finale of Downton Abbey couldn't be helped.

It's been 20 days since Christmas and 15 days since tradition dictates you take down the tree, yet Kiwis are only tonight getting the chance to watch Downton Abbey's festive special.

The finale, which wraps the popular English drama for good, airs in New Zealand on Prime at 8.30pm.

According to the network, the decision was out of its hands. There was no option to fast-track the episode.

"The Prime team are huge fans of Downton and premiere episodes as soon as they are made available to us," said a spokesperson.

Meanwhile TVNZ held MasterChef Australia back for six months after it finished across the Ditch, despite the fact people could easily access details about the winner online.

TVNZ's delay of Pete Evans and MasterChef was strategic.
TVNZ's delay of Pete Evans and MasterChef was strategic.

It's a decision that has paid off, with summer ratings revealing the show is performing well, says TVNZ programming manager John Kelly.

"The audience numbers are really good, it's a been the lynchpin of summer programming along with TV One's evening news - so far, into January, we are tracking at a five-year high," said Mr Kelly.

Reasons for the delay were numerous but included the fact MasterChef was perfect summer fodder as people could dip in and out of the show or make it appointment viewing.

More importantly, if it had run any earlier it would have clashed with My Kitchen Rules New Zealand, which followed on from a series of My Kitchen Rules Australia.

"We didn't want to have MKR on TV2 and at the same time have MasterChef on TV One - we don't want to overcook the audience."

Programming over the warmer months is a different process to any other time of year, according to Mr Kelly, because of a change in Kiwis' daily habits. Longer, lighter evenings, barbecues and holidays away from home keep viewers from being chained to their TV set.

However, Mr Kelly said TVNZ simply had to move with the times and adapt their scheduling to suit, using OnDemand in addition to traditional broadcasting.

"Two years ago we dipped our toe into airing shows straight from America, now it's grown ... fast-tracking is now to an extent where TV2 has nine shows playing in the same week as the [United] States."

OnDemand has had close to a million registered users since its launch and now boasts almost 50 shows fast-tracked from the US.

"We are now dipping our toe into express from the UK, with Jekyll and Hyde and a new TV drama called Beowulf."

Mr Kelly admitted there were sometimes reasons they couldn't run in line with their overseas counterparts, but tried to navigate any issues as they went.

"Some shows are simply not cleared for international [viewing] as early as what we would like, wherever possible we want to run them as soon as we can."

Ensuring there is enough time to properly preview and promote a series can also cause hold-ups between the time something airs offshore and when it runs in New Zealand.

Some shows had a much longer expiry date than others, Mr Kelly said, using The Undateables as an example as something which rated extremely well, despite being two years old by the time Kiwis got to see it.

Others, such as The Walking Dead had viewers hooked and waiting for the next episode as soon as possible.

"There are certainly those which need to be seen earlier, that people want to engage with straight away," he said.

- NZ Herald

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