John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Broadcasters strive to avoid ad clashes

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Prime minister John Key, with Christchurch mayor Bob Parker survey damage from last year's September earthquake. Photo / Simon Baker
Prime minister John Key, with Christchurch mayor Bob Parker survey damage from last year's September earthquake. Photo / Simon Baker

Television bosses were in complex talks with advertisers yesterday to bring commercials back into their news schedules.

The big problem is to avoid appalling clashes of personal tragedy and death in Christchurch with TV ads that are flippant, crass or inane.

From yesterday, TV3 allowed reduced ad breaks from 4.30pm including during its news shows, and TVNZ was considering its 6pm bulletin.

TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards said the state broadcaster was having "incredibly complicated" talks with advertisers for limited ads inside One News.

"It's really up to the networks what they do," said Jeremy Irwin, the executive director of the Association of New Zealand Advertisers.

"But they'll be talking to advertisers and will be very aware about any backlash if ads offend," he said.

With a few exceptions, Television One and TV3 have run virtually ad-free since Tuesday when the disaster struck.

Advertising consultant Martin Gillman said some advertisers were concerned the loss of ad breaks would affect time-sensitive marketing campaigns.

But Gillman counselled caution, saying there were dangers for advertisers in the current TV environment.

GET SMART

The scale of the disaster is such that a smart advertiser would surely make ads that helped ease the suffering down south rather than the same old plugs for brands.

And this is surely a sign - if we needed one - that New Zealand needs a proper public broadcaster.

Rick Friesen of broadcasters' body ThinkTV says that now there is less raw footage and more control of what is shown there is less danger of clashes that damage the network or the advertiser's brand.

Gillman says the ad-free period is costing networks $1 million a day in lost revenue.

TVNZ may be able to shift ads on to news-free TV2. It comes down to the fact that the news is essential to TVNZ's survival.

TOUGH TIMES

It's hard to fault the logic of networks' ads coming back - particularly at MediaWorks which has no public service obligations and is facing a major funding crisis.

MediaWorks finances are tight and 3 News - which served viewers so well on the first day when TVNZ coverage was restricted - must be close to using up its budget with successive big news events.

Viewers should be grateful TV3 stepped up to the plate and met its social commitments. It covered the quake in September, then Pike River and now one of New Zealand's worst disasters.

Have MediaWorks private equity owners Ironbridge Capital been willing or even able to top up its news budget? Or will they be doing so in the near future?

ORDINARY TERROR

Amid the horror of the Christchurch quake, More FM announcer Gary McCormick had a frightening experience that matched thousands of others.

He popped out of the radio station for coffee and was thrown into the rubble as buildings fell around him, hurting his hip. Initially unable to get to his home in quake-ravaged Lyttelton, he eventually rushed home to his family and 10-day-old twins Kathleen and Florence, finding his mother-in-law lying above the babies' crib to protect them from the falling ceiling.

The family packed into the car and moved out. I caught up with them yesterday in Kaikoura, where he had stopped on his way to taking the family to his wife's parents' house in the Wairarapa. He says he'll fly back in the weekend.

KIM'S BACK

New Zealanders have been well served by media covering the quake.

With the declaration of the country's first national state of emergency, Radio New Zealand takes on a legislated civil defence role and is devoting virtually all its content to the earthquake.

Spokesman John Barr said RNZ was committed to that until midday Monday when it would be reviewed.

One complicating factor has been that the chief executive, Peter Cavanagh, has been out of action after suffering what a source said was a mild stroke.

In terms of coverage, Kim Hill has been providing short, sharp, direct and dissecting interviews.

It makes you feel old to hear her back in a news role, but it's also rather marvellous.

STAR RISES

New Zealand media have been providing very good coverage throughout but, ironically enough, Christchurch people have found themselves starved of information.

With no electricity, people can't watch wall-to-wall TV coverage and a lot of mobile phones are out of action with no chance to recharge batteries.

This unsatisfied demand is part of the reason for the Star newspaper going daily.

The Star's offices were hit but owner APN News & Media (which also owns the Herald) is producing a daily compact-sized paper for the city, which will be distributed six days a week as the disaster unfolds and until further notice.

Rick Neville, assistant chief executive of APN New Zealand, said that the problem initially was finding enough outlets for the free paper but this was being resolved as dairies opened.

The paper was being produced with content from the Herald and nzherald.co.nz online, and printed in Ashburton.

Neville was very proud about the way the paper had reacted to the crisis.

PRESS ALIVE

People at Canterbury Television have obviously been among the worst affected and our hearts go out to their families and friends, and indeed to all those affected by the disaster. One person was killed at the Press newspaper and another three staff injured - but these bald numbers do not convey the impact.

Fairfax Media Group executive editor Paul Thompson said the Press - whose heritage building is severely damaged - had been badly affected but the paper was on the streets helped by Fairfax sister paper the Dominion Post in Wellington.

The Press printing room is outside the CBD and is not affected.

SAM I AM

Sam Knowles and Localist directory look like winners from the settlement of a cyber-squatting row with the Yellow Pages Group.

Localist sued, alleging a breach of the Fair Trading Act but they settled and yesterday Yellow handed over some of the domain names similar to Localist.

New Zealand Post has played the public relations game well in the dispute, presenting itself as a plucky newcomer bullied by a dominant player - which is not, bad considering Localist is a wholly owned division of New Zealand Post.

Maybe chairman Sam Knowles was right to feel confident that domains - including www.locallists.co.nz and www.localists.co.nz - were off-limits to competitors.

But it was surprising that with a business plan so heavily focused online, it had not secured them from the earliest days of planning last year.

- NZ Herald

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