John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: Fair Go deal diminishes brand

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TVNZ has revamped Fair Go, hosted by Gordon Harcourt and Alison Mau. Photo / Supplied
TVNZ has revamped Fair Go, hosted by Gordon Harcourt and Alison Mau. Photo / Supplied

A deal between a market researcher and Fair Go is bad for the consumer watchdog TV programme.

Welcome to the New World order at Fair Go - and the TVNZ news and current affairs department which produces the Wednesday night show.

Market research firm Colmar Brunton has a deal where each month it provides a survey of 2000 respondents for use in a "good news" story.

It provides material - including qualitative research - for free.

This week it was supermarkets, in a month it's appliance stores. And through the rest of the year Colmar Brunton will provide more free research by sector.

This week New World got a thumbs-up in a survey about customer service.

Colmar Brunton is a bona fide and respected marketing research company.

It already has a commercial relationship with TVNZ for political polling, but the Fair Go deal is distinct from that and creates problems for the broadcaster.

While it offers the service for free, the deal is good for Colmar Brunton.

The marketing research firm enjoys a "partnership" that is effectively a sponsorship relationship with a show that is guarded as one of the bastions of TVNZ's independence.

Presumably, the research would be useful for Colmar Brunton's own commercial data, though the terms are not clear.

STRANGE DAYS

For me, customer service at New World seems pretty much the same as Countdown or Pak'n Save.

They are owner operated, so presumably the individual supermarkets reflect their owners as much as the franchise.

But good luck to New World for achieving what a couple of dozen branding ads could not provide - a prime-time plug and endorsement on a consumer watchdog show.

Colmar Brunton founder Dick Brunton summed it up this way: "We've all heard about those companies that have treated customers badly, but Fair Go and Colmar Brunton have decided to take a more constructive approach and identify those organisations that are doing the right thing by Kiwis."

So if good news stories are worthwhile, why doesn't TVNZ pay its way and maintain the integrity of its consumer watchdog show?

The reason it seems is that the news and current affairs department holds very little sway nowadays in an organisation that is run solely to make a profit.

Number crunchers will be happy to take free content.

And even if they saw a problem, news and current affairs people, who will already be over budget because of the Christchurch earthquake, would be in no position to argue.

A former executive producer for the show in its halcyon days Chris Harrington - who had not seen this week's show - said that Fair Go had suffered from attempting to match TV3's Target, and in so doing had diminished the value of the show.

TVNZ programmers and marketers have made changes to Fair Go to make the consumer show more commercial and more advertiser friendly.

Last year's makeover saw veteran journalist Kevin Milne pushed out for a sexier look. He was replaced by presenter Alison Mau, a new format and a swish new set. The good news segment will make a second adjustment giving some advertisers a reason to like the show.

SPLIT ENDS

From Monday, Simon Mercep will present Radio New Zealand's Morning Report from studios in Auckland.

Longtime host Geoff Robinson will continue to present the show from Wellington.

RNZ head of news Don Rood is upbeat about Morning Report, saying Mercep and Robinson worked well as a team and the split - which has always been envisaged - will improve flexibility.

But among staff at RNZ there are hopes that physical separation of Mercep and Robinson might allow Mercep to adopt a fresh approach that balances Robinson's style - rather than mirroring it.

Together the show has no edge. More changes may be needed.

Geoff is too old to change. Mercep is a nice bloke and a solid broadcaster. His workmates like him. But he has yet to show any sign of an inner mongrel that is needed on Morning Report.

The value of public broadcasting is to have the time and confidence to hold those in power to account and hosts should not sound grateful that a politician has shown up.

Mercep could do worse than listening to Mary Wilson on Checkpoint.

Otherwise the answer might be for Geoff Robinson to hang up his earphones and hand them to Wilson. Then we could say goodbye to the Two Geoffs era once and for all.

BROUGHT TO YOU BY ...

There was an interesting interview on RNZ's MediaWatch last Sunday in which the new chairman Richard Griffin was taken to task over his past associations with National.

Griffin fudged when it came to one of the key questions about the future - whether there will be sponsorship of RNZ programmes. My own view is that this will be inevitable, for better or worse.

But it got me wondering which sponsors RNZ might approach.

With its medical disease of the week, Kathryn Ryan's Nine to Noon could be brought to you by Prozac. Chris Laidlaw would work well with extra strong coffee. Mary Wilson on Checkpoint would suit Mack trucks. Any other ideas - real or tongue in cheek - write in.

MEDIA MASTERPLAN

I can see the sense in sponsorship, but there is something odd about advertising being seen a saviour for public broadcasting.

Some RNZ supporters worry sponsorship will sully public radio. But I'm also reminded of the opposite view from the private sector - that the state should not be involved in, or at least not dominate, the advertising or media market.

It underpinned a National Party agenda that state media should not exist.

Nowadays there is no ideology in National and just an expectation that RNZ will cut costs through sponsorship - or die - and that TVNZ will be encouraged into aggressive marketing to provide bigger profits.

The Nats have given TVNZ leeway to build up its online arm and it has moved aggressively into online advertising.

Now - in the latest development - New Zealand Post is moving into the advertising and media market with its Localist service.

Initially it planned to compete with the ailing Yellow Pages Group for advertising, but it emerged last week the Localist was moving into localised content - linked with social media.

State-owned New Zealand Post will be in the same advertising market as community newspapers.

Localist chairman Sam Knowles saw no anomaly, insisting that local ownership was a part of the sales proposition.

He said that there were weaknesses in the current propositions for advertisers in the same way there were for bank customers prior to NZ Post launching Kiwibank.

But there are one or two issues about Localist.

NZ Post wants it to become a community website where people write in and give reviews on services and the like.

But how long will it take NZ Post to build the brand until it reaches the position where it is delivering profits? And who will cover the losses during that brand building?

One of the enduring gripes from the private sector is that state enterprises are not concerned about risk and government owners will carry losses that private sector competitors could never afford.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

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.

Read more by John Drinnan

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