Poor calls at TVNZ and TV3 - like the loss of John Campbell - mean the government can sleep easier, writes Myles Thomas.
What was TV3's management thinking?
Two years ago Mediaworks changed TV3's target demographic to 24-54 and made channel FOUR their youth brand. Now their new CEO, Mark Weldon seems to be changing it around again, back to 18-39. And in the latest Budget, the government has come to the party.
TV3 management keeps chopping and changing its direction and if I was silly enough to be a TV3 shareholder, I'd be concerned.
Not only would I be concerned that the CEO, with self-assured gusto and no TV experience was getting actively involved in designing expensive new programmes like The Paul Henry Show - three months late and a ratings fizzer. I'd be concerned that he then allows one of the stars of the channel, John Campbell to leave the building. And I'd be concerned that the channel is chopping and changing again, meddling with its audience strategy, and losing a heap of loyal viewers in the process.
In an attempt to improve ratings, Mark Weldon is championing event-television - programmes like X-Factor and The Bachelor that are so huge, so sensational, so in-your-face that people simply have to watch them if they want to be part of the banter at school or work tomorrow.
Maybe event-television is the right idea. But the new management didn't seem to realise they already had event-television under the name of Campbell Live.
Who can forget John Key finally agreeing to be interviewed about the GCSB and flummoxing John Campbell, or Simon Bridges attempting the same with disastrous results. Many Campbell Live stories such as Gloriavale, synthetic cannabis and zero-hour contracts were so huge and so sensational that they became event-television, even without the blanket publicity afforded to X-Factor etc.
TV3 has never succeeded by copying TVNZ. Its successes have come from taking risks and offering something hugely appealing that is different to TVNZ - Outrageous Fortune, bro'Town and 7 Days for example. In John Campbell, TV3 had a unique talent that was very different to the opposition and also very popular. If his replacements are a copy of Seven Sharp, they are doomed to fail.
With the departure of John Campbell, TV3 will again lose an audience as it chops and changes to win ratings. Perhaps they should settle for the secondary audience of adults-with-a-mental-age-over-20. Perhaps they should have fostered their talent and tried to build on Campbell Live rather than reinvent it.
No doubt they have their reasons.
The tragedy is that while John Campbell is a great loss to TV3, he is an even greater loss to New Zealand.
Thanks to bad decisions at TVNZ and TV3 we have lost the ability to watch our politicians squirm on primetime for longer than 15 seconds. Our various leaders will be sleeping easier now - business leaders, local body leaders, religious leaders and so on. And that's not a good thing.
Our loss is the government's gain - the prevalence of government friendly hosts and entertainment shows means it's unlikely any government Minister will face a series of awkward questions on primetime television. Most people would agree that's not a good thing either.
And in the latest Budget the government has tightened the screws further on informative programming. The 2015 Budget imposes targets on NZ On Air, one of which requires 70% of its primetime programmes on TVOne, TV2 and TV3 to reach more than 200,000 viewers.
Just as NZ on Air shows an interest in funding primetime current affairs, the Government makes it less likely. For example TV3's new Sunday evening current affairs show, 3D could lose future funding rounds if its ratings slip below 200,000. Previously NZ on Air set its own targets. Now it risks not meeting the Minister's targets for the sake of 3D or any other vulnerable shows.
This government directive seems tantamount to requiring NZ on Air to get out of current affairs programming altogether. Something it has already done to TVNZ when it stripped away the Charter and required it to focus solely on profits.
Let's hope that TV3's replacement show for Campbell Live fills the vacuum. On the up side, TV3 Head of News, Mark Jennings has a proven track record for quality journalism (and would someone at TV3 please give Guy Williams his own show in that Friday slot - he has huge potential to be NZ's answer to Jon Stewart).
On the down side, Mark Weldon has only committed to the new project until the end of the year. If it doesn't work out he'll chop and change again.
Myles Thomas is Chief Executive of the Coalition for Better Broadcasting and is a Reality Television Director who previously worked at TV3.