Ratings panic led to most brutal 12 months in channels’ history.

In 2015, television somehow remains the single most exciting thing to do with our attention.

We could be watching pornography, using adult colouring-in books or bullying one another online. And yet most of us would still rather slump into our couches and watch some telly.

The time we spend doing that one thing is shrinking, and will likely continue to shrink, as it's clear the unquestioned dominance the medium once enjoyed is over. And network executives know it.

The scramble to update schedules and stop audience leakage set in motion the most tumultuous year for television New Zealand has known.


It was 365 days of chaos: lengthy relationships were severed, huge franchises ground to a halt and whole genres once considered untouchable were abandoned by the side of the road.

It began and ended with TV3. Although not the biggest network (of the three big players it is, in fact, the smallest), due to its young and urbanised audience it is a bellwether for what is to come.

So although what happened at the network this year looked like bad decision-making and often was, to be fair, it was also a result of the channel's hand being forced by the rapidly changing audience behaviour of their demographic.

Things started so brightly. TV3 sailed into the year bold and bolshie: the young wanted reality TV, and lots of it. So we had X Factor on what felt like every night of the week. It was great! Until it wasn't.

The show fell apart very quickly. A singer convicted of a particularly brutal manslaughter was given a deeply sympathetic airing.

That sin was soon forgotten when judges Willy Moon and Natalia Kills shocked the nation with a senseless, baseless and bizarre attack on poor Joe Irvine.

They were ejected. The show the pair left behind committed the far bigger sin of being plain boring.

That was not a problem for The Bachelor, TV3's one unequivocal reality success. It was one of the shows of the year, sweet and very funny.

It also, magically, gave us what looks like true love, between our instant celeb royalty Art and Matilda.

That was the perfect outcome, one that none of the other five franchises rolled out got near to achieving. In large part that was down to a single catastrophic error of judgment that followed The Bachelor finale: the slow, excruciatingly painful execution of Campbell Live.

The show had been rating indifferently over the past year, perhaps because the launch of Paul Henry ate up what seemed like the entire news department's promotional budget.

After Campbell Live's review was announced, the host and its journalists campaigned for their lives, an unprecedented act of defiance that saw its ratings surge. In the cold, hard world of television, ratings are the one true God.

Save Campbell Live supporters march up to TV3, to present a signed petition to save Campbell Live TV3 current affairs program from being taken off the air. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Save Campbell Live supporters march up to TV3, to present a signed petition to save Campbell Live TV3 current affairs program from being taken off the air. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Yet MediaWorks boss Mark Weldon defied that God, cancelling the show after 10 years. First came the tears, then the wrath. The whole channel bore the fury, and its ratings remain grim to this day.

Weldon and the TV3 executive busied themselves launching an unloved gossip site, before returning to the newsroom to see what else they could cull for cash.

They took aim at 3D, ending a style of current affairs programming at the channel dating back more than a quarter of a century.

It was an awful year for television current affairs: 60 Minutes, now showing on Prime, announced it will cease local reporting, and Maori TV's Native Affairs lost its journalistic heart when Mihingarangi Forbes and Annabelle Lee left within weeks of each other.

The latter channel is arguably in as great a turmoil as TV3 - it also lost one of its most iconic shows in Homai te Pakipaki. Paora Maxwell must be thankful Weldon is around to distract attention.

The doom wasn't isolated to free-to-air. Sky, for so long a growth machine, had a horror year on the NZX. It shed a third of its value in a matter of months. The company's core product is actually better than ever, but its costs are rising as its base starts to dwindle.

That's in part due to true competition. This year, Netflix and WatchMe joined Spark's Lightbox in the online sphere just as dirt-cheap smart TVs and Chromecasts made more televisions internet capable than ever.

Samantha Hayes and Duncan Garner fronting the new 3rd Degree lineup. Photo / Supplied
Samantha Hayes and Duncan Garner fronting the new 3rd Degree lineup. Photo / Supplied

That leaves only TVNZ. The grandparent of them all, viewed mainly by grandparents and thus still enjoying ratings others would cut off their news wings for (oh, wait).

TVNZ barely flinched while the others thrashed about, keeping most of its schedule as it was and enjoying terrific numbers off the back of it.

Its one big change came in the online space, where it launched a new and much improved TVNZ On Demand.

The crucial difference was that it required a login - meaning they were building a database of your viewing preferences. So as, eventually, to better sell you to advertisers.

This was augmented by a clutch of online exclusive shows - tellingly, many targeted at its core viewership's grandchildren. If they can grow an online audience to a reasonable scale, suddenly the creaky old thing starts to have hope for the future.

That's the kind of scenario that helps pump up a sale price. Not that it's for sale - at least not publicly. But after the year we've just endured, who knows what 2016 will bring?