TVNZ's Breakfast ratings have declined significantly in recent years, dropping more than 30 per cent in three years. But can John Campbell save them? Joanna Hunkin takes a closer look.
You couldn't call it marvellous but John Campbell's first week at the Breakfast desk is certainly showing some positive signs.
The former Campbell Live host returned to his first full-time television presenting role in four years this week, joining Hayley Holt on the morning news programme, as Jack Tame moves on to host TVNZ's weekly political series Q+A.
On Monday, 29,000 viewers aged 25-54 tuned in to watch the duo. By Tuesday, that had risen to 35,000. Wednesday and Thursday pulled in 28,000 and 26,000 viewers respectively, according to Nielsen data.
By comparison, Duncan Garner and The AM Show saw 24,000 viewers join them on Monday, dropping to 21,000 on Tuesday. Wednesday lifted slightly to 22,000 viewers before Thursday lifted again to 27,000.
It's early days still but the numbers will be met with cautious optimism at TVNZ, where Breakfast's declining audience has been an ongoing concern.
"We've seen strong ratings for the show this week, some great feedback from viewers and the team are really enjoying working together," said a TVNZ spokesperson, who confirmed Breakfast remains strategically important to the network.
"Breakfast is many New Zealanders' first news source of the day. It delivers overnight headlines from around the world right into people's living rooms and it connects viewers to stories from around the country. It sets up TVNZ's news and current affairs offering for the day."
Breakfast and The AM Show have been locked in a fierce ratings battle for the past two years, with The AM Show closing the gap significantly on TVNZ.
The morning news programmes are now neck and neck when it comes to average audience aged 25-54, with Breakfast averaging 26,000 viewers, to The AM Show's 24,000.
A spokesperson for MediaWorks said consistency was the key to the team's success over the past two years.
"Duncan, Mark and Amanda deliver a consistent performance every day with chemistry and cohesion between the trio that is hard to find. The word consistent says it all really - we are very happy with their performance and the results of The AM Show."
Breakfast's ratings have declined significantly in recent years. In April 2016, the programme – then hosted by Rawdon Christie and Nadine Chalmers-Ross – pulled an average audience of 44,000 viewers aged 25-54.
By comparison, Paul Henry on Three saw an average audience of 27,000 viewers tune in that month.
The pair were later dropped by the network as TVNZ bosses scrambled to reinvent the morning offering.
In September that year, Jack Tame and Hilary Barry stepped up to the plate, alongside newsreader Daniel Faitaua, weatherman Sam Wallace and sports reporter Brodie Kane.
Wallace left the show three months later to reunite with his former co-host Toni Street on The Hits breakfast radio show, leaving Matty McLean to take over his weather duties.
Kane was the next to leave, heading back to her hometown Christchurch, where she too joined The Hits network, hosting the local breakfast show there.
Three months later, it was announced Barry would be moving on as well, joining Jeremy Wells as the new hosts of Seven Sharp.
Internally, it was widely acknowledged that Tame and Barry did not work as a presenting duo – despite a close friendship - and ratings were stagnant.
In April 2017, the show averaged 45,000 viewers aged 25-54. Just 1,000 more than Christie and Chalmers-Ross had pulled in the previous year.
The following January, former Crowd Goes Wild presenter Hayley Holt joined Tame at the Breakfast desk. In February 2018, they pulled an average audience of 33,000 viewers aged 25-54, falling behind Duncan Garner and The AM Show, which averaged 35,000 viewers.
Both networks have seen morning viewership decline in the past 12 months but TVNZ is under greater pressure due to its higher production costs.
Insiders suggest Campbell was moved to Breakfast to justify his significant salary cost, which is well above the average reporter's salary.
There is also speculation that Campbell's stint on Breakfast may be a temporary measure, following in Barry's footsteps with a possible move to prime time in the future.
Last year, in an interview with Canvas magazine, Campbell was asked if he would ever do a 7pm show again.
"My answer is absolutely no, but that's my answer in October of 2018. In this business, you never say never, but it's not what I came to TVNZ to do."
Many commentators have openly questioned Campbell's move to Breakfast, which is traditionally lighter fare than the serious news Campbell likes to tackle.
Reviewing Campbell's performance this week, Herald critic Karl Puschmann praised the presenter's "easy bants with the team" but felt he needed to lighten up a bit.
"These jovial moments can be considered the few delicious sultanas floating in your bowl of good-for-you-but-untasty bran, because what Campbell wants is for Breakfast to pick up where Campbell Live left off. It's what his considerable fanbase want. It's what I thought I wanted. Until I got it. What I now realise is I want to be able to stomach my breakfast."
Campbell spent 24 years with MediaWorks, including a decade as the host of Campbell Live, before the show was axed in 2015.
The following year, he moved to Radio New Zealand to host Checkpoint, before returning to television, joining TVNZ in September last year.
His original role was as "roving reporter" working across the network's stable of news and current affairs.
In March, he partnered with Hilary Barry to lead the breaking news coverage of the Christchurch terrorist attacks, earning widespread praise for his compassionate reporting.