Three is set to axe its 7pm weekday news show The Project - one of the highest-profile casualties of a challenging media and economic climate.
A Warner Bros. Discovery spokesperson said today: “We have commenced consultation to discontinue The Project on Three from the end of the year - our primary focus is to support our people as we work through this process.”
About 24 people work on the show, which is filmed in front of a live studio audience in a building near Three’s main HQ in Auckland. The show will not screen tonight, Three has announced, to give time to staff to digest the news.
The Project, based on an Australian franchise of the same name, started in New Zealand in February 2017, originally hosted by Jesse Mulligan, Kanoa Lloyd and Josh Thomson. It is now hosted by Mulligan, Lloyd and Jeremy Corbett, with a range of other roving hosts.
Three is understood to pay a hefty international licensing fee for the use of The Project brand - this move gives the business a blank canvas to build a less expensive 7pm show.
That new show could be a format along the lines of Paddy Gower’s new show Paddy Gower Has Issues, or a more news-focused show featuring the likes of Rebecca Wright, say industry insiders. It could possibly be a combination of both.
The Project’s pending closure comes as almost every major New Zealand media outlet faces cutbacks caused by tough economic conditions and falling advertising revenue.
Last week, it was revealed that PwC auditors had said a “material uncertainty” exists that may cast “significant doubt” on whether one of those media companies, MediaWorks - which operates a range of music stations and an outdoor advertising business - can continue as a going concern. MediaWorks is more upbeat and confident about its future.
Warner Bros. Discovery senior director of news Sarah Bristow, who announced last week that she would be leaving the business in the new year, announced The Project proposal to her Newshub news team in an email today.
“If the proposed change is confirmed, we will design a redefined news show in the 7pm timeslot as part of the broader Newshub proposition,” said Bristow in the email.
“I want to acknowledge the hard work of Jesse, Kanoa, Jeremy, Jon Bridges, Ali Ventura and the entire crew of The Project, who have worked tirelessly to bring this show to air for the past seven years.
“The Project has served Newshub and Three incredibly well since its commission back in 2017, however audience behaviour has changed dramatically since that time.
“This year, we have discussed at length why we are transitioning our broadcast business to a digitally-led operating model and the transformation of our newsroom is equally crucial as we move away from a model that has centred around linear broadcasting and programme deadlines to one that is more responsive to audience needs across the day.
“We have been reviewing all areas of our business to reimagine what our on-air news offering would look like, if we were to build it again from the ground up - the focus being to capture digital audiences and drive online engagement as we have successfully done with Paddy Gower Has Issues.
“There are no proposed format changes to other Newshub shows.”
In 2017, Herald entertainment writer Siena Yates wrote that current affairs shows such as Breakfast, Seven Sharp and Story had come under fire “for playing things too far on the light side”.
The Project, she wrote, was looking to build its foundations on the middle ground.
“That’s something that everyone in this building really wants to get right,” Lloyd told Yates at the time.
“We keep circling back to the ‘dinner party conversation’ idea because ... that’s how humans interact with and relate to one another. I hope we’re kind of stepping down from that ‘news is the granddaddy, grand master’ pedestal, and just sitting down and having a conversation. We want to make that work.”
Warner Bros. Discovery ANZ senior vice president and head of networks Glen Kyne said in a staff email today: “We have not come to this proposal lightly and we have the utmost respect for all our colleagues at The Project. The work that has gone into this show and what has been achieved during its tenure is hugely appreciated.
“This is a strategic proposal for our business as we move to a digitally-led operating model and look to redefine our 7pm proposition in line with our commissioning strategy.”
Three has been no stranger to costs in 2023. In the case of Newshub and the wider company, it meant a sinking lid policy earlier this year - non-replacement of roles, while at the same time making decisions such as the ditching of terrestrial news shows to focus on a digital future.
The company announced in August the axing of two more Newshub shows, AM Early and the 11.30am weekday news bulletin. Its 8pm bulletin on the Eden channel was also quietly dropped earlier this year.
It was clear from Kyne’s comments to Media Insider at the time that Warner Bros. Discovery was starting to focus even more on a digital-first news operation.
Kyne made no secret of his and Bristow’s aim for the delivery of more digital news video.
“The core of what we do very well is video,” said Kyne. “It’s things like permission to show up a bit differently in a digital environment.”
In an interview for the Herald’s Money Talks series, Mulligan spoke of his presenting role, joking that he would be “the last generation” of free-to-air TV presenters.
“I’ll keep doing that until it closes down, and I won’t be bitter at all when it happens.”
“And I think that’s true of media in general. Take the jobs when they are offered to you, don’t feel bad when they disappear, and enjoy your moment of being wanted, as there will be a day where you’re not wanted.”
- Editor-at-Large Shayne Currie is one of New Zealand’s most experienced senior journalists and media leaders. He has held executive and senior editorial roles at NZME including Managing Editor, NZ Herald Editor and Herald on Sunday Editor and has a small shareholding in NZME. As well as a weekly media column, he has a regular interview series featuring noteworthy and leading New Zealanders including Wayne Brown, Ruby Tui, Paddy Gower, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Scotty Stevenson, Chlöe Swarbrick, Simon Power, Josh and Helen Emett, Sir Ian Taylor, David Kirk, Sir Ashley Bloomfield and Paul Henry. Contact Shayne at firstname.lastname@example.org