24 Apr 2016

Eating TVs lunch?

From Mediawatch, 9:11 am on 24 April 2016

New Zealand's biggest newspaper is now doing twice-daily TV-style news bulletins. Are they eating TV's lunch? Or just nibbling at its morning and afternoon tea?

Presenters Tristram Clayton and Laura McGoldrick kick off the first 'Herald Focus' bulletin.

Presenters Tristram Clayton and Laura McGoldrick kick off the first 'Herald Focus' bulletin. Photo: screenshot

Back in 2008, the editor of Wellington's daily paper The Dominion Post  made some bold claims at a media conference about the online age.  

"We can now do what radio and television have always done," said Tim Pankhurst. "If any sector of the media should be really worried, it is television.

Already his reporters were taking video footage at news events, he said, and putting it on Fairfax’s stuff.co.nz website long before the TV broadcasters could get pictures on air.

"Why bother rushing home to watch the 6 o’clock news, when you’ve already seen what interests you?" asked Mr Pankhurst.

He gave his audience that day an example. Graham Henry had just been re-appointed coach of the All Blacks for that year, and The Dominion Post was videoing its two main rugby writers standing in the newsroom discussing it. That was up on stuff.co.nz for people to see long before TV broadcasters covered the news.

He proudly played the clip to the audience that day - but it wasn’t actually very good. It was hard to see at that time how online video would really undermine the 6pm TV news shows. 

Changing the game 

During the election campaign in 2014, digital entrepreneur and Dominion Post columnist Mike O'Donnell also reckoned the 6pm TV news was heading for online-era redundancy.  

"TV evening news can trace its origins to the time that most people were in a place they could watch a screen. Today people carry their screen around with them," he wrote in The Dominion Post. Social media and "frictionless, live online distribution" were changing the game, he said, and he made a bold prediction too:

"I reckon election 2017 will be a whole new paradigm where mobile and content customisation are front and centre. By that time the six o'clock news may well be a thing of the past."

Time up for old-fashioned TV news? 

In a statement announcing the launch of Herald Focus, its owner NZME said this last month: 

"According to Nielsen, television viewership of the 6pm traditional format news audience in New Zealand has decreased in the last three years. Recent growth in video has helped drive nzherald.co.nz to record audiences."

Nielsen’s surveys have found fewer people watching the 6pm news since 2013, but it is not a slump. 

Nielsen's 2015 Multi-Screen Report, which tracks multimedia habits of selected New Zealand households, concluded 85 per cent of Kiwis aged over 10 watched over 23 hours of broadcast TV across a week and the peak-time TV viewing audience was only fractionally higher ten years ago.

Graph showing 6pm TV news audience declining 2012-2015, but only slightly.

The audience for the 6pm news on TV - shown here in thousands - has dropped recently, but not by much. Source: Nielsen TAM, Consolidated Photo: supplied

Nielsen’s TV Trends Report for 2104 said the most-watched programme in 2014 was TVNZ’s One News. The same report also said news was the top genre and people were far more likely to time-shift drama, reality, sport and soap opera shows.

In other words, in spite of all the digital options today, hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders still make a point of watching network news bulletins live on the main free to air TV channels from 6 to 7pm.

Herald Focus bulletins go online about midday and again about 4pm, and they are only about 8 minutes long. TVNZ’s One News and TV3’s Newshub at 6 are an hour each.

Not so much eating TV's lunch as nibbling at its morning and afternoon tea, perhaps.

What does Herald Focus offer?

The debut show last Monday had headlines about the Ecuador quake, the fire in Dunedin and the PM in China but they were over in barely a minute and a half. 

It then showcased two substantial Herald stories: spiralling property prices, extensively covered in the Weekend Herald in print and online at nzherald.co.nz - and a multimedia Herald investigation by specialist digital journalist Olivia Carville on suicide in post-quake Christchurch.

But after that on the Herald Focus debut, it was mostly froth: sports, and showbiz news via social media. The later five-minute edition after 4 pm had even less actual news. Much of it was a semi-scripted rundown of the day's sport with host Tony Veitch filmed in Brisbane Airport, accompanied by departures and arrivals announcements on the PA.

Picture of Herald Focus sports presenter doing his slot from Brisbane's airport last Monday.

Herald Focus sports presenter doing his slot from Brisbane's airport last Monday during his holiday. Photo: screenshot

Will Herald Focus hasten the demise of TV news?

Mike O'Donnell

Mike O'Donnell Photo: supplied

"I think NZME have been cute, and one of the main targets is really stuff.co.nz," Mike O'Donnell told Mediawatch.

"NZME are acutely aware nzherald.co.nz isn't the largest news website in New Zealand. This is a leg-up to take on stuff.co.nz. If you can eat some of your rivals' lunch in this market, you do it". 

Another purpose is clearly to showcase news and entertainment content from NZME's various outlets - such as Radio Sport, and entertainment site Spy. Mike O'Donnell says it does this in a way that is "not gratuitous".   

Herald Focus is made to look like TV network news show, but is that what the online audience wants?

"It's a safe starting point," he says.

"There are faces and names that you know, a backdrop that's familiar - apart from Tony Veitch reporting from beaches and airports in tank tops. I can't get my head around that". 

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