1 Mar 2024

Warner Bros 'baffled' as TVNZ rejects Newshub proposal of shared news operation

4:08 pm on 1 March 2024
Staff leaving Newshub after their bombshell meeting on February 28

Staff leave the Newshub building after being told of a proposal to shutter the outlet by the end of June. Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

TVNZ rejected a last-ditch Newshub proposal to form a shared news agency with workers from both organisations - a decision Warner Bros Discovery has described as "baffling".

Warner Bros Discovery met with TVNZ chairman Alistair Carruthers and chief executive Jodi O'Donnell, along with RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson, on 21 February to discuss the proposal.

But TVNZ rejected the idea just two days later.

The rejection came just days before Warner Bros Discovery announced a proposal to shutter Newshub by 30 June.

Shutting the news outlet, which began in 1989 as 3 National News, would see potentially hundreds of jobs lost.

Glen Kyne Photo: NZ Herald

Glen Kyne, Warner Bros Discovery's senior vice president and head of networks, said learning of TVNZ's latest big financial losses on Friday made TVNZ's decision to reject the agency proposal "truly baffling".

TVNZ announced on Friday its revenue had fallen 13.5 percent, linked to dwindling ad sales and asset write-offs.

"I outlined to everyone in the room what I saw as the problems that the whole sector is facing. We didn't tell them anything about our proposed consultation process, but what we did do was outline the imminent issues facing all news media across the country," Kyne said.

"There was agreement from everyone in the room about those problems and it appeared we were aligned on the industry headwinds and challenging financial circumstances."

Kyne said he proposed something similar to the now-defunct news agency NZPA. It would be a shared newsgathering service formed out of the TVNZ and Newshub newsrooms, which would be supported by RNZ, he said.

The service would create and license content back to the media companies.

"It was very much an opening conversation that we thought would give way to more talks where we expected there would be a willingness and desire to find collaborative industry solutions, and figure out in more detail, together, on what the new operation could look like; and we would only want to do this in collaboration with TVNZ," Kyne said.

He left the meeting feeling like the proposal had been well received, he said.

"We wanted to explore any opportunity that may have given rise to a potential different outcome for the Newshub team.

"Two days later, TVNZ chair Alistair Carruthers communicated to us that he had called an Extraordinary Board Meeting the very next day, the Board discussed the idea, but would be passing on it without any further discussion."

Kyne said he was "disappointed" and that disappointment had only grown when he had seen news of TVNZ's financial loss.

"I genuinely believe solutions to the outlook for the sector should be solved in collaboration with other media companies."

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has said Newshub's likely closure was shocking, but the sector needed to innovate.

A government bailout was highly unlikely, he said.

The closure would leave state-owned TVNZ and Whakaata Māori/Māori Television as the only newsrooms broadcasting on free-to-air television.

In a statement, a TVNZ spokesperson said the company's chief executive and chairperson often met with other media leaders.

"We had an initial discussion with Warner Bros Discovery and RNZ (at Warner Bros Discovery's request) just over a week ago on how we might work together in news. This discussion was preliminary, but would have seen TVNZ take on significant cost and risk of a new service, so we informed Warner Bros. Discovery that we were not in a position to advance any talks," the statement said.

TVNZ was not told of the plan to shutter Newshub.

"We understand these plans have been in place for some time from media reports this week."

The financial results released on Friday showed TVNZ needed to focus on the sustainability of its own organisation, the spokesperson said.

"To position Warner Bros Discovery's decisions as the responsibility of TVNZ is incorrect."

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