9 Apr 2024

Is there a rescue in sight for Newshub?

3:02 pm on 9 April 2024

By Susan Edmunds of Stuff

Newshub's staff have been told June 30 will be their last day on the job.

Newshub's staff have been told June 30 will be their last day on the job. Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

Speculation is mounting that another media company may step in to save Newshub - or at least part of it.

Warner Bros Discovery announced in February that it planned to shut the Newshub newsroom because it was no longer financially viable. The decision was forecast to mean the loss of hundreds of jobs.

Since then, it is understood there have been talks between Warner Bros Discovery and a number of media firms, including Stuff, about ways that part of the business could be preserved. It has been suggested that could include the production of a "slimmed-down" news bulletin by a third party.

A Warner Bros Discovery spokesperson would not be drawn on the details.

"As promised on the announcement on February 28, we committed to listening to all internal and external feedback and ideas, and we will continue to do so as we work through our consultation process. This consultation process is confidential, and will remain so until its conclusion."

A spokesperson for Stuff also declined to comment on whether it had been in talks with Warner Bros Discovery, but is understood to be a likely contender.

RNZ said it was not developing a proposal with Warner Bros Discovery.

"We would of course be open to any conversations about how we may be able to assist any new arrangement, should one progress, in line with our current content sharing partnership with WBD."

A spokesperson for Sky said it "clearly" had an interest in any decisions made by Warner Bros Discovery because it would affect the News First at 5.30pm bulletin, which Newshub provides Sky.

"Like everyone, we are awaiting the outcome of their employee consultation process. We don't have any further comment to make at this time."

NZME said it was not currently part of the process.

An official process cannot begin until the end of the Warner Bros Discovery consultation with staff, on Wednesday.

Duncan Grieve

Media commentator Duncan Greive. Photo: Supplied

Media commentator Duncan Greive said he expected it to come down to either NZME or Stuff taking on a contract to produce a slimmed-down bulletin for Warner Bros.

Both already had journalists around the country, had political teams with radio and TV experience and were capable of putting together a news product with their existing resources, he said.

"It wouldn't necessarily be as dynamic as what Newshub are able to create, it might involve a significant reduction in field reporting, but if your alternative is nothing...

"The true advantage you do have is reporters in different parts of the country more so than Newshub did. You can probably build a product that is a half-hour package that does lean a bit more on international. Your sports reporting might be more voiceovers over sports footage versus having a reporter at a press conference or a game. It's a lesser product but it's better than having no product and it takes advantage of the current human infrastructure of both businesses."

He said NZME would have an advantage because it had studios around the country and had experience putting out a live news product via Newstalk ZB.

"That means they will have an edge in terms of infrastructure that could allow them to be cheaper more convincing in terms of delivery."

Newshub's Patrick Gower. Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

He said that would retain a bigger chunk of the Newshub audience for TV3's later-evening programming.

NZME or Stuff would have to hire some Newshub staff, he said.

"It's a matter of how many. It's obvious that the 180 staff that currently make Newshub products are far too costly for WBD - you'd have to think that it has to be orders of magnitude smaller. For it to be profitable for those businesses, they have to do it to a reasonable extent with existing infrastructure."

Greive said it would have to be a "very lean" operation.

"This shouldn't be viewed as a rescue package for those working at Newshub because I can't see more than a small handful of them being required by any new product."

If the current Newshub operation might cost $50 million a year, a new product would need to be done for $10m, he said.

Newshub staffer Michael Morrah. Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

He said the problem with the idea that Newshub staffer Michael Morrah would lead a proposal for a replacement was that it would try to save as many jobs as possible, which would mean it could not hope to be as cheap as that offered by people who employed a number of journalists already.

"I worry about false hope among any of these teams... it has to be so, so much cheaper than what they are currently taking on."

Peter Thompson, an associate professor in media studies at Victoria University, said it would be an awkward fit for Stuff, or another non-broadcaster, to buy the Newshub assets.

"And who's going into linear broadcasting in the current day and age? Everyone who is in it is looking for a way out. I'm struggling to see the business case for an existing digital/print operation wanting to buy Newshub outright, unless it was resources, newsroom equipment, knowhow or staff... maybe there's a case for saying there's some specialist television crews there who really now how to do visual news.

"Maybe that could be an extra unit you bolt on. But if you want to go there why not just hire the staff, why do you need the brand? Unless you want to turn Newshub into a subbrand of Stuff that does visual news. Then there are complications in the newsroom, where does this fit in?"

This story was originally published by Stuff.

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