28 Feb 2024

Newshub boss aware of proposal since January

5:08 pm on 28 February 2024

Glen Kyne is promising management will listen to staff feedback before acting on the proposal to shut down Newshub. Photo: NZ Herald

Newshub bosses told their PR company weeks ago they were proposing to make hundreds of news staff redundant, but those staff were "blindsided" with the proposal at a meeting.

Warner Brothers Discovery, which owns the channel, is proposing to end its multiplatform news operations and output - including the website - from 30 June.

Commentators say this would affect programmes like the 6pm bulletin, AM show and its yet to be launched 7pm interview programme that was to be hosted by Ryan Bridge.

More than 200 staff could lose their jobs if the proposal goes ahead.

A Newshub staff member told RNZ: "We're absolutely devastated and shocked. Newshub is such a tight-knit team of passionate and dedicated people, this news has blindsided us."

The company said economic headwinds meant returns were down and the business was not financially sustainable in the long-term.

'Few' had prior knowledge of proposal, boss says

Entrance to Newshub's Flower St studio. Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

Glen Kyne is the boss of Warner Brothers Australia/New Zealand and was the one to break the news to staff on Wednesday morning.

He told Checkpoint delivering the news to staff on Wednesday was "awful" and not something he ever imagined doing.

He said he had known about the proposal since returning from leave, in January.

"This option that we proposed today was put to me for evaluation over a couple of weeks, which we did and then it landed in a decision a little over two weeks ago to move it to the proposal and consultation phase we've done today."

Sarah Bristow resigned as senior director of news at Warner Bros. Discovery ANZ, which owns Newshub, leaving just weeks ago and not being replaced by a permanent news chief.

But Kyne said she was not aware of this proposal prior and only "few people" had knowledge of it.

"So senior leadership globally and Warner Brothers Discovery were aware and supporting the evaluation and even members of the local leadership team were only brought up to speed with this proposal as late as yesterday."

The company's PR firm would have known just after Kyne was made aware in January, he said.

He emphasised that no decisions had been made and they were still in consultation but it was a difficult balance and he did not want to give false hope.

"We will be listening to everyone, all of our staff, we are encouraging and will listen to their feedback and equally we will listen to all external stakeholders as well and absolutely no decision has been made at this point and won't be until we've had the chance to evaluate that feedback in full."

Although they had considered many options and were not able to land on anything that was viable, they were open to conversations on other solutions that perhaps they had not thought of, Kyne said.

"It's a difficult balance because we certainly don't want to be putting false hope to people that there is a solution on the horizon. But equally, we need to be able to get through today for those opportunities and things to avail themselves to us. And so we will be listening to all feedback from all corners to ensure that we evaluate this properly."

He said they "couldn't value local news any more highly".

"We love it and I'm personally very, very proud with Newshub and the organisation. Unfortunately, we have not been able to find a way to make the production of Newshub financially viable into the future, and we as a commercial media company cannot keep sustaining losses indefinitely."

Which shows will be affected

Newshub at 6 presenters Samantha Hayes and Mike McRoberts

Newshub at 6 presenters Samantha Hayes and Mike McRoberts Photo: Supplied

"In the proposal, any show related to news and current affairs" would be gone, Kyne said.

The new 7pm current affairs show that was set to replace The Project recently had its host announced. But Kyne said they had not signed people up to new shows knowing what they know now.

"When we've been building shows and announcing shows no decision was made. And as I said, I wasn't aware of any other options until January. So everything we've done to this point has been in good faith.

"We've known the trajectory of the business in the market for a very long time. But there has always been a multitude of options that the company was looking at.

"The reality is that at the start of this year, it's very clear that the bounceback has not materialised like we thought it would for revenue."

The plan could affect Sky TV as Newshub has the contract to provide the Sky Open (formerly Prime) channel's 5.30pm bulletin daily.

Kyne said they would be in talks with Sky over the next 24 hours.

Asked about taxpayer-funded programmes like Newshub Nation, Kyne said their plan was to either continue such programmes, or return the money if not.

"We will not at all take taxpayer funding inappropriately.

"The commitment is that anything that we have funded continues to play on air. Outside of New Zealand On Air funding, we're reviewing our broader content portfolio and as I said, no decision has been made yet and won't be until post the consultation period."

ThreeNow - the brand's online streaming service - would be at the core of the new model, supported by free-to-air linear channels, the company said.

Bravo, Eden, Rush and HGTV would continue in their current form with the same content slate.

"The three core content pillars for the business will be local programming in conjunction with either our co-production partners or funding partners. There will still be third-party acquisitions as we do today. So things like what's on screen right now, the likes of Married At First Sight Australia, et cetera," Kyne said.

"We still want to have as much local content on the channel as we can ... in conjunction with either funding partners or co-production partners."

But he could not say what percentage would be local, because that would depend on the final content strategy which had not been confirmed.

Asked specifically about the Hui and Newshub Nation, he said "where we have funding partners in place, they will all be reviewed down the track post the final consultation decision."

"They are all part of the newsroom operation and I just want to reiterate no decision has been made, but yes, they are all part of the Newshub operation as part of this proposal."

Staff impacts and redundancy payouts

Patrick Gower speaks to reporters as he leaves the Newshub building in central Auckland. Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

Kyne said a significant number of staff would be affected if the proposal went ahead.

"It's about 75 percent of the workforce. It's obviously a significant proposal to the newsroom, but it's broader than that, it does impact most other teams in the business."

Despite the financial difficulty the company has cited, Kyne was adamant that they would follow through on financial obligations to employees and suppliers, including redundancy pay.

"The company will, absolutely, act in good faith with all employees. This is not an administration type event - all of our obligations and commitments will be met."

They would also be "fluid" on the 30 June deadline to end news operations, he said.

"I guess one of the big considerations is where our people land and how they process obviously the news over the next few days.

"We think giving people as much time from when a final decision is made until 30 June to process and then to think about what their next steps are, and for us as an organisation to help them is important but we will obviously be evaluating that week by week."

Asked how much it would cost to end news operations, he said that would be evaluated after a decision was made, but he did not believe that would affect any obligations they had towards paying out staff if the proposal went ahead.

Talks with the government

Melissa Lee

Broadcasting Minister Melissa Lee was made aware of the news on Tuesday night. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Kyne had called the Broadcasting Minister, Melissa Lee, on Tuesday night, and Prime Minister Christopher Luxon on Wednesday morning, to let them know about the proposal.

"It was important to me that he heard directly from me what was happening and why. And we also wanted a 'no surprises' approach in terms of talking with him."

But the company had not asked for any direct funding from the government in their conversations, he said.

"I wanted him to hear directly from me the reasons why we were making the proposal that we were making today and didn't want that to be speculated from elsewhere."

He said they they were in "constant dialogue" with the government "for a very long time" over various issues, including the Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill, reviews into the Broadcasting Act, and other regulatory settings.

"We have also been clear with them that if there's not major change in the sector that there could be decisions that are made that are significant in terms of the impact, and unfortunately, that's where we've landed today."

But at the same time, he said: "All of those things we think remain inherently important to the media sector, but any one of them wouldn't have been enough to replace the loss of ad revenue that has brought on this decision or this proposal today."

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