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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Kuttsy's Pitch 3: a news revolution.

People thought, the cue was in the rack, after the second Kuttsy’s Pitch, in August last year. In, what’s become an annual tradition here, along with the DST guide, due in late September, Kuttsy’s Pitch, is an a long form experiment, where I delve into the problems of Seven, and their 5:30 pain in QLD, and try and “reinvent the wheel” by developing a wide ranging solution which could work in real life. 
Note: these ideas are only theoretical.
This year, our solution, is inspired by two factors: 1. being the fact, that Seven don’t have local news on the Gold Coast (something we touched on briefly in the first Kuttsy’s Pitch in October 2009) and 2. being the fact, that Seven has local news in every regional market except Toowoomba (even more important, as QLD’s regional areas become digital TV-only on December 6). I want to take the idea, that Seven needs more local news in regional QLD, alongside local content in Brisbane, and a GC news service. Quite simply, I’m suggesting: a news revolution.

Ten tried to pull this same concept, earlier this year with a second news bulletin, against what has become two lightweight programs, especially in the case of Today Tonight, a far cry from it’s original incarnation thirty years ago, as a Queensland specific current affairs program, that actually reported current affairs. Ten’s concept failed, but saw the network move towards 90 minute news. In this version of a “news revolution”, we’ll apply it to Seven’s entire Queensland operation, and see what it can transform into, if given the opportunity: but it all starts with one change.

Deal: 5pm statewide. There is no mistaking, that Seven needs to take Deal, and change gears, after all, making only one change to the lead-in in three years, has weakened their position, while Nine have begun to win not just nights in Brisbane, but weeks. Why move Deal? Because the 5:30 slot will be revamped dramatically as part of this news revolution: and will impact on every corner of Queensland.

The 5:30 revolution: The key planks, to this are the introduction of local news on the Gold Coast, the introduction of a Brisbane-specific local product, and the resurrection of a QLD-specific edition of Today Tonight, which would air live at 5:30 into regional QLD, and air in Brisbane/Gold Coast live at 6:30pm, straight out of 6pm news, with the capability to not air Brisbane 6pm replay in regional areas, when big stories break.

1. Gold Coast News. It’s a known fact, that 7 have struggled on the Gold Coast, for as long as people have remembered. It’s also a known fact, that Nine dominates, and their news service, (which has been the only full local news bulletin servicing the area for the last decade, after regional broadcaster Prime axed their GC local news in 2000), is a ratings winner. Although Seven has moved from their old GC facilities at Ashmore to digital-ready facilities in Surfers Paradise, the need now is for a competing news service, for a city of 600,000: After all, the Sunshine Coast is half the size of the Gold Coast, and yet it supports two local news services, along with Seven’s regional production facilities.

2. The Brisbane 5:30 solution: 2012, is a major marking point for Seven Brisbane. Twenty years of hell at half-past five: Twenty years of trying to make a national gameshow work in Brisbane, first against Brisbane Extra/GC News, then after 2009, against national gameshow/GC News. The majority of that time, Seven has behind the eightball. Whether it was 7 putting Wheel Of Fortune against Extra, GSE in Extra’s offseason, Local Edition from 5pm-6pm, or Deal or No Deal, in that slot, Seven has not won a trick. What needs to happen is Seven finally admitting their mistakes, and finally restoring the balance, that was there, when Extra was facing off against Wheel, and later DoNd for all those years. The same balance (game show/local show) being tinkered with, is what sunk Local Edition in 2000. Hence why, Brisbane needs the 5:30 solution, as anything less, could sink their news: especially as Nine has made major inroads, with 7’s inaction.

3. Today Tonight QLD Mark 3: A major change for 7, will be the return of a QLD produced Today Tonight, to eliminate the delay, currently suffered, in regional QLD, when watching the east coast edition. Part of this will be the move to 5:30, leading into 7 Local News, and becoming Brisbane produced. To allow for this, the Brisbane 5:30 solution will not air live in Brisbane (being pretaped and sharing the same studio as TT), and that the QLD TT will also air live in Brisbane/GC straight after 7 News, with some SEQ specific stories, to differentiate from the regional flavour. The QLD’s voice slogan will remain, but will actually mean something, including more actual current affairs on the program.

However, the “news revolution” doesn’t end at 5:30. Brisbane’s 6pm, and the existing local news services will stay, however:
4. Seven Local News Toowoomba: The Toowoomba market, is the only submarket in QLD, without a 7 Local News bulletin. I believe the time is right, for Seven to introduce a bulletin in this market: especially after the events of January. A good reaction was received, after 7 expanded local news to Rockhampton in 2010, just before the flood disaster in the Fitzroy catchment. Seven needs to face WIN head to head in every market, and make them as competitive as the Sunshine Coast. But there is one more key ingredient to cement the success of the “news revolution”:

5. Introducing weekend local news to 7 Local News areas: This last step is critical. Weekend news, is something we take for granted in Brisbane. But what about in places like Cairns, who currently don’t get local weekend news, instead getting weekend news from 1500km away. What needs to happen is for the introduction of local weekend news, in every 7 Local News market, with Toowoomba getting weekend local news from day 1 of any new 7 Local News service, and the Gold Coast having their own dedicated weekend local news at 6pm, something that is a necessity, purely due to the size of the market. Weekend news in 7 Local news areas, would work like the weekday bulletins, but would have one statewide weather segment instead of 7 different segments, and a statewide national/world news window, leading into sport. Any Gold Coast weekend news, would be similar to the Brisbane weekend news, except for the lack of a Sunday flashback for GC viewers.

This news revolution, would be wide ranging, and would sow the seeds for a eventual move towards local presentation in the long term: as opposed to 7 bulletins being produced in Maroochydore, but the next need, within the next couple of years will be for a full replacement of the current facilities in Maroochydore, (possibly looking towards a larger complex, able to film three 7 Local News bulletins at once, to allow Cairns/Townsville to have a live bulletin alongside the Sunshine Coast, as opposed to only the SCoast bulletin being live, with all others pretaped, along with the sale of the existing site) as well as hiring more newsreaders, and journalists to fill the ranks (in turn securing a pathway for people, to move to metropolitan news, when the time is right). This is a change that needs to happen, to keep 7 #1, and to help assist when planning begins to replace, the generation that will be replacing most of the BTQ newsroom in a few years, and also Rob Brough in Maroochydore (i.e. getting the next generation started off now, to earn the experience people like Sharyn Ghidella had prior to joining metropolitan bureaus.) This style of planning won't just benefit 7, as it would turn 7QLD into what NBN in Newcastle always has been, a breeding ground for talent, that can go on to big things: (just ask Chris Bath, or Garry Youngberry: both NBN alumni), there only needs to be the will by people working at 7 to make things like this happen. 

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