60 Years of QLD TV

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Kuttsy's Pitch V: The Pitch To The Future

The hashtag is #kpitchV

The hypothetical "Pitch From The Past", will be out shortly. It is designed to be read and compared with this post as a companion: thus references to it in this post will be retained.

Welcome to the the future. A future many people five years ago wasn’t even expecting. This is the fifth edition of a enigmatic series. This is a pitch to the future, This is Kuttsy’s Pitch V.
After looking back on what could have been our past if events turned out different, we are reminded of our reality. Brisbane Extra, in June next year will have been gone for five years. Seven in that time have gone through a generational change at 6pm, much like Nine did in the wake of the Extra axe, but one thing still plagues them. Bruce Paige, helping spearhead Nine’s revival, much like a quarter of a century ago. But we ask these questions so you, the viewer don’t have to.

Last year’s post was the most viewed Kuttsy’s Pitch post in it’s history: along with making two correct predictions. The first was the return of a Queensland edition of Today Tonight, albeit with Sharyn Ghidella doing double duty, after the 6pm news. The second was digital switchover, in what it should entail: albeit, with a test pattern from 1959 following the flashback, instead of Kim Durant’s LYB from 1983. But this year, it’s about to go into a major spin, towards the direction of the future. But here’s a prologue.

The promotion of Rob Raschke, and the arrival of Ross Dagan.
In the last days of the 2012 ratings year, a curious announcement was made by Seven: the resignation of their then-news and current affairs chief, Peter Meakin, and the rumor mills were alive, for his replacement. It was eventually announced that Rob Raschke, the then Brisbane news chief, would be running the show nationwide. This left Rob in a even more curious situation: hiring his own replacement in Brisbane, the head of TVNZ’s news and current affairs division, Ross Dagan, not before fast-tracking changes at BTQ: especially after signing Bill McDonald, fresh from a lengthy stint at Ten, to anchor the 6pm news with a double duty Sharyn Ghidella (also hosting a revived Brisbane Today Tonight), and pushing Rod Young and Kay McGrath to a two day schedule.

Dagan’s excess baggage: Seven Sharp
However, the news that Ross Dagan was to leave TVNZ for Seven Brisbane also made news across the Tasman: just weeks before his major commission, for what many New Zealander’s see as their “national broadcaster”: TV-ONE was about to launch. After axing what was the nation’s most popular current affairs program: Close Up at the end of 2012, Dagan commissioned “Seven Sharp”: a three-presenter anchored panel program, “based” on the Project, in Australia, to start in early 2013. It premiered to strong ratings initially, but sunk, with another program starting to beat TV-ONE at 7pm, a major shock, in a country that airs DoNd and Millionaire Hot Seat from Australia, side by side on a rival channel, Prime (once run by Prime Television), at 6pm, against the traditional 1hr national newscasts on TV-ONE and TV3...

The Raschke revolution?
Why did I refer to NZ? Because, very early on in Raschke’s run as network news chief, Seven experimented with hour news: (including regional QLD), during non-ratings (with some TT pieces airing in the 6pm slot), while the Today Tonight brand was making a major change (the most major since the merger of the Brisbane and Sydney/Melbourne editions in 2002), in the wake of Matt White’s departure: with the east coast edition again being split: a Sydney/Melbourne edition presented from Melbourne with Helen Kapalos, and a devolved Brisbane edition with Sharyn Ghidella (which had no promotion until Bill’s arrival was announced, and shared the same set as the 6pm news) were being developed.  All this, on top, of some tectonic change: including Melissa Doyle leaving Sunrise, which brings us to today.

“We’re everywhere you need us to be”: Sharyn Ghidella, recent promo.

Unfortunately for Gold Coast viewers, that is less of a statement: but more of a empty promise. Next year is five years since Seven moved out of their facilities at Ashmore, a facility that served them well, to 50 Appel St in Surfers Paradise. Also, this year is 20 years since Prime(7) launched the first local news service, on the GC, for the GC, that evolved into a 7/Prime co-production, fifteen years ago, anchored by Melissa Downes, before being axed in November 2000 (tucked away, in the slipstream of Local Edition’s failure), after Seven pulled the plug on their end of the deal earlier that year. There needs to be a major strategy by Seven to capture the GC market, and it needs to have started planning now, so it can all happen as soon as DoNd’s future is confirmed.

But how would it be delivered? Simply, by using the BTQ multichannels to their advantage: with a development of a opt-out for both the main channel, and 7Two, much like what is used for Today Tonight in most of regional QLD, which sees TT at 7pm on 7Two, and will likely move to 6:30 (opposite BTQ’s news), especially as the product Raschke commissioned for 7pm debuted recently. The same can be done for the Gold Coast, as seen below.

The fact of the matter is, Seven can make major gains on the Gold Coast, if they thought out their local news strategy. As I once stated: Seven’s focus needs to be to force Nine to improve (as everyone wins with a competitive environment in television news, with much less reliance on things like “Brand Paige”, and more reliance on journalism: the same things that saw Seven Brisbane win a Walkley in 2009: for of all things, a Gold Coast story.), instead of sitting on their behinds. And the only way it can be done, is with Seven finally relaunching a Gold Coast news service, in 2014. The best people in my mind, who can really make a go of it, are the remaining journalists at Seven who helped win the afore mentioned Walkley in 2009: Peter Doherty and Neil Warren (as Michael Best left for Nine in 2012) to be given free reign over what needs to make a good local news service, into a great one.

“Jesus, I am overjoyed to meet you face to face. You have been getting a name all around the place. Healing cripples, raising from the dead. Now I understand you are, God, at least what you said.”
Intro to King Herod’s Song, from Jesus Christ Superstar: as sung by Andrew O’Keefe, on the recent Australian arena tour.

The Brisbane contagion, that gripped DoNd five years ago, is now looking to see Seven’s lead-in face the axe, as the contagion spread to the rest of the east coast. Now, as Seven is increasingly likely to prepare a replacement, the word needs to be put out there, that Seven needs to literally heal a crippled slot, and raise it from the dead. Even if there’s no new GC news, Seven needs to look at a Brisbane-specific solution: even if it means producing the new 5:30 gameshow out of BTQ, just so Queenslanders aren’t ready to turn nearly fifteen years of inaction into a strong force, that could literally sink the prospects of any new 5:30 program: much like the “Extra Army” sunk THISafternoon in 2009.

“This state’s only public affairs program made for Queenslanders, by Queenslanders Sharyn Ghidella, during promo push for a devolved Brisbane TT, earlier this year.

It lived up to the hype… by turning the BTQ news service back thirty years: while in the process mangling the 6pm news, for when it is replayed to regional viewers: something that could bite hard. The move Seven needs to make in 2014, is simply to streamline the 6pm news/TT combo: by doing simple things, like reintroducing closers, and TT openers (for ease of regional stations scheduling and for promotion), separate hosts for TT and 7News (so the Ghidella brand can be rebuilt) and even separate sets. But the biggest thing needs to be a improvement in the content, to break the mold, something that no hour news bulletin can do: even if it still has TT-style content.

“When there is no one complaining, there will be days like this” Days Like This, by Jim Morrison: used by 7 as a promo, since April.

The hypothetical, raised a point. Is Seven’s promotion A1 in this day and age? Unfortunately, it isn’t. You can have the best people working for you, but it cannot work, unless they can conceptualise local promotion, without a guiding hand from interstate executives. Nine have done some amazing work in this field, particularly starting with the Nine for Queensland campaign, five years ago. With all the cuts that have happened at QTQ, since 2009 the one thing that hasn’t been slashed, is the creativity of the promo department:  who have again struck gold, this time with a campaign, a fifth of the cost, of what Seven did, with a licensing deal. “Love This City” is the first campaign by any Brisbane station in twenty years, that has made Brisbane the focus (albeit not mentioned): not Queensland, or Brisbane dressed up as Queensland: and was produced internally at QTQ. There is a major chance, the campaign could end up spreading to newly O&O Nine stations, in Adelaide and Perth: both markets torn to the bone by previous owners… and have strong loyalties in those markets to Seven. The strong loyalties to Seven in those markets, is because publicity and promotion always looks to get a great solution, whether it be with AFL, or public events: The diagram below explains it all, especially compared to Nine and 7 in Brisbane:

Thus, it’s been left to Seven to either hang onto existing deals, like Sanctuary Cove’s Boat Show, or develop new opportunities, like with the Brisbane Winter Racing Carnival. Seven never took advantage of Nine’s financial problems in late 2012, much like the network never redefined the 5:30 slot in mid-2009, and not made an offer for some of QTQ’s events: leading to the renewal, earlier this year (a deal that extends until 2015), of the Brisbane Festival/Riverfire combo deal by Nine: leaving other bidders stunned. The only other way to really look at change is to again look to the past. Seven helped create in the late 1990’s, a shortlived yearly event: entitled “the Festival of The Rivers”, as a “rival” to Nine’s hugely successful association with the Brisbane RiverFestival. Seven needs to not just sponsor existing events: it needs to create them too, which gives their brand exposure, much more than a ferris wheel.

“What obvious?”  Kuttsywood thinking in private, about some things that end up in the annals of the Kuttsy’s Pitch series.

That obvious, is the suggestion last year about merging the regional and metropolitan operations, with a increase in output from the regional outlet on the metropolitan station, while the metropolitan operation would no-longer double dip and not send crews and reporters that fly in/fly out. It is even more important this year, as Seven has made major changes to lineups for the regional market: even experimental 1hr regional news bulletins with a awkward mix of content: much more than metro TT/news hybrids. There needs to be a commitment to launching local news in Toowoomba: a market that Seven hasn’t entered, sooner rather than later, and most critically: rejig weekday slots, if indeed BTQ were to move to 1hr news.

As we close the landmark fifth edition of Kuttsy’s Pitch: there is one more prediction from 2012 that is likely to come true within weeks: a Nine News resurgence in Brisbane, that will win QTQ it’s first year at 6pm since 2006. Seven have been king of the hill for six years: two more than BTQ did in the second golden era in the 1980s. We all know how the second golden era ended: 1hr news replacing State Affair and 1/2hr news in April 1987. The third golden era, it’s end has striking parallels to 1987. The big question is now: whether Seven will make drastic changes to their lineup, only just introduced this year: or will Seven go down a different route? It’s something that could be the spark, for the return of Kuttsy’s Pitch in 2014.

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