60 Years of QLD TV

Days elapsed since Local Edition's end.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Kuttsy's Pitch VI: The Big Time

The social media hashtag is #kpitchVI.

Welcome to the sixth edition, of a tradition. Five years ago this month, Seven last won a week at 5:30 at night in SEQ: (Kuttsy’s Pitch ignores any claim by Seven that this drought was broken in late May this year due to the poor ratings performance both before and after Million Dollar Minute had repeatedly tried to give away their top prize), and most critically, today being 5000 days since the end of Seven’s only major attempt to try and steal Extra’s audience with a original local product in late 2000: Local Edition. Accordingly, this post is published 5000 days to the minute the final episode of LE finished: not August 20, like in past years.

But with this, we are proud that the three biggest names from LE are doing well: Peter Ford narrowly missed out on Senior Australian of The Year earlier this year for his work on Neuroswitch (aiding paralysed people in using modern technology), Sarah Harris, after years of being in the background at Nine post LE, made the switch to Ten towards the end of 2013 to join EP Rob McKnight (responsible for Seven’s promos for the late Ian Ross coming to 6pm in Sydney, as well as Nine’s social media-led recovery in the early part of the decade) on Ten’s new morning program Studio 10 (something that Rob himself refers to as "the little show that could"), while Melissa Downes got the best gift of all: after 2013 coming down to the very last night of ratings, Nine won it’s first 6pm ratings year since 2006. That moment proved how far we have come in five years, and how far Seven has come in 5000 days: from rock bottom, to the top and now back to square one.

"There are ongoing talks with the network, and once armed with the right formula, they will take another crack at Extra" David Franken (then BTQ program director, referring to the post LE consensus, that Seven would return to producing a local product at 5:30 Monday-Friday), "Battle Stations" Courier Mail, July 5, 2001.

Genesis: the beginning, many people say that Seven’s decline in QLD began with Bill McDonald coming back to Seven in January 2013, to anchor the 6pm news. The decline began in my mind back when many of the Ten reporters that have gone to Seven (including BTQ news director Ross Dagan) were still at Ten: back when they were more inclined to poke fun. In fact Ross at Ten, reacted better to the Extra axing than Rob Raschke did. “Something Extra” was a fun line by 10, but it will forever be the symbol that Seven missed the boat on retaining viewers faith. Fast forward five years, Seven is now in a embarrassing position, that it’s more inclined to spend millions on the Olympics, than spend millions on arresting the decline in fortunes the lead in had been through in SEQ post Extra: all while the news service also suffered. This year has been a rollercoaster ride for Seven, only winning 5 weeks this year at 6pm in SEQ, after a botched conversion to 1 hour news, a botched move to introduce a new news theme (only for “The Mission” to return within a week, comparable to when WPVI in Philadelphia in the US, 18 years ago, redid their version of Move Closer To Your World (which 10 Syd/Melb/Adelaide used in the 80s), utilizing a orchestra, only for the original theme to return within days) with the axing of the local Today Tonight, while Nine’s own move to one hour has been successful to the point, that at this stage of 2014: Nine has won the year comprehensively (compared to coming down to the final night of ratings last year in the closest result since peoplemeters were introduced) with major victories (including quite a few M-F sweeps by Nine,) turning Seven’s long held “advantage” on weekends, to a major dis-advantage.

This year is also five years since Seven relocated from Ashmore to 50 Appel St Surfers Paradise. The promise made then (infront of executives, then Brisbane news director Rob Raschke and then head of news for 7, Peter Meakin, at the “launch” in late 2009) was that Seven would set up a news service for the GC specifically in the future. The future arrived, but the news service (which would have likely been up against the existing service at 5:30 on Nine) never materialized… until one big signing gave people some hope. Paul Burt jumping ship to 7 not long after Kuttsy's Pitch V last year, would have been seen by Nine as a major sign that Seven were about to take the GC seriously, to the point Nine invested in a promo series post Burt departure as well as bringing back Natalie Gruzlewski and hiring Luke Bradnam (brother of Nova Brisbane breakfast presenter Ash Bradnam)  from Hot Tomato's drive program, to do coastal reports. Unfortunately, all Seven has done since acquiring Burt is increasingly widen the gap and the cost to employer (especially when Burt started doing forecasts/surf/fishing reports outside the Gold Coast), to the point no-one wants to take Seven seriously on the GC, especially if people were expecting a second, competing news service within a short time of Paul Burt’s arrival. All this while Bradnam is dominating with Nine: while still doing his dominant locally produced drive program with Hot Tomato (outrating networked products from SCA-owned Gold FM and Sea FM in recent surveys). So, accordingly this year we actually decided to crunch some numbers concerning how much GC news 50 Appel St produces in a week. I sat down for 7 days, between the 13th and 19th of July, and kept a eye on how much “Gold Coast” news Seven was producing, for their 6pm bulletins, on the basis of what ACMA defines as local news: simply, “news directly relating to the local area”.

What came out of it astounded me, and will likely astound anyone working at Nine, who consistently produce, 5 nights a week, a 24min Gold Coast news service. Seven, during the week of 13-19 July (chosen, because of the lead-up to the opening of the G:Link light rail project), only produced 12 minutes and 15 seconds of “local news”. In fact, we counted the five live weather crosses from the Coast by Paul Burt (two from 50 Appel, and three from various GC locations (Southport, Budds Beach and Main Beach): Thursday night’s was in Brisbane) they added up to 15 minutes and 30 seconds: 3 minutes and 15 seconds more than the actual Gold Coast news stories Seven presented for the entire week, and not even getting close to Nine’s 120min of local news presented by them every week. The actual figures are below, in a image that would send waves through 50 Appel, including a comparison if a local content quota was to be mandated (putting them on a level playing field with regional networks serving the GC, as part of the wider Richmond/Tweed area) for BNE stations serving the GC by ACMA, as well with how it was delivered.
GC news timing for BTQ from 13/7/14-19/7/14

This is even more embarrassing, as two weeks ago (19/8/14) a deal was stitched up for Seven to broadcast the 2018 Commonwealth Games (devoting 2/10ths of a hour bulletin to plugging themselves), likely without looking at the quality of news to the region Seven would deliver in 2018, compared to 2014. As I said around that time on social media: “World class cities have more than one news service. Unless 7 launches GC news by 2018: tourists, athletes etc. will all be watching Nine.” Seven now has one shot to try and establish itself on the Gold Coast, the greatest opportunity given to a Brisbane station since TVQ-0 signed on to exhibit at World Expo 88, just over 29 years ago. I have one piece of advice for Seven right now. Don’t blow it, by not taking Nine head-on, especially in the long term.

“Every challenge. Every survivor. Every family. Every hero. Every change. Every city. Every rescue. Every celebration. Every picture. Every reaction. Every extreme. Every adventure. Every heart. Seven News, Everywhere.” Seven News promo, released in July 2014, including the line “Queensland’s #1 news.”

The stated overconfidence of Seven (their hubris if you will), is a throwback to the last night of ratings in 2013. The ratings year last year was on such a knifeedge, that they thought of putting a major spanner in the works, on Friday November 29, to try and force a 20 weeks-all tie. Seven’s lead story in Brisbane that night, was a dredgeup about a Brisbane level crossing accident in 2012: which incidentally ended up in their latest promotion eight months later. Nine won that night, and the year simply based on story selection from Seven themselves. As they entered 2014, and even after Nine claimed the 2014 ratings year, they continually reminded viewers that they were “QLD’s #1 news” despite the critical OzTam figures pointing to a narrow Nine win in 2013, and a convincing Nine win in 2014. This situation is a direct reminder of what happened in 1999 in Perth, where STW-9 and TVW-7 went to court over one word: “leading”, and whether it misled viewers (which Seven lost): and made a fairly interesting edition of Media Watch in July of that year. Now as we go forth towards a shocking endgame for Seven in Queensland, they have to wonder (especially as Nine took out 2014 comfortably) whether it’s better to spend $4m (equivalent to replacing MDM in SEQ with a GC news/BNE product combo) on promoting the news, or spend it on the news itself, with some extra promotion on the side.

Promo for BTQ's news in 1985, in the wake of TVQ-0 moving to a hour, and Bruce Paige arriving at Nine. (From SLQ Courier-Mail microfiche).

As we hurtled towards the 5000th day since 7 had local product leading into 6pm Mon-Fri, 2014 as we’ve seen so far: turned out to be mistake riddled. Take in point, the network signing up for the Ekka earlier this year, and not only delivering a experience worse than what Nine had presented since 2009 (Nine did 10 nights of 6pm news presented from the Ekka site every year between 2009-2013 (the first year debuting a prototype 2-person desk for 6pm (which ended up on the Gold Coast when Brisbane adapted the one-person desk from Sydney/Melbourne for use by two anchors), as well as their giant plasma, months before a new set was revealed), while Seven copied what they did in Sydney/Melbourne, a simple newsdesk simulation experience), but not using it as a promotional opportunity the 6pm news sorely needed, with preferential treatment going to other products such as the failing MDM, the X Factor or the Amazing Race, even the weekend local products that consistently outrate MDM and Hot Seat (and is more than enough proof that Seven needs to be in the local programming business 7 days a week at 5:30) got the plum People’s Day gig over Bill McDonald and Sharyn Ghidella, people who are the face of all that Seven promotion, and the face of the suffering and hell that 2013’s fight to the bitter end spawned, and 2014 turned into a disaster movie. It’s no Sharknado, but Seven’s biggest nemesis to recovery is Seven themselves. 

Another case in point was the Encore Score by Mumbrella: who earlier this year judged how recognisable certain TV personalities are in various Australian states, it must have been a embarrassment to Seven, when Bill McDonald was found to be less recognisable to Queenslanders, (despite 8 years anchoring Ten’s news prior to returning to 7 in 2013), than Nine’s popular Melbourne newsreader, Texas, QLD’s greatest export: Peter Hitchener in the Encore Score survey. That’s right: a Melbourne newsreader was more recognisable in Queensland than a local newsreader, in a national survey. As we exit nemesis, we are reminded of one thing that Seven has got badly…

Ahh yes, “victory disease”. It happens to armies, navies, air forces and other organisations. It happens to sporting teams, and it happens to successful news bulletins.  As a source mentions: “Victory disease” is…
Victory disease denotes when in military history, due to complacency or arrogance brought on by a victory or series of victories, an engagement ends disastrously for a commander and his forces.

A commander may disdain the enemy, and believe his own invincibility, leading his troops to disaster. That commander may employ strategies which, if effective in earlier combats or maneuvers, prove catastrophic against a new or smarter enemy; the commander afflicted by "victory disease" may also fail to anticipate a new enemy may use tactics different from those of old enemies. An overconfident commander may disregard military intelligence which would enable the commander to realize that new tactics are needed” From “Victory disease” on Wikipedia.

Seven in Brisbane, and to a similar extent: Sydney/Melbourne had become too accustomed to victory. We must remember the following. Sydney fell slowly, after Ian Ross’s departure, then Melbourne fell after some changes in content: and then Brisbane in November 2013 after management both locally, and nationally underestimated the viewer loyalty to Kay McGrath and Rod Young. Now has come the time to really look at coming up with new strategies, including 5:30 at night. The lead-in Million Dollar Minute, one year on from launch (and two hosts later) is not the hit Deal was in 2004, when it was adapted into a 1/2hr format. The Family Feud revival on Ten, leading out of their news (which often is competitive with MDM in SEQ) is a hit, for a struggling network needing one, something Seven should have looked at twelve months ago, instead of commissioning MDM internally, as after all: some of the most successful game shows ever seen on Australian TV screens (Wheel of Fortune, Family Feud, DoNd, The Price Is Right, etc.) are all based on strong, licenced format-based products: and will explain why MDM, like it’s father “Million Dollar Chance of a Lifetime” (originally hosted by Frank Warrick) will fail to stand the test of time. And this is why, Kuttsy’s Pitch this year has been promoted on one line for nearly twelve months, not just concerning the time that has passed since LE ended: but Seven’s failings post Extra: simply, “5000 Days, The Big Time.”

As we exit Kuttsy’s Pitch in 2014, we will remind you to stay tuned next year for Kuttsy’s Pitch VII. Will it be in August (back on the 20th), or will it mark 20 years of Gold Coast news on Nine? Will it mark the third consecutive year of Nine dominance, or will it mark 15 years since LE’s end? Will it be here as usual, or will it not appear due to Seven’s response to a horror streak this year. Only time will tell, as it always does, whether it be 5000 seconds, or 5000 days. But I leave you with one more number.

359: In 6 days time (September 5 2014), Nine’s Gold Coast news service will have been on air 12 months longer than Brisbane Extra had been. If that doesn’t put shivers down Seven’s spine about taking it on head to head, or Nine’s for that matter if they tried to do a Extra-style axing (knowing how hard it was to get QTQ’s news back rating well, from the post-Extra blues): I really don’t know what will.

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