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Monday, August 29, 2016

Kuttsy's Pitch VIII: #BringRickTo7


Welcome to “the tradition”. Eight years on, and Kuttsy’s Pitch is not dead. It is alive, well, and still giving our take on the industry’s biggest question: “What to do with that Brisbane market?”. Before we start, this year, we’d like to take another pat on the back. Kuttsy’s Pitch’s breakdown of Seven on the Gold Coast (and how little it cared about it, back in 2015) in November last year has achieved one thing: Seven finally returning to the GC (as much as they want to dodge the Melissa Downes question: you can’t hide from your past) with a seven day news service, in early July. So, that makes that three (four if the 7 day news service is listed separately) correct predictions from Kuttsy’s Pitch in it’s eight year history, compared to zero pilots commissioned for a Brisbane (not GC)-specific 5:30 solution by Seven, since Extra’s end in June 2009.


But, with this year’s Kuttsy’s Pitch being promoted as “#bringrickto7”, we have to remember that today is ten years, since Rick Burnett’s departure from Nine. As much as we love the hypothetical, this year asks the question that should have been answered long ago. What would it have been like, if it were Rick Burnett had Seven’s eyes on him, from departure day?

#bringrickto7 Part 1: The Rick Burnett Hypothetical: where would we be today?
Note. This is a hypothetical look at the last decade, had events played out differently. Queensland’s television industry would have still been asking plenty of questions after Burnett and John Schluter’s departures from Nine in late August/early September 2006. Bruce Paige would have still renewed with Nine, after “that” TT piece, not long after Schluter’s departure. However, the radio silence concerning both Burnett/Schluter: would continue, until Boxing Day 2006, as we see, the first airing of the rebooted Love You Brisbane campaign (not Queensland, but Brisbane: as a gentle jab at Nine) complete with a face people hadn’t seen on the box in three months… not John Schluter (who was hired by Seven in the slipstream), but Rick Burnett. At this stage, Nine would indeed have been caught for a loop. All the “back to the future” strategy articles concerning Schluter, would be led by Burnett instead, leading to the biggest shock for Nine: Rick being given the vital 5:30 slot, utilizing the brand from the 1980’s 5:30 product attempt with Nev Roberts/Janne Rayner: “PM Magazine” (the reality: it was simply a shifted Seven PM), just as Seven’s news started to rocket up the ratings. This would mean that both Seven’s “PM” crews, and Nine’s Extra crews came into contact on a near daily basis, in some cases both crews ended up getting physical: ending up on of all things, Media Watch. With Rob Readings being encouraged to stay at Seven, for more than a week, the seed is sown for Seven to relaunch a presence on the Gold Coast, right in the middle of Seven’s 6pm ratings peak in Brisbane in 2008, to bring the network to a completely level playing field with Nine, and ultimately, eighteen months after the launch of PM and six months after the launch of BTQ’s GC news, Seven finally overtakes Extra/GC News, and sets in chain major events for Nine, and in the industry as a whole. Reporters leave Extra in late 2008, and with the change to Heather Foord, after another departure for PM: Jillian Whiting, Extra is heading for a boom/bust phase in it’s history. However, Nine launches thisAfternoon from 4-5pm (not 4:30-5:30), alongside Hot Seat, and puts Extra in a precarious position, while being beaten by a Burnett/Whiting double act on PM Magazine. The decision is made at a crossroads: both for Extra and the news service, either a short term effect for big gains for all in the long term, or a long hard road to redemption, seeing Extra axed, and news service fighting to stay alive, while PM/Seven News runs wild. The short term effect is chosen, and Extra in it’s original 17yr old format (that PM adapted from day 1) is dumped on June 29, 2009: in favour of a harder edged news format, that re-ignites the program’s spark: while losing some people who knew they wouldn’t adapt to Extra being a harder edged news program, to the burgeoning PM offices down the road. New sets, and a new theme is composed, which marks the turning point for Nine in Brisbane: a news service that is all new, and all ready to take Seven’s supposed “Extra-proofing” apart brick by brick, and successfully does so, even after thisAfternoon’s axing, and sees for the next two years, Extra’s ratings start to climb again slowly, with the losing streak against a now, Whiting anchored PM, ending in March 2011. The whole nation is talking about the 5:30 fight, and Extra responds even further, by elevating Eva Milic to the anchor chair in late 2011, allowing Heather Foord to step away. Nine’s news would then claim 2012: a major shock, that sees Seven split Kay/Rod, and bring in Bill McDonald to read alongside Sharyn Ghidella, as well as a revived local TT that suddenly sees PM exposed. While the GC news service is still rating for Seven, PM Magazine is shockingly axed by Seven in August 2013, two days before new gameshow Million Dollar Minute debuts. Nine then looks towards expanding local news in Brisbane, surrounding the Extra core, including two hour long news services (4-5pm, and 6-7) pushing Hot Seat to 3pm. MDM took a beating by Extra, and was replaced by a 1/2hr version of “The Chase”, in 2015. Extra under it’s 2009 hard news rebirth format remains on air and is approaching 6500 episodes and 25 continuous years on-air. Seven struggles to get great ratings in Brisbane against it’s old foe, even though it is going gangbusters on the GC.

#bringrickto7 Part 2: The inevitable, Nine reviving Extra.
That last line in the hypothetical, is a effective description of today: Seven fighting tooth and nail for seven years, to get some success in BNE leading into 6pm, when in reality, it’s the GC offcut that viewers never see the ratings for, that has done it. This especially will be seeing heads turning in a board room, down the road. Which now brings us down reality’s road, to December 2013, just months before the passing, of iconic reporter, Brookfield’s own, Doug Murray: when the Courier-Mail ran a piece about a event with a slew of Extra reporters gathering up for a function resembling the Extra Xmas parties of old. A line that sticks out is the following:
“A Nine Network Queensland spokeswoman said although the station was not looking at bringing back the local favourite at the moment, it was not ruled out for the future.”
Courier-Mail article Dec. 2013
(http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/brisbane-extra-hosts-reunite-for-christmas-drinks/story-fnihsrf2-1226775371630)
If Nine wasn’t intending to have long term plans to revive the Extra brand, why would you add the line “it was not ruled out for the future” in a article about a gathering of Extra reporters?
Which now brings us back to today: A Nine scorned, could potentially be gearing up to bring Extra back, not as a kneejerk response to Seven on the GC (like what Nine did in 2000, when it aired a condensed version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire leading into Extra, for the first time, in response to Local Edition), but as a calculated response: Something that would make Seven’s new Brisbane GM shake in his boots, and cause reverberations all the way to McPherson in Sydney.
This below is how we’d do it: Will Nine take a similar path?
Step 1: On Riverfire night (September 24), Nine would air a ten second promo, straight out of Riverfire: only saying, “What they said was dead”, followed by a faint sound, of the 92-98 Extra theme variant. This would loop on air until the 15th of December.


Step 2: Straight after the news, on the first night of the first Australia V Pakistan test (the first Day/Night Test at the Gabba : December 15), Nine would air a twenty second promo, this time, extending the saying into “What they said was dead, is alive and well.”, again followed by the 92-98 Extra theme variant, slightly louder than the first promo. This would loop on air amongst proper Xmas/New Year promos (not the JibJab ripoff from last year), until January 13.


And finally, Step 3: In the innings break, of the first Pakistan V Australia ODI, at the Gabba on January 13, Nine would air a one minute promo, with every Extra reporter still working at Nine, all chipping in their soundbyte of “What they said was dead, is alive and well.” (the official line would be that it is for a doco, to fool anyone leaking to newspapers etc.) to splice within the 92-98 Extra theme variant and imagery of the landmark local program’s achievements throughout it’s original run, culminating in one voice, standing alone: Rick Burnett (who would only be brought back for this promo), simply saying “Extra rises from the dead, 5:30. February 6. Channel 9.”


When Extra is brought back, the program is not only revived from the dead, but continues it’s episode count from the number it was at, on June 29, 2009, as well as a remixed 92-98 theme variant, becoming the new theme of the program.
I am expecting Nine, to make it’s intentions known on how it really will counter 7’s incursions on the Coast, by years end: especially, if the Olympics that has just passed is a 16 day advertisement for Seven’s local news service on the Coast, and people are still hanging around watching their product, not going back to old habits after the games.

#bringrickto7: Part 3: Seven’s biggest mistake… that hasn’t even happened yet.
As Kuttsy’s Pitch, and 2012’s “20 Years of Hell” have alluded to for years, Seven’s lack of interest 10 years ago in Rick Burnett, has been Seven’s biggest mistake in the south-east in that illustrious run of pain at half-past five. But, are we about to witness a mistake even greater: of Extra axing-esque size


In early June, the Courier-Mail (behind paywall) reported that Seven was looking to split with TPD Media: and bring all production in-house as a costcutting measure. For those who had been following TPD’s history, you’d have to realise that TPD’s genesis, was Seven getting out of in-house production in Brisbane in 2004, which saw TPD created as a external firm (but based at Seven in Brisbane), to take over production of the Great South East/Creek to Coast, and fulfil the vision Seven had for a third weekend product, what became, Queensland Weekender. Fast forward twelve years and you now see TPD Media as a production behemoth: not just producing for Seven, but for Nine and other stations, and most critically, external clients, to the extent not seen, since the days of Paul Sharratt’s Starcast production house producing QTQ’s local production output in the 1970s/early 1980’s. This is where any move for Seven to cut ties with TPD will get tricky: as TPD being a independent firm, will simply shop GSE/Creek to Coast and Queensland Weekender to other stations, who would gladly take a high rating program, Seven didn’t want anymore.  And that is while Seven has ambitions to return to in-house production: which could see potentially, replacements developed for those three products by Seven (Brisbane Weekender, anyone?) due to TPD owning the intellectual property of the ”GSE/C2C/QW” products, right down to the iconic Tommy Emmanuel track licenced for the GSE theme. I honestly believe that the move to produce Gold Coast news on weekends, is the first step, towards TPD content ceasing on Seven: and the creation of a in-house division producing weekend lifestyle programming, even possibly, a Extra clone, especially if Seven faces a uphill fight on the Gold Coast.

Epilogue:
As we exit this year’s Kuttsy’s Pitch, we are reminded of two things one that has only just happened, and one that will be one year from now.
The thing that has just happened, is a news director change at Nine: with Mike Dalton, the person responsible for Nine’s Brisbane news ratings turnaround post Choppergate, being promoted to run Nine’s new project: a regional news division (building on the success of NBN’s hourlong comprehensive news service, marking a decade of ownership by Nine in 2017, and until Seven launched their 7 day GC news service, the only regional player on the east coast to produce a 7 day locally-focused news service) that will be supplying newly minted Nine affiliate Southern Cross with content: in preparation for the inevitable, Nine buying Southern Cross’s television operation: while disposing of several assets, once the 70% reach rule for broadcasters is dropped. Coming into the role, of QTQ’s news director will be Amanda Paterson: the current head of ACA’s QLD office, making history herself: Nine’s first female metropolitan news director, fittingly, at the station that gave birth to the expanding role of women in television news in Australia: with the first male/female duo of Melody Iliffe (then Melody Welsh) and Don Seccombe, presenting on Mt Coot-tha fifty years ago. The biggest part about this, is that there will be fresh eyes on the QTQ product, just when they need them the most, with Seven’s Gold Coast ambitions becoming a reality.
The event that will be one year from now: Kuttsy’s Pitch IX: Ether Road. The term, “Ether Road” is in reference, to “Project Ether”, due to launch on 2/1/2018. Lets just say, Kuttsywood’s Couch, on that date will never, ever be the same again. #ether2018.

And finally, Kuttsy’s Pitch VIII also marks a significant milestone for the Kuttsywood’s Couch brand: it’s 100th published post at the dawn of Australian television’s sixtieth birthday. Another pat on the back (twice in the same post, a first) that is well deserved, and is a astounding achievement, of how far we have come in eight and a half years. We are celebrating, behind the scenes, as we prepare for more great moments in the months and years to come. Keep watching.

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