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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Kuttsy's Pitch IX: Ether Road

It’s back for the ninth time. You feel it coming, around 5:30 at night. A hard earned win deserves the best sort of criticism, and the best sort of criticism is from Kuttsy’s Pitch, a long deep pitch…

Wait, how did the VB ad somehow get into this… Welcome to Kuttsy’s Pitch IX: Ether Road. Right now, we are counting down the days until the Ether rebirth of Kuttsywood’s Couch, but there is still issues at hand that can make Seven and for that matter: the industry sweat.


Let us begin with the inevitable.
Seven’s GC ambitions realised.
When Kuttsy’s Pitch VIII was published, a year ago: Seven’s second attempt at GC local news was only six weeks old, with very little ratings figures reported. What a difference 12 months makes. As of July 4 this year, the gap between 7 and 9 on the GC at 5:30 at night Monday to Friday is now a mere 10,000 viewers: year on year, however, the flow on effect of all this sampling (likely done on weekends: where Seven’s gamble on shifting their advertorials (now produced in-house: after the GSE brand was torn up) on the GC has paid off) in the last twelve months hasn’t spread to the 6:00 news like Seven had hoped. Nine celebrated the long awaited conversion of their news service to HD production with a ratings year clinched on July 29, leaving Seven with a major issue going into the biggest advertisement, it’s Gold Coast news will have if it needs to succeed in the long term, against the tides of a rapidly changing media market on the Coast (e.g. the potential for WIN to set up news bulletins on the Gold Coast, on newly acquired NRN (it’s sales team moved from Broadbeach to Southport recently) along with Sky News setting up it’s own facilities in Southport, within the Gold Coast Bulletin newsroom, even the potential of a CBS-run Ten expanding Gold Coast coverage): the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
That issue is simply: Seven now needs to put it’s focus on getting Monday to Friday in Brisbane right. And it all starts with taking a gander at what Nine is selling to viewers.

#9NewsALDI: The Extra-fication of Brisbane’s 9 News.
You see the promos every night. Another locally made consumer piece by Nine News in Brisbane, usually sandwiched between the last break of the night, and the weather, to keep people watching. The problem is: this type of story (similar in scope to what Extra would have run) is now getting a fanbase… for the wrong reasons. There are now people online constantly being critical of the choice of stories running in these slots, even though Nine’s news in Brisbane is dominating ratings with them: most notably, any piece promoting the Aldi supermarket chain, hence the term: #9NewsALDI in reference to it. The big problem for Seven is, they have tried to copy this, and have failed majorly… but their focus must and should be, to eliminate this sort of stuff, if it has any chance at all at catching up with Nine. Then, and only then: will Nine also drop this sort of 24hr story promotion and actually make a move to producing real news, in a age where the term “fake news” abounds. The best way for Seven to attempt to copy this: is simply to launch a new Brisbane product at 5:30 at night, to try and steal Nine’s thunder. It could be successful, or it could poke Nine into bringing Extra back, to again try and regain some real news credibility in the “fake news” age.

The second factor for Seven is simply admitting something very major…
Bill and Sharyn: Splitsville… inc. the Auden Audit.
Four years of constant losses will take a toll on a relationship. Even Nine regained some success after 3 and a half years of persisting with Downes, Lofthouse and Youngberry. The fact Seven still cannot shift viewers away from Nine, is a major statement that needs to be addressed: and needs to be addressed soon. After all, with it being ten years this year since Sharyn was brought to the weekend gig, I might show a highlight of a upcoming post: with a reference to what Seven faced back when the decision was made to bring Bill to Seven in 2013.

“The problem of promoting Ghidella, and giving her a partner at the desk (let alone one coming from a station that was constantly third in news ratings), was simply something going against the grain of what Seven had “coached” viewers for six years after her arrival in 2007, into thinking, that Sharyn would eventually replace Kay McGrath, and Sharyn Ghidella would eventually read the weeknight 6pm news, alone, bringing Brisbane in line with Sydney and Melbourne.”
Excerpt from “Kuttsywood’s Couch at 10”: currently being built, and due in mid-2018.

The move has to now be made by 7, to admit that Bill McDonald as a lead news reader in a duo, with Sharyn Ghidella is not working, and begin the push to have Sharyn present weeknights solo. As soon as Sharyn’s solo, bring Bill back into the sports department, as a potential replacement for Pat Welsh, along with pushing out Shane Webcke/Gilly, and reformat the entire sports presentation, so it is no longer freelancers reading out scores over footage. Instead, you will see a sports reporting team, actually going out and reporting sport: including attending training sessions, and potentially reporting live from them. And then there is the weather. It needs to finally go back to M-F/S-S presentation, including hiring a dedicated weekend weather presenter for Brisbane (instead of the laziness of a 2hr shoot for Paul Burt on the GC (not just for 6pm, but the GC 5:30 news, every weekend) along with sending Tony Auden to do some study: of the body of work of one presenter overseas in particular.

That presenter: the US Weather Channel’s hurricane expert: Bryan Norcross.
The Norcross body of work’s greatest highlight, was twenty five years ago this month: Hurricane Andrew, hitting Miami, where at the time, Bryan was working as a weather presenter for the NBC O&O in the market (who made a bold move towards improving hurricane coverage): which was tested when Andrew hit. Bryan brought out his maps, helped people calling in to the station, had a direct line to the National Hurricane Center (also based in Miami: and lost it’s rooftop radar in Andrew’s gusts) and even had the entire in-studio news team covering the event relocate to shelter, to show viewers that they too needed to be in a position of safety, while Andrew barrelled over the greater Miami metro area. Alongside this, Norcross insisted on reporting on the recovery: especially as so many residents lost houses, and was in amongst the lengthy rebuilding effort.
The Norcross approach is what Seven should be taking when it comes to reporting on major weather events such as cyclones in Queensland: They have the reach, it is now time to make it happen, especially after it’s coverage of Cyclone Debbie hitting the Whitsundays in late March, got hit for six by the ABC’s Media Watch, and the network’s actions in the weeks afterward (sending Sunrise on a paid trip to America, instead of repeating the mass tradie volunteer effort done after Cyclone Larry hit Innisfail in 2006) will be explained in length here.

The “Did” and “Do In The Future” of Cyclone Reporting: Cyclone Debbie edition.
What Seven did #1: Flew David Koch, Bill McDonald, Paul Burt and Chris Reason into the storm zone, and had them all with live link crews: not knowing whether or not where they’d each end up would withstand the impact of either a direct hit, or being on the southern edge.


What Seven should do in the future #1: Rely on the 7 Local News crews and journalists on the ground in these areas, and invest in live link equipment for them, instead of risking out of town and interstate talent’s lives for the sake of being one step ahead. If Seven want to send someone from out of town: don’t send a anchor or a weather presenter: they are more needed in-studio, than being out on the field, send a journo who can take the heat, and work on the story in the days and months (yes, months: folks) afterward, and potentially win awards for the work surrounding it.


What Seven did #2: Had some of these high priced talent, that had been flown up, outside risking life and limb, when authorities specifically said, to stay indoors.
What Seven should do in the future #2: No more risking peoples lives during an cyclone, to get the big scoop. A shot of a reporter in a safe position will do more to keep people safe, than a million stupid crosses of multiple reporters outside in the thick of it. That is something not just Seven should take on board, but every television media outlet covering cyclones hitting the QLD coast. The safety of journalists, takes precedence over the scoop every time.


What Seven did #3: Had Sharyn Ghidella anchor Debbie coverage on her own in the studio, throwing to live crosses like a speeding car.

What Seven should do in the future #3: Sharyn Ghidella should not be the only one on set most of the time. In fact, the only other person who should be on the desk itself (i.e. sitting next to Sharyn) during a weather emergency, is none other than Tony Auden himself. The need for reliable information direct from the source is more important than having your weeknight weather presenter seen out in the danger zone, like Nine did.

Other things Seven should do in the future, when it comes to this kind of coverage include:

-More emphasis on physical items in studio: including a critical item, a physical map of the impact area, to be looked at from time to time.

-An direct line to the Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre, at the BOM in Brisbane, including facilities for live crosses by BOM TCWC staff, that can be utilized by any station: that is, a non-exclusive link.

-A radio network throughout coastal Queensland, that can flip to Seven coverage at the drop of a hat: along with a potential idea of distributing transistor radios between Coolangatta and Cairns, with both the 7 News logo and local radio frequency, and some cyclone safety tips. TV stations relaying on radio, was a critical idea, in the heat of the moment concerning Hurricane Irma, where radio stations along the Florida coast simply suspended regular programming during off-peak periods, and took TV feeds instead: a idea first drawn out with Andrew 25yrs ago, where WTVJ in Miami broadcast over music station, Y100’s FM frequency: 1. in case power was lost to their television transmitter, and 2. to reach as many people as possible.

-Tony Auden needs to be more active on social media, reiterating cyclone safety tips whenever a threat is spotted. More people taking on basic measures (including some of Bryan Norcross’s suggestions pre-Irma, such as valuables stowed in switched-off dishwashers, bags of water frozen in freezers prior to the event, to make frozen food last longer etc, along with the effort by Bryan afterward to gather more tips from his FB base (as of 14/9/2017: 56k likes on FB, compared to Tony Auden’s paltry 10k (even Higgins Storm Chasing has more likes on FB (660k) than Tony Auden, Seven!), means the less heartbreak later on.

-And most critically, a major focus must be made on the recovery effort, for any potential natural disaster in QLD, from the moment the first cleanup crews arrive to assess damage. Be in for the longhaul, and assist where possible: including reforming the networks Seven had (through the Sunrise breakfast program), when the “Tradie Army” was flown into Innisfail.

The Auden Audit: cont.
The type of coverage Seven should also be utilizing, is moving towards what America calls “storm team coverage” where, instead of one weather presenter handling everything (something that is problematic for a state like Queensland): there is a team of meteorologists on station staff (inc. weather presenters working on putting together accurate weather reports, alongside advanced technology, to help make the standard forecast more exciting, as well as more relevant to viewers. After all: Brisbane gets it’s fair share of severe summer storms: a improved forecast, inc. adoption of the trend of “Severe Weather Alert Days”, again from America, could potentially wrest people off Nine, and possibly reinvent television weather presentation as a whole in this country, which hasn’t really changed in Australia for around twenty years: with the introduction of seven day forecasts in the late 1990s.
Which brings us to another part of this complex: promoting Auden, something Seven has no idea about.
Even TVQ: when they had hired Ray Wilkie, fresh from a 35 year stint at the BoM, (which included the job of tracking Cyclone Tracy’s path into Darwin, and seven years running the QLD BoM office) in 1985: made light of his past employment at the BoM on many occasions during the early years of his time there. Why isn’t the same sort of promotion there for Auden?
After all: when you have your weather presenter promoted this way as below, usually at 6:32 at night:

Tony Auden, certified by the BoM.Recent 7 promo for Auden.

Simply, no-one will watch, where as if Tony Auden was promoted like below:

Tony Auden: Worked for nine years at the BoM, amongst the greatest QLD weather events of the 21st century. Cyclone Larry. The Gap storm. The drought of the late ‘00s. The flood of 2011. Cyclone Yasi, along with everything in between: and all that was before, he joined Seven.
You suddenly have viewers more educated, in the Auden backstory, meaning they can be invested in Auden reliably: once other factors such as the weather presentation and production rework, is enabled.

And how should Seven deliver any rework in 2018, I wonder?

How Seven should deliver a comprehensive reboot of the Brisbane news service: from now to implementation.
From past experience, a bulletin rework of the magnitude we are recommending should be worked out six months in advance: however, with the problems plaguing BTQ’s news today, we will list out it over a eight month period, culminating with the most important night in eighteen years (i.e. since October 2, 2000) for Seven in Brisbane: Monday, April 16 2018: the night after the GC2018 closing ceremony.

NOW: Begin the process for the procurement of a new set through a international search (i.e. not have BTQ GM go to Iceworks and order an new set off the plan), which must require the following:
-Include a desk built for the studio it’s in, with provision for a single anchor.
-Weather gets a more detailed area than a plasma screen. It needs to deliver more than Auden reading a autocue.
-Copy of set developed for Seven’s regional operation in Maroochydore.
-Live shot is enhanced, no longer with a plasma, but a LED wall.

By the end of November: Drop hints about a major rework of the BTQ 6pm news, in 2018 to the media, and continue doing so throughout summer non-ratings.

Feburary: Begin the hiring spree for the retooled sport and weather presentation: Shane Webcke is phased out of presentation, while the new staff begin to make a impact, including actual reporters for NRL, actively going to training sessions and games, instead of VO out of a booth.

March 26-April 15: BTQ news is presented out of 50 Appel studio on the Gold Coast, for the leadup and duration of the Commonwealth Games. Meanwhile, BTQ studio is a hive of activity, as the new set is installed, along with some rehearsals on the new set. Promos also air throughout the Commonwealth Games, for a reborn 6pm news on 7, coming April 16.

April 15: Three full page ads for the reborn news, one for solo Sharyn, one for Bill moving back to sport and one for the weather team led by Auden. Prime promo spot during closing ceremony, reserved for a cinematic promo, introducing the new set and new BTQ and STQ news format, ending in the revival of the line “Nobody in Queensland Knows News Like Seven”

April 16: New format debuts, more American-esque (inc. 7 News logo done like modern NBC Nightly News), along with STQ axing weather in favour of Auden presenting an detailed 5min statewide forecast, and BTQ news going live at 6:25 into all markets (inc. second opener), instead of the 20min edited version of the Brisbane bulletin currently airing in regional QLD.

And that closes Kuttsy’s Pitch for 2017. Keep a ear out for Kuttsy’s Pitch X and Kuttsy’s Pitch: #Bris3xit in 2018, and enjoy Kuttsy’s Radio Pitch, being released alongside this mainline edition this year. It has been two years of work, but it is finally finished, with it’s evolution in the last eighteen months, into a fixer piece for MRN, who just cannot realize that 4BC targeting a younger demo to their station may be able to save it, from the inevitable: a station only 65+ listen to, nobody else, along with 4BH returning to a locally run music format that could be more profitable than the current “Talking Lifestyle” format that has flatlined in ratings.

And, remember. On January 2, 2018: It. All. Begins. Again. #project_ether.

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