TVNZ's dodgy programming stunt to challenge NZ On Air funded content

the-almighty-johnsons-2013We’ve heard it said a number of times that there is a common courtesy between broadcasters where they don’t deliberately program content against locally funded shows. This appears to be broken with the new season of The Almighty Johnsons set to be challenged by some sneaky programming changes from TVNZ.

Late last year there was rumour that TV3’s The Almighty Johnsons had been axed, presumably because the ratings weren’t that flash.  However, a month later NZ On Air confirmed funding for a third season.

In 2011, TV3 broadcast the fantasy series about Norse gods who have wound up in New Zealand on a Monday night.  In 2012, it was shifted to Wednesdays and subsequently had a drop in ratings.  This year, TV3 have scheduled the show to screen at 8:30pm on Thursdays from July 4th.  In 2011, the first season drew an average audience per episode of 251,485 viewers while season two drew 193,669 viewers per episode.

The 8:30pm Thursday timeslot on TV2 has had the US fantasy series Once Upon a Time screening.  The series comes to an end this next week with a double episode finale.  The last six episodes have had an average audience of 210,140 viewers per episode.

At the start of the week we heard that TVNZ had sent out an amendment to their schedules (we don’t receive these because we’re not one of those TV praising print organisations) with an interesting change to their Thursday night line up.  We asked TVNZ to confirm if what we’d heard was correct but they were cagey about it and told us that the listings wouldn’t be finalised until Wednesday.  This morning, TVNZ confirmed what we already knew, that they were going to be counter-programming Arrow against The Almighty Johnsons.

Six weeks ago, TVNZ premiered Arrow on a Monday night and then moved it to its regular timeslot of 8:30pm on Wednesdays.  The series has enjoyed an average audience of 325,553 per episode, 35% more than what Once Upon a Time has been pulling over the same period.

This appears to be a blatant move by TVNZ to program a show that has been rating well in its current timeslot against a new series that is funded by the taxpayer simply for the purpose of undermining its ratings.  Spin aside, if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck…

If the unspoken rule around counter-programming against funded content is being ignored by TVNZ then what should NZ On Air’s response be?

Will TV3 retaliate?  Despite the argument that Home and Away is a brilliant lead in for 3 News, why aren’t they putting it up against Shortland Street, at least on Four?  Even if they tried it for a month and made the broadcast a week ahead of the TV3 5:30pm screening they’d be able to gauge how it goes.  Mediaworks have taken the fight to TVNZ over current affairs at 7pm (although some may argue that TV One simply dropped the ball) so why not challenge elsewhere?




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About the author

Regan is one of the co-founders of Throng Media.
If they're on, I'm usually watching Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, Battlestar Galactica, The X Factor, Survivor, House of Cards, Mad Men and the NRL.
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  • Simon

    I’m not sure if your ‘unspoken rule’ actually exists Regan. I remember vicious counter-programming attempts from TVNZ against Outrageous Fortune, and Big Bang Theory was programmed against Almighty Johnsons Series 2…

    • Regan Cunliffe

      Were the BBT episodes reruns? TVNZ seem to put those up against everything.

      • Simon

        No, they were first-run. Huge ratings.

  • I believe the counter-programming issue is only NZOA funded programmes against one another. Effectively NZOA doesn’t want to be funding TV programmes against each other so they prefer (request?) that they not be programmed against other NZOA funded shows.

    Otherwise I expect that it’s no holds barred in commercial TV programming, just as you’d expect.

  • Invervegas

    NZ On Air’s preference is that content they fund is not scheduled against each other, in order to give the opportunity for their funding to be put to good use and see a show thrive.
    But there’s no rule regarding international content, and certainly no reason why the networks wouldn’t want to out-rate each other at any possible opportunity. It’s the nature of being a commercial business.

    • Regan Cunliffe

      It’s the nature of being a commercial business.

      Except these commercial businesses rely on taxpayer funding to produce local content.

      What is the difference between funding two shows that are going to go head to head and funding one show that is going to get a hiding from a similar, bigger budgeted US made production targeting the same audience?

      By all means, have a programming war, but if you’re going to deliberately undermine the efforts of a public funding body, isn’t that biting the hand that feeds?

      • Invervegas

        There’s no reliance on taxpayer funding for local content. For instance, TVNZ produces about six hours of local news and lifestyle content each day, funded entirely by advertising.

        We’re fortunate in New Zealand to have a Government organisation which funds the creation of new projects, such as dramas and documentaries. Their preference is that two NZOA-funded shows are not scheduled against each other.

        If TV3 chooses to schedule a NZOA-funded show, and there is no existing NZOA show competing with it on another channel, then it’s fair game for another network to schedule a high-rating show in competition.

        • Regan Cunliffe

          I’m not saying it’s not fair, I’m questioning the ethics of it…

          • Carol_56

            What do you expect them to do – just play out colour bars and tone at that time (so no one will watch TV2) just to please NZOA??

          • Regan Cunliffe

            when you’re ready to put forward a reasonable argument I’ll be happy to debate it with you

  • David Finch

    This is just another anomaly of so-called “public broadcasting” (publicly funded at least) on commercial channels. TVNZ is just doing what’s expected of it. In a sense all programming is “counter programming”.

  • Trevor Ashman

    That’s disgusting…..I wish the almighty gods would zap TVNZ until it hurts like crazy 🙂

    • Sam

      Trevor, we all know you love TV3 and hate TVNZ. No need to keep telling us all.

      • Trevor Ashman

        Of course I love TV3….TVNZ are SO up themselves 🙂

  • Harrison

    Meanwhile TV3 put House Rules on every night from Tuesday to Friday at 7.30-8.30, NOT HAPPY 🙁

    • Reece

      So its up against local series Mitre 10 Dream Home on Tuesdays. TV3 are just as bad as TVNZ then??? although TVNZ’s planit had Dream Home penciled in at 7.30 monday after hour mondays for Shortland Street ended. Sitcoms were penciled in for tuesday nights.