The threat of extinction

3d-logoSomething I’ve noticed this year is the endless tears over the loss of Campbell Live and now 3D. “We’re losing quality journalism”, we’re told.

Quality news and current affairs, and journalism, has become like the ballet, or symphony, or orchestra. Adored by a passionate few but for the rest of us, we’d be unlikely to ever attend. At the same time, however, we wouldn’t be too happy to see them gone as we can acknowledge their cultural significance.

Since the beginning of 2014, it was no secret to anyone that both 3D and Campbell Live were struggling with their audiences. Campbell Live, against a rejuvenated Seven Sharp spent all of last year taking steps backward after a significantly good year in 2013. Every week, the story that was being painted was looking bleaker and bleaker. Come 2015, the show was given a lick of paint in the form of new branding but this was hardly the solution to what had been an obvious problem.

After months of publicly reported bad ratings data, the show was put into review. The response from those who had a soft spot for Campbell was hardly any different from someone who’d decided to quit smoking the minute they’d been told they had terminal lung cancer. It was too little, too late. The threat of extinction was the only significant reason the audience had to tune in with the numbers that they did. Even then, it would appear that the Mediaworks executive saw through the numbers and that the loyalty to the program was similar to what I described above in regards to the ballet etc.

Six months later, after a whole lot of energy had been spent on whinging about Mediaworks apparent lack of care over journalism, and their last remaining long form program has been binned. Why? For exactly the same reason as Campbell Live. The ratings for 3D have been an even bigger failure than Campbell Live had been, and that was with a large amount of taxpayer cash to keep the show afloat. While part of the problem was TV3’s endless meddling with the schedule, the noisy few who continue to moan about the demise aren’t part of the majority who clearly weren’t interested in tuning in.

The last two months where 3D screened at the later time of 9:30pm on Mondays saw the average audience break 100,000 only twice. The writing was on the wall. There were numerous reports in the media as to the appalling ratings and yet the very same viewers who appear to have incredibly short memories, weren’t able to connect what had happened with Campbell Live to the inevitability of 3D and choose to tune in to ensure the shows survival.

Mediaworks had moved 3D into Sundays in the hopes that it would finally find its audience there. Considering Sunday does so well for TV One, there certainly appeared to be an appetite for it. Once again, with the opportunity in the viewers hands, the half hour of current affairs delivered lower ratings than what 3 News had been doing.

NZ On Air believed in the format and handed Mediaworks a sizeable chunk of cash. Mediaworks took that cash to enable them to produce a show and fund the quality journalism that all those involved in the program believed in. Despite all those best intentions, the audience levels ended up lower than what 3D had replaced. Can you blame Mediaworks then, for wanting to pull the pin? It has nothing to do with the quality of the journalism the show produced but simply that the audience didn’t buy in.

If you want to know who is at fault when it comes to the demise of quality journalism in New Zealand, it’s not those that are actually producing it. It is in fact the audience’s, who would rather watch cat videos or know what Richie McCaw had for lunch etc etc etc.

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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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  • K

    I feel more sorry for 3D than Campbell, Campbell Live had 10 years in the same time slot to judge their dwindling ratings

    The funniest thing in the JC Metro interview
    “Mind you, you can read the adulation how you want. People still tell him they love what he does and watch him every day. He finds it hard to explain that he hasn’t been on TV for months.”

    Says it all really.

    • Guest

      What does that say to you?

      • Henry Scobie

        It’s rather sad.

  • Jamie W

    Actually, the difference between Campbell Live and 3D is that when the review was announced, people were reminded about Campbell and started watching again. It was the highest rating show on the channel for eight weeks. That’s not a sympathy vote. The same (unfortunately) can’t be said about 3D – and that’s probably in part because it was so many different shows and time slots over the years that it never built a core audience. The type that Campbell had, lost, and had then regained again by the time it was axed. Also, I would hazard a guess that a lot of people who tried to campaign to save Campbell saw that in the end it made no difference – even if it did rate well. So there wasn’t much hope of saving another current affairs show the second time round.

    • Regan Cunliffe

      “when the review was announced, people were reminded about Campbell and started watching again.”

      All that “having to be reminded to watch” says is that after 10 years, the show wasn’t appointment viewing.

      3D failed because it couldn’t attract a decent audience no matter where TV3 put it. Even after the David Bain and Teina Pora stories, audiences didn’t materialise.

      • Jamie W

        What makes appointment viewing? Would as many people watch The Block if they didn’t advertise it? Campbell Live suffered from being ignored completely in sales pitches, its online book, one measly ad campaign three years ago… It was hardly a flagship programme in the eyes of the executives – yet there was a waiting list to advertise. And I would still argue, 8 weeks of solid ratings was something the company could have built on.

        • Regan Cunliffe

          If I had been Mediaworks, I would have milked the ratings for as long as I could have.

          As for advertising the show, I’m not sure there was a need. Everyone knew where the show was and what the content was like.

          As for the show being a flagship program, despite being in review, only one of those 8 weeks rated better than the same week two years earlier, and that wasn’t even the final week which saw the highest ratings for a single episode.

          Comparing a current affairs show to The Block is also apples and oranges – 12 weeks of competitive renovation vs the stories of everyday kiwis.

  • H.M

    Exactly how I feel about the outcome of the two shows, or more the effect of viewers tuning too late to save a show.
    I particularly like the lung cancer analogy, that’s just a perfect way to describe Campbell Live and the reaction to being put into review.
    Great piece of work Reegan!

  • Henry Scobie

    Yup, it’s the cold hard truth. As much as I missed JC when the axe fell, I’d be the first to admit that I was one of a dwindling minority. Sadly, the dumbing down of TV appears to be what the viewing public wants. And in a commercial environment, responding to the market, that’s what they’re getting.

    • Regan Cunliffe

      And yet that approach doesn’t appear to be working for Mediaworks either…

    • Lenny Pane

      And the irony is that as broadcasters appease their sponsors and only chase viewers the audience is slowly, but surely, departing…so in the long run it isn’t what the audience wants. The fact is that the quality of news reporting in NZ is pretty poor, we simply don’t make enough high quality local programming (natural history?/costume drama?/docs?/original quizzes?/music & arts programming?) and we thrash formats too hard (too many eps, low budget, poor casting, derivative). The fact is that there is not enough format development done here and commissioners are too cautious.

      • Regan Cunliffe

        Well said. It’s time for some bold commissioning. We seem to have gone from growth strategies to retain strategies and they don’t appear to be working either.

      • 4by3

        Again, the real issue (or potential?) here lies with NZ on Air. It’s mind-boggling that we are still allowing antiquated commercial media companies to take our taxpayer money – and almost entirely dictate what shows are produced/aired.

        If kiwis want “good journalism”, let’s see NZoA fund a decent independent investigative journalism ‘show’ – and make it available on multiple platforms. Ideally this show (free from the duration constraints of linear broadcast TV) would create both long form AND short/shareable content.

        History has proven that our networks will never deliver ‘bold commissioning’. Time to cut them out of the equation!

  • David Finch

    It’s not the audience’s fault when the network(s) in question clearly don’t value them. Ask anyone over 54.

  • Dave Ian Batten

    TV3 needs to listen to their audience more. The only time I watch TV3…… Well, the only thing I’ve watched on TV3 since Campbell Live got axed was the All Blacks homecoming.