Preparing for a 'Youthquake'?
While Gower’s distinct brand of reporting resonates with New Zealanders of all backgrounds, Sutherland says his cut through with viewers in the 18-39 age bracket proves particularly strong; an age bracket traditionally associated with notoriously high levels of political apathy (in the 2014 general election, just 49 percent of 18-28 year old turned out to vote).
“I would wager that there are few other political editors in this country that are as well known in the younger demographic as Paddy. He’s got a very strong brand because of his TV work,” he says.
“There’s a lot of talk about young people turning off TV, but when I look at the viewing numbers for the 18-39 demographic, our 6pm bulletin more often than not wins that timeslot because we have a very strong and loyal younger audience.”
In an effort to leverage Gower’s clout with the youth demographic, Newshub took a multiplatform approach by launching its new online series, Ticked Off, earlier this year. The show helps viewers get up to speed with the latest in New Zealand politics, with 20-year-old newly minted reporter Mitchell Alexander at the wheel while Gower helps out in the passenger seat.
Over at Maori Television, the channel has also taken great strides to engage not just its usual Maori viewership, but its younger viewership as well. Its multiplatform coverage sees the network hosting its own debates, polls and live news stories from a perspective that differentiates itself from the country’s mainstream networks.
“Maori Television is the only network providing debates of the seven Maori electorates and the only media polling the Maori electorates, and the results have been keenly followed by mainstream outlets,” says Maramena Roderick, head of news and current affairs at Maori Television.
“From experience, we know that voters consider debates important in elections and good indicators of where candidates stand. The issues that affect Maori are the same issues that are important to all New Zealanders. Our point of difference is our style of coverage.”
Roderick says that one of the key goals for the channel’s coverage is to focus on the thousands of young Maori who make the effort to enrol but don’t make it to the polling booth. To do this, the channel has created special excerpts on each electorate from a youth point-of-view, put debate candidates through a ‘Beat the Buzzer’ challenge before tackling them with tough questions and is set to give stage to a special youth panel on election night where participants will be able to share their views both on-air and online.
“We’re actively encouraging young audiences by injecting personality back into politics,” says Roderick. “It’s a far more engaging approach for both the politicians and audiences.”
TVNZ has also been making a concerted effort to create space in its coverage for more youth-oriented election issues. Most notably, the network announced it would be holding its first ever Young Voters Debate hosted by Breakfast host Jack Tame which is set to be streamed on 1 News Now and broadcast live on TVNZ Duke. Earlier in the year, TVNZ Duke also began airing a late night political commentary show called Banter, modelled on popular American franchises such as The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
“It’ll be interesting to see how the turnout for young voters might improve on 2014 and 2011, which were both terrible,” Gillespie says in light of the media’s more concerted efforts to focus on youth. “Overseas, we’ve seen these ‘youthquakes’ like in the British election, which made a huge difference. Whether that happens here or not, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Ultimately, whatever happens in this election— whether ‘Jacindamania’ sweeps Labour to power or a ‘youthquake’ really does shake up the result— one thing’s for certain: all eyes will be glued to the TV screen.
This story is part of a content partnership with Freeview.