With thoughts of yawning chasms and widespread destruction in Christchurch piquing the interest of the New Zealand populous, many turned to the good old reliable television to get a glimpse of the quake carnage. And with what was basically a full day of live coverage, it's fair to say ONE News smoked 3 News in the media battle.
According to Nielsen figures, more than two million Kiwis tuned in at some point to watch the ONE News Special (8am-7:30pm), while TV3's The Nation, which ran from 11 to midday, drew just 113,800. On Saturday night ONE News drew 902,500 viewers, while the 90 minute special on 3 News drew 308,792.
TV3's dearth of quake coverage on Saturday after the quake hit was perplexing. Even the most passionate of Magnum PI fans would surely struggle not to change the channel to see how Christchurch was coping. TVNZ started live coverage around 7am and TV3 cameramen did apparently get the first shots, feeding footage to Sky News Australia, Channel 7 Australia, CBS in the United States and news services Reuters and APTN. 3 News also ran regular hourly updates.
But the claim "3 News has the strongest live broadcast capability in the South Island" in a press release certainly seemed to be pushing it when compared to ONE's coverage (even if there was a fair bit of repetition from the national broadcaster). TVNZ provided content for CNN, BSkyB UK, NBC, Channel 9, Channel 10 & ABC Australia and Al Jazeera and reporters did nine live reports on Saturday.
Hell, even TV3's velvet voiced figurehead Mike McRoberts piped up about what he thought was a bad decision from the powers that be on Twitter, saying he was disappointed TV3 didn't go with continuous coverage. And Nightline's Rachael Smalley also congratulated TVNZ on its impressive ratings.
TV3 director of news and current affairs, Mark Jennings wasn't too happy with McRoberts and said continuous coverage was untenable because the TV3 newsroom didn't have power until 2pm.
Andi Brotherston, TVNZ's PR manager for news and current affairs, pointed out that 3 News had helicoptered additional technical and reporting staff into Christchurch to add to its broadcast powers.
"We didn't need to fly equipment in. Christchurch is our South Island hub and it's very well resourced with state-of-the-art satellite news capability and a team of very experienced technicians and journalists. We were very confident our existing resources were more than adequate to undertake the marathon news broadcast. So TV3 went to a huge amount of expense ($5-$10K) to helicopter staff and equipment to Christchurch, but they forgot to throw in a power generator? Genius!"
Away from the quake, there was more good news for TVNZ in the news battle against MediaWorks after August ratings figures showed 3 News had lost to ONE News in its own target demographic for the first time since the Beijing Olympics in August 2008.
The average audience across the month of August 2010 showed that ONE News had 205,190 viewers aged 18-49 watching the main 6pm bulletin every evening compared to 198,650 viewers in the same age group watching 3 News. July data showed ONE and 3 News were neck and neck, with ONE News just slightly behind in TV3’s own target demographic, despite a 3 News press release that used the term 'stronghold'.
Following this release of last month's results, TVNZ questioned the validity of the 3 News claims about 'dominating' the Auckland 18-49 Urban demographic, both because the difference between the share in that demographic was just 4,000 viewers and because you can't buy an Auckland Urban advertising spot.
Overall, ONE News averaged 671,030 per night and 3 News hit 376,020, while Close Up averaged 525,430 and Campbell Live drew 252,660.