The axe is hovering over Close Up after a release was sent out yesterday saying it was looking at a 'proposal' to switch it off in favour of what TVNZ's news and current affairs head Ross Dagan calls a "new daily current affairs show with a distinctively different format". Most believe it's already a done deal, and if it goes ahead, the show will finish up by the end of the year, bringing an end to a format that's been running for 23 years.
Most, including ex TVNZ head of news Bill Ralston, are picking that a replacement show will head down the light, fluffy, populist, entertainment path and, as he told Fairfax, the decision will mean "the death of any serious nightly current affairs" at TVNZ. TVNZ isn't releasing details of the proposed new show at this stage and Dagan said in a release "the proposed closure of the show is a pro-active response to feedback that television viewers are looking for something fresh and quite different in early evening current affairs".
According to the Herald, Dagan was one of the main drivers behind The Project in Australia, a prime-time show featuring comedians discussing the events of the day. And, given Kiwis appear to have lost the cultural comedic cringe and embraced panel shows like 7 Days, that could be a viable option. Paul Holmes told Stuff "serious doesn't need to be dour", as shown with the often quite engaging interview/panel format of Q+A. And, with the likes of Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert proving popular Stateside by parodying the news and the newsmakers, there are plenty of options for some freshening up of the 7pm slot. TVNZers Pippa Wetzel, Jack Tame and Tamati Coffey have been mentioned as potential hosts, as has the polarising Paul Henry.
It's thought there was quite a bit of soul searching about the 7pm slot inside TVNZ when Paul Holmes departed in 2004 after 15 years with the network. These shows are hugely personality driven, but it decided to rebrand as Close Up and Holmes' main fill-in Susan Wood was thought to have rated very well (before a few legal issues spelled the end of that relationship). Sainsbury took over in 2006 and Dagan says the ratings have been trending downward recently, although even though some have said the format is past its used by date, the show still managed to attract almost 500,000 viewers last night, the fifth highest rating show of the night across all channels.
Still, there's no doubt things are on the slide. Nielsen data shows Close Up, which generally attracts around double the total number of viewers Campbell Live does, went from a rating of 8.5 percent of the 25-54 year-old market in 2010 to 6.6 percent this year. Campbell Live's ratings went from 6.4 per cent to 5.4 percent in the same demographic.
“Close Up remains the number one daily current affairs show by a substantial margin, but ratings for us and for our competitors in this important time slot have diminished over time," Dagan says. "We’re committed to staying at the forefront of what New Zealanders want to see and we owe it to them and to ourselves to continually evolve and enhance television current affairs. We want to reinvent the early evening slot, to present the stories of the day in a way that is very different to what has gone before."
Dagan, who offered praise and thanks to the 16 member Close Up team, said a final decision on the show will be made by mid-October.
“Everyone on the show is aware that traditional current affairs formats are losing favour with audiences, and this team has set the bar for what’s possible. However, despite the efforts of a group of very talented people, and a degree of success, the company’s view is that this format has simply run its course. As presenter Mark Sainsbury has done a fine job and has earned a deserved place in television history through his coverage of some of the most significant issues in New Zealand’s recent past.”
Sainsbury, who has been with the network for 31 years, was philosophical about the decision, telling Stuff the format had been running for 23 years and admitting that it's probably time for a change.
"I think it's time they tried something different, with someone different," he said.
Competition is good in news. And Ralston believes this decision will also affect Campbell Live. But, in response to the news about the proposed axing, MediaWorks responded by saying the future of the show wasn't in any doubt and, today on Radio New Zealand, head of news and current affairs Mark Jennings said he felt it would actually put more wind in the show's sails as viewers migrated across to TV3.
MediaWorks TV is committed to intelligent, relevant daily current affairs, is proud of the achievements of Campbell Live, and is 100% behind host John Campbell, executive producer Pip Keane, and the Campbell Live team. 2012 has been a particularly strong year for Campbell Live with the show leading the way on many of the most important stories and interviews of the year, from exclusive interviews with Kim Dotcom and Macsyna King to the groundbreaking Crafar Farms investigation. This success is reflected in Campbell Live being a finalist in an impressive line-up of categories at the upcoming New Zealand Television Awards, including:
- Best Current Affairs Series
- Best News or Current Affairs Presenter (John Campbell)
- Investigation of the Year (John Campbell and Pip Keane)
- And two finalist places in Best Current Affairs Reporting for a Daily Programme (Tristram Clayton, John Campbell)
Campbell Live has a strong, loyal viewership, and is popular with advertisers. In the key 25-54 demographic, the programme has been consistently closing the gap on Close Up over the last few years, and has held its ground throughout 2012, while its competitor shed viewers.
So is shutting Close Up down the right decision? Does the country need some hard-arse current affairs interviewers to keep the powerbrokers and newsmakers honest? Does commercial necessity now outweigh civic duty? And is getting more viewers as important as keeping the right ones? The Herald claimed Close Up was struggling to get advertisers (spokesperson Megan Richards was unable to be contacted to confirm this), but much has been written about the stupidity of marketers spending more to chase younger people with less money. And as one of our favourite commentators on the modern marcomms scene, the Ad Contrarian, points out in his post 'This just in: advertisers still idiots', that doesn't make much sense.
As he writes:
- People over 50 control over 75% of the financial assets of the US
- They dominate 94% of all consumer packaged goods categories
- They purchase almost 40% of consumer packaged goods
- Even in technology categories, where marketers assume young people dominate, baby boomers "are purchasing at rates just as high as other segments, and because they are often buying for their kids, many are double-dipping."
- According to Nielsen, less than 5% of advertising is aimed at them
TVNZ has always tended to attract an older and bigger audience, due to what some have called 'the resthome effect'. So as TVNZ becomes increasingly commercial, perhaps it should be looking to freshen things up at 7pm in a way that appeals to "the pig in the python": the boomers with all the cash to splash.