TVNZ and MediaWorks are always competitive, as the rather confrontational comparative promo TV3 ran after the Japanese earthquake showed very clearly. But this was taken to a new level on Sunday when TVNZ sent out a press release saying 60 Minutes had "lost almost half its audience since March and almost 300,000 viewers per week since February". Embarrassingly, the figures TVNZ used were wrong and, understandably, MediaWorks is none too pleased.
MediaWorks publicity manager Rachel Lorimer, who has also worked in a similar role at TVNZ, says she has never seen a press release based entirely around another network's show, especially one that could be so commercially damaging.
"And if you're going to do that, you better make sure you're right," she says.
The TVNZ release claimed the average audience for 60 Minutes had fallen to 130,060, when in fact it grew its audience in April to 256,500 people aged 5+, an increase of eight percent on the average 5+ audience for March, which was 237,600.
TVNZ news and current affairs PR manager Andi Brotherston says she's put her hand up and said sorry for the mistake and admits it's not good for the network's credibility. She puts the reason for the stuff up down to the total number of viewers being divided by eight shows, rather than four (60 Minutes is repeated on the weekend).
As well as getting the average number of viewers wrong, Lorimer says the earthquake inflated the show's February ratings, "so the figure of 422,100 quoted by TVNZ is an outlier and cannot be compared meaningfully with other months’ ratings".
"Only one episode of 60 Minutes screened in February, and this episode was broadcast on 23 February, the day after the Christchurch quake," she says. "Not surprisingly, ratings were unusually high."
Given TVNZ sends out ratings releases so often, you would think alarm bells would've gone off over such a massive audience decline. Brotherston says the reports came from the research department, but they are automated and while Brotherston did think it was a surprisingly big fall, she says she didn't query it because she knew 60 Minutes was in so much trouble, with MediaWorks currently reworking the whole show, long-time 60 Minutes staffer Amanda Miller joining TVNZ after the Wellington branch was shut down and the move to a new time and a new night to try and compete directly with Sunday, which averaged close to 600,000 viewers last month (add that to MasterChef's numbers and Brotherston says it's killing MediaWorks on Sunday nights at the moment, although Lorimer says the Comedy Gala on Sunday night "won its timeslot in the 25-54 and beat MasterChef in the key demo".)
MediaWorks sees things differently, of course, and says moving 60 Minutes to the premium slot on Sunday night is recognition of the confidence it has in the show and the ability of its staff to break stories.
Adding to the broadcaster's recent release war, the monthly stats for April show 1,602,100 of New Zealanders in TV3’s target 25-54 demographic watched Firstline, 3 News, Campbell Live, Nightline, The Nation or 60 Minutes for their news, compared with 1,578,900watching Business, Breakfast, ONE News, Close Up, Tonight. Q&A or Sunday on TV ONE.
A key contributor to TV3’s audience reach is Firstline, which ended the month with an average 11.7 percentshare in the 25-54 demographic. In contrast, Breakfast lost share for the second consecutive month, ending April down 12 percent compared to March.