Campbell Live gets existential, as MediaWorks spoils for a 7pm fight—UPDATED

The battle for New Zealand’s 7pm eyeballs in 2013 has been a topic of much conversation recently given the departure of Close Up last year and the arrival of Seven Sharp. That battle became even more interesting when the architect of those changes, Ross Dagan, resigned from TVNZ after less than a year in the role to head back to Australia. And, not surprisingly, Campbell Live, which kicked off again last night after its summer marketing campaign with a new logo, a new set and a renewed focus on “the issues that matter to New Zealanders”, is hoping to capitalise on the changes. 


Ahead of the year’s first show, MediaWorks and Special Group ran the ‘You’ve got questions, it’s time for answers’ campaign, which featured a billboard with a Twitter hashtag (#timeforanswers), an online banner where questions can be typed in for the Campbell Live team, and a TVC featuring a track by Alt J that offers smartphone users the ability to Pluk their questions. 

The banner has been running on the NZ Herald and MediaWorks sites for the past week and, as well as questions submitted via its 40,000-strong Facebook community, over 1,000 viewer questions have been submitted through it so far. And, according to Special Group’s Tony Bradbourne, the clever bit is that the banner loads with other questions people have been asking to prompt you ask to your own, almost like “a live feed of what the nation is wanting to know”. 

While TVNZ seems to see gold in bite-sized news whimsy (Seven Sharp is slated to have much more social media integration than its predecessors and, after the release of its main promo, it’s been running some fairly responsive ads dealing with some of the online commentary, with Toby Manhire, Kim Baker Wilson and [email protected] getting special mention), the language in the MediaWorks release indicates it’s planning on going the other way and sticking to what it calls “another year of intelligent, relevant current affairs”—and what others often call advocacy journalism (Campbell Live reporter John Sellwood spelled out his thoughts on the matter in a piece on Public Address). 

This approach led to what MediaWorks calls “a hugely successful 2012,” with ”the programme 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 groundbreaking investigative work on the Crafar Farms sale, the Christchurch school mergers, and the ongoing Novopay debacle”. 

MediaWorks publicist Rachel Lorimer says it’s always a real challenge to create a current affairs campaign without slipping into cliches, but “the Campbell Live campaign achieves a very clear position, essential given the changes taking place this year in the 7pm timeslot” and “builds on the great work the show did in 2012 in high quality current affairs”. And while it is very early days to be talking results and “a day’s data really isn’t statistically significant”, the show launched more strongly than it did in 2012 (Mazda has returned as show’s main sponsor for 2013, unlike the new Seven Sharp, which failed to sign up Close Up’s major sponsor Kia). 

“Despite being in a low viewership period, last night’s figures compare well to the 2012 averages – Campbell Live averaged a 25-54 audience of 99,900 through the year, and a 5+ audience of 243,200 for 2012.”

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No mention was made of ratings in the release, although when asked whether Campbell Live was in the firing line after the death of Close Up last year, MediaWorks said: “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” (both current affairs shows are likely to continue to be eclipsed by Shortland Street in that slot, which was the tenth most popular show in 2012 across its 238 episodes with an average audience share of 14.5 for 5+). 

Nielsen ratings data shows how Campbell Live fared in 2012 in the 5+ stakes. 






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There was a good debate last year on Throng about these numbers and whether The Ridges was actually a more ‘successful’ programme for MediaWorks, claiming only six episodes of the 191 that had aired rated higher than the season finale of The Ridges and not one rated higher than The Ridges season premiere. Success is subjective, of course, and putting the ratings aside, it’s tough to see The Ridges ever being seen as what John Campbell, who was named ‘Aucklander we Love” by Metro and listed as one of 25 New Zealanders who made a difference in 2012 by the Herald on Sunday, calls a “constructive presence”. 

“Whilst we’ll have fun, as we always have, what matters most is current affairs that engages with what’s important to New Zealand and the lives of New Zealanders. And if the stories matter we won’t give up on them until we achieve a positive outcome. The stories I’m most proud of are the ones that make a difference. Sometimes that’s just in the lives of a small number of people, like kids who need major orthodontic work their families can’t afford, and other times, as we saw last year, it’s in much larger ways. Our entire team is committed to this role and to being a constructive presence in the life of our country, from our passionately committed producers and reporters to our editors and camera people. I feel incredibly lucky to work with some of the best in the business, and know 2013 is going to be a great year. Bring it on.”

The show kicked off last night with a major ACC investigation, tracking down a man receiving New Zealand ACC who is living the dream in Fiji, thanks to the Kiwi taxpayer. Stories throughout the week, some of which are based on viewer questions, include a look into a radical proposal by Gareth Morgan to phase out the domestic cat, and Campbell Live will also try to determine how pure New Zealand actually is. Campbell will also talk exclusively to Andre Agassi and spend time with the Jetman.

UPDATE: Lorimer pulled some data together after the closure of Close Up was announced last year, so while the comparisons are a bit redundant now, they do show the trajectory of the show since it kicked off in 2005. 

Campbell Live is watched by an average audience of 243,200 viewers every night (5+ audience).

The show has had a remarkably loyal and consistent viewership since it launched in 2005 – The first year saw an average audience of 242,300 viewers. So the show has had an overall gain of 0.4%, whereas competitor Close Up lost 13.3% of the average 5+ audience over its time on air (the two shows launched within weeks of each other).

And while Close Up has a bigger average 5+ audience than Campbell Live, what’s interesting is that Campbell Live reaches more New Zealanders than Close Up. In 2012, 3,528,100 Kiwis tuned in to Campbell Live through the year, whereas 3,462,700 tuned into Close Up. 

Campbelll Live also scores more highly than Close Up when it comes to measures of buzz and relevance – e.g. when it comes to web search interest, Campbell Live is searched for 27% more often than Close Up, and the Campbell Live facebook page has 21% more likes than Close Up.

The top rating 2012 episode was Campbell Live’s US Elections coverage – the programme ran late, staying with the results, until Obama’s victory speech had been broadcast live in full, and the average audience for that episode was 353,500 people aged 5+.

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