Henry swaps late nights for early mornings as MediaWorks announces bold new hybrid show

MediaWorks announced yesterday that Paul Henry would host a new show that will be simulcast across TV3 and RadioLive and have “a significant digital component”. Not surprisingly, social media lit up with commentary on the bold decision to give the polarising broadcaster such a prominent role at the expense of his eponymous late-night show, Firstline and RadioLive breakfast. So what’s the strategy? And will it work?  

In one of the first major changes under new chief executive Mark Weldon’s watch, a release says the show is intended to make the most of “the unique assets that give MediaWorks a combined reach of 3.8 million New Zealanders”. MediaWorks also simulcasts 3 News on RadioLive and KiwiFM, but that seems to be more of a filler than a  specific cross-media strategy and, as it is filmed for TV, it’s often a bit strange when you can’t see the visuals. Henry’s new show will be broadcast live from a purpose-built hybrid radio/television studio at its Flower Street offices, so while some may peg this as a way to save money, MediaWorks’ head of comms Rachel Lorimer says that’s absolutely not the case and it’s investing significantly in the studio (it’s also investing significantly in the creation of a new soap in an effort to compete with TVNZ). She also says this new show is a lot different to simply rebroadcasting the news on radio, which she says works “surprisingly well”, because it is designed specifically to be a hybrid and it will be “quite an intimate format”. 

So will the new cross-media show work? Or will it be case of being everywhere and nowhere at the same time, with the strengths of each channel diluted (we’ll give the Twitter commentary victory to Toby Manhire for saying “MediaWorks is essentially planning the broadcast equivalent of automatically posting Paul Henry’s Facebook feed on Twitter. #everywherehenry“). 

Lorimer admits there is a risk, but it’s about finding the right balance, just as it tries to do with its big radio network brands like The Edge, which run a combination of national and local content so as not to become too homogenous. And as Weldon said in a release: “The format will allow viewers/listeners to move effortlessly between their bedrooms, living rooms and cars in the morning, with uninterrupted access to news, information and entertainment wherever they are. No other media company can offer this type of seamless experience, organised around the audience rather than the platform.” 

According to Wikipedia, the term “simulcast” was coined back in 1948, with “Toscanini’s NBC Symphony performance of 15 March 1952 is perhaps a first instance of radio/TV simulcasting of a concert, predating the much-heralded rock concert simulcasts beginning in the 1980s.” No doubt MediaWorks has done its research on other markets (Lorimer has asked her team for any examples of similar hybrid shows that this is based on and we’ll update the story if we hear back), but the most obvious comparison is with Howard Stern. Stern, who describes himself as the “King of All Media” and is America’s most-fined broadcaster, moved from his nationally syndicated show of 20 years to subscription satellite radio station SiriusXM in 2004 and he dabbled in the art of simulcasting and on-demand TV content through Howard TV (he also experimented with simulcasting on NBC’s breakfast show Today). That was canned in late 2013 after eight years

No doubt there will be a few New Zealanders who continue to hate-watch/listen with their morning coffee, just as they did at night, but Henry, who had a stint as RadioLive Drive host after returning from an relatively unsuccessful trip to Australia, will be taking on the dominant Mike Hosking and Newstalk ZB in the breakfast radio slot and TVNZ’s Breakfast combo of Rawdon Christie and Ali Pugh. And while he was well-suited to the late night role, as Brent Edwards said in The Herald: “He’s deliberately outrageous and that works well late in the evening, but he’s dangerous, and dangerous in the morning is a little bit more risky.”

Radio is strong in the morning. TV is strong at night. And that’s something MediaWorks has focused on from a sales perspective. But in an age of media convergence, Lorimer says platforms are becoming less relevant. Radio stations are becoming TV channels, newspapers are becoming video producers, any media entity worth its salt is online and socially active (and, in some cases, that audience is informing the content), and, in the case of NZME and MediaWorks, they’re attempting to fuse them all into one. 

Under the guidance of chief executive Jane Hastings, NZME has made a concerted effort to bring its strands together, sell across the group and cross-promote its talent. It also has a good relationship with TVNZ. And while many of its radio hosts are creating video content that now appears on nzherald.co.nz, it hasn’t taken a step this big and done it in real-time.

The Edge also allows viewers/listeners to watch the radio show online through studio cameras and it launched its TV extension, The Edge TV, earlier this year. It features a similar music playlist to the radio station, mini-programmes featuring the hosts and a couple of simulcasts. 

“The way to look at that as a company we’re moving closer together. It’s thinking about the best fit,” she says. “Some shows are radio only. Others are TV only. And it’s digital everywhere. But it’s becoming more and more integrated.” 

And she says that’s increasingly what consumers and clients—who “want to be around content that makes sense”—are looking for (as an example, she points to the X Factor’s Fast Ford to Bootcamp campaign, which existed separately on The Edge but was eventually linked back to the TV show). 

In a release, Weldon said: “This is a significant move for MediaWorks and a major shift in the delivery of news and entertainment in the New Zealand market. The new show will integrate our capabilities in radio, TV and digital, creating a unique product with a unique audience proposition … I would like to acknowledge and thank Marcus Lush, Sacha McNeil, Michael Wilson and the entire Firstline and RadioLive breakfast teams, for their valuable contributions to our current breakfast shows.”

Lorimer says it’s too early to comment on whether there would be job losses, what would happen to Marcus Lush, Michael Wilson, Hilary Barry, Sacha McNeil and Janika Ter Ellen and what will be replacing the shows (Patrick Gower tweeted that Nightline would return). But she said MediaWorks would be talking to the presenters about new opportunities within the group. Further details of the  show will be revealed by Paul Henry at the MediaWorks TV new season launch event on October 30. She also pointed out this decision wasn’t a response to poor ratings. 

“The Paul Henry Show has been a success for TV3, delivering strong ratings in the evening, and RadioLive’s breakfast show will end on a high after the recent survey, where it grew its Auckland listeners by 31 percent, and overall listeners by 19 percent,” she said in a statement. 

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