Checkpoint with John Campbell kicks off with ‘good problems’

RNZ’s long-awaited multi-platform Checkpoint with John Campbell debuted last night, and the show caused so much buzz that RNZ’s website crashed from all the traffic. We chat to RNZ head of content Carol Hirschfeld about the teething issues, the benefits of multimedia broadcasting and the overall response of the show.

The 90-minute programme made its debut at 5pm last night, broadcast across different channels. Self-described by John Campbell as “radio you can watch”, it appeared on RNZ’s website as a video stream, on YouTube as a live stream, on the radio and on Freeview channel 50.

The programme was a mixture of video and audio packages, and live and pre-recorded interviews. There was also to-the-minute written updates on the RNZ site, including listener feedback social media responses.

The show, of course, differs from Campbell Live. It’s a no frills, raw format. In parts of the live stream, members of the crew would sometimes walk through, the space looked small and simple, and there wasn’t an obvious smattering of makeup on Campbell or the other reporters. It was a true ‘behind the scenes’ peek at radio.

The big stories of the night were on the tour boat burning off Whakatane with eyewitness Rob Hamil (via a radio interview), an interview with tennis correspondent Dave Luddy on claims of corruption in top-rung tennis and a pre-recorded interview with Jonah Lomu’s widow, Nadene Lomu.

In a review of the programme, RNZ’s Mediawatch host Colin Peacock compared the show favourably against MediaWorks’ multimedia Paul Henry Show, saying there were no overblown claims of a “world first” in broadcasting from a costly set, which “deconstructed broadcasting” and incorporated a “social media bunker”.

Not everyone was enamoured with the new format, but Hirschfeld says the response was mainly positive and RNZ is really happy with the programme and delighted with the general feedback.

“I think people genuinely want to know there is an authenticity about the new service they are engaging with and see these bits and pieces. People moving through the studio and genuinely doing it and enjoying it,” she says.

“There’s no artifice in what we are doing, [listeners and viewers]are just getting the real deal and I think that’s true of our reporters. They look so authoritative and credible because they are, and they know what they are talking about. They are well-trained broadcast journalists.”

She says a lot of the bad feedback was to do with a “good problem”.

“We had so many people coming and looking at our website that we had a few issues in terms of people being able to see the programme off our website. That wasn’t consistent across the board. We had a lot of people going to preview and we could also point them to YouTube.”

She says RNZ is working incredibly hard to solve the issues. “We are trying to ensure that we don’t get a repeat today. There are a lot of moving parts with a production like this and we just have to keep on finessing to make sure that we get it right for our audience.”

StopPress reported earlier on RNZ’s website redesign process, after the broadcaster added a post to its site inviting its visitors to give suggestions for the new site. At the time, RNZ head of digital Glen Scanlon wouldn’t confirm when the new site would be launched, but said it wouldn’t be overnight and that it would incorporate RNZ’s multimedia elements.

“It will allow us to bring in multimedia and all the music, storytelling and content together in one place to get that really in depth feature material we have in many different parts of the site at the moment into the light a bit more,” said Scanlon.

So, what were viewer/listener numbers like? Did John Campbell’s army of supporters during the final days of Campbell Live loyally follow the broadcaster over to the new Checkpoint show?

Hirschfeld says that information isn’t available at this stage.

“We will have some metrics around our digital stuff soon … With our listenership the survey results come over a set period,” she says.

“One of the interesting things is we can see that we had new people coming to us on the website for the first time. So, people who weren’t used to coming to RNZ.”

She says there is a multitude of benefits in broadcasting the programme this way. “Because of the kind of technology we have employed we can retain the agility of radio in so many ways without the expense or at times, the cumbersome nature that is required in a television environment,” she says.

“And in this day and age where people are used to connecting with Skype and Facetime there is a real comfort and familiarity people have with connecting this way.”

This idea is also evident in the number of popular YouTube stars and Vloggers, posting rough video clips to their fans. Today, folks don’t seem to mind if footage isn’t overly produced. In a similar vein, if Snapchat’s popularity can prove anything, it’s that this grainy, sometimes unfocussed footage seems more personal, authentic and real to the viewer than something shiny, polished and packaged.

Hirschfeld says the format also helps in terms of sharing the show’s content on social media. “ … because of that agility our ability to share on social media quickly is very high and I think that as a result of that it allows us to put the compelling content we have in front of new audiences and as broad an audience as possible. And as a public broadcaster that’s all we want to do, connect with as many New Zealanders as we can.”

And did John Campbell enjoy presenting the show?

“Rumour has it, he did,” says Hirschfeld.

  • Carol Hirschfeld’s last name was originally misspelled in this story. This has been corrected. 

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