Seven Sharp settles in, Campbell Live hits a high-water mark

TVNZ's new current affairs show Seven Sharp got off to fairly shaky start. So 18 weeks in, how is it holding up? And what has its arrival meant for the 7pm ratings?  

Last night's episode of the 7pm current affairs programme took place on the TVNZ HQ rooftop in downtown Auckland and was a celebration of Matariki, the Maori New Year. The cheesy rooftop bonfire aside, the show has certainly picked up in terms of content. The awkwardness and stumblings of the first week are well behind us and in this humble reporter's opinion Seven Sharp's news segments have markedly improved. However, it's a completely different beast to the type of current affairs served up by One's previous 7pm tenants, Close Up and Holmes, something that was obviously planned—and something chief executive Kevin Kenrick is completely unapologetic about. 

As he told StopPress recently: "I think the most vocal critics of Seven Sharp all look the same. Typically they're over 60, they've either worked in TV or in press and they are lamenting the shift from what they'd see as traditional current affairs. They're entitled to that view, but I'm not sure there’s enough of them watching enough TV to really be a key influence on what we should be doing."

So how has the show done in comparison to competitor Campbell Live on MediaWorks' TV3—and its predecessor Close Up? The chart below tracks the average weekly audience (aged 5+, including delayed broadcasting) for Seven Sharp and Campbell Live and compares it to how the two networks were performing last year. Last week's averages aren't included.

For most of the year Seven Sharp has maintained an average audience greater than Campbell Live, although there were several individual episodes through the year where the latter beat the former. The week before last (week 22) saw a significant boost in Campbell Live's audience, bringing its weekly average to over 410,000, which was above Seven Sharp for the first time. Last week (June 3-7) was the best 5+ week in the show's history and Seven Sharp was actually beaten by The Simpsons in TV One's own demo of 25-54 on Thursday last week. But both shows pale in comparison to Shortland St, which had 42 percent share on that night. 

Apart from its first few weeks, Seven Sharp has been unable to match the numbers that were being brought in every week by Close Up. The figures indicate Seven Sharp has lost between 50,000 to 80,000 viewers. 

The ratings from the past 18 weeks show that far from free-falling, Seven Sharp has stabilised to an average audience of around 375,000 viewers, compared to Campbell Live which is now sitting at around 314,000 for the same period. It has also maintained its principal supporter RaboDirect from day one with sponsorship both on air and online through TVNZ OnDemand.

John Gillespie, the recently appointed head of news and current affairs at TVNZ, spoke to StopPress earlier this year about the progress of the show.

"People were initially perplexed at the start … We saw that in the feedback we were getting online and through the media," he says. "I admit, the first week the hosts didn't seem very comfortable together … this is something we've worked hard on and now they appear much more relaxed, comfortable and natural," he says.

Gillespie maintains that TVNZ is onto a winner with the lighter format.

"The feedback that's come through from the audience has been outstanding. It's been mostly positive, too. They're connecting with the variety of stories and appreciate that we're not manufacturing something out of the Novopay botch up for the 17th time," says Gillespie, taking a dig at one of Campbell Live's big stories.

TV3 also has some sharp words for its neighbours two channels over.

"They're three or four months in to their settling in period, so I think they'd be a bit unhappy about where they've settled," says MediaWorks spokesperson Rachel Lorimer.

Depending on how you interpret the ratings for the two shows you can come up with different winners. Seven Sharp gets a win for holding its own with a new—and, by extension, risky—format and Campbell Live wins for massively increasing its audience in a year and providing real competition in the 7pm slot. Either way New Zealanders get the biggest win of all: two 7pm current affairs programmes with two very different approaches. What's not to like about choice?

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