The late-night brawl: Nightline vs Tonight

Could TV One’s Tonight be slowly losing the 10.30pm ratings war against TV3’s Nightline? TV3 says yes and TVNZ says it’s no big deal.

In the monthly averages this year, Tonight has been ahead of its rival by around 20,000 viewers aged 5+. But in the last 11 nights Nightline viewership has ranged from 135,300 to 225,570 (ave: 177,590), and the figures have beat Tonight on seven occasions – with 46,000 to 108,000 more viewers (Tonight‘s ave: 144,569).

What’s causing this channel switch? According to Mark Jennings, director of news and current affairs at TV3, “What’s important is what sits in front. We’re stronger at 9.30 than TV One. There’s Outrageous Fortune, good movies on Monday and on Friday we have Pulp Sport and 7 Days [the new local comedy panel show].”

Jennings claims there’s a lot of changeover from TV2 at the 10.30 junction, what he calls the network’s “purple patch”. He’s also aware of maintaining the audience by promoting Nightline appropriately throughout the evening.

Nightline has a unique franchise of viewers, a distinctive younger audience.” And they like a mix of news and entertainment.

The smokin' Samantha Hayes. Pic by Throng.The smokin' Samantha Hayes. Pic by Throng.

We at StopPress believe the success of Nightline is down to two words: Samantha Hayes. She is surely the most smokin’ news presenter the country has ever seen. “Sam is not just a pretty face,” insists Jennings. “She’s also a good journalist who’s hard-working, focused and gets stories too.”

greg boyedMeanwhile, TVNZ do not seem to be concerned with this ratings trend and are perfectly happy with presenter Greg Boyed. Anthony Flannery, head of TVNZ news and current affairs says, “We are committed to Greg Boyed, a formidable opponent with credibility and many years experience.”

What effect, if any, has TVNZ’s sweep of the Qantas Film and TV Awards had on viewership? Jennings thinks that sometimes “there’s an inverse reaction from winning awards. Kiwis don’t like self-promotion or puffery. Skiting is not the Kiwi way. When we won Best News a couple of years back we had a drop in ratings.”

TVNZ’s news and current affairs publicist, Andi Brotherston, waives this notion. “Trust is a huge issue in relation to choosing what news and current affairs programmes people watch. Viewers look for programmes they know are credible, accurate and balanced, so winning awards for journalism would be more likely to be seen as good rather than bad.

“I doubt we will see a negative backlash to the wins we’ve had – however, it wouldn’t surprise me if we pick up new audience because of them.”

Back at TV3, personnel are playing tag to keep the network fresh. Now that David Farrier has graduated to prime-time TV, Ali Ikram has joined the Nightline team from Sunrise. Jennings rates Ikram as “edgy” and “innovative” and will be a major drawcard to the late news edition. Innovative, yes. Who can forget Ikram’s attempt at explaining the Budget by karaoke? We wish we could.

As the ratings between Nightline and Tonight continue to see-saw, Jennings expounds his world of TV. “It’s a tough battle every day. You can’t take your foot off the accelerator.”

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