Does the power of personality impact ratings? Media players weigh in on the new Seven Sharp duo

There’s been plenty of discussion from media pundits about Jeremy Wells and Hilary Barry getting the nod as new co-hosts of Seven Sharp. But what do the people who pay the bills think? Do new hosts have a big impact on ratings? Or is it more about engrained behaviour? StopPress checks in with some media industry players to see what impact the new team could – or could not – have. 

Described as one of the boldest moves in TVNZ’s history (due largely to the long history of subversive, typically hilarious and occasionally offensive activities from Mr Wells) many are waiting with bated breath for the inaugural Hilary Barry/Jeremy Wells presenter combination on Monday at 7pm, including some who have, up until now, not really thought about watching it. 

In the lead up to Monday, TVNZ has released a campaign video, as well as comments from the new Seven Sharp presenters. 

Barry shared her excitement for the journalistic venture and Wells, who snuck in a cheeky ‘happy days’ in reference to his long-running Mike Hosking impressions in the Like Mike segment, stated: “It is nice to be a part of a grown-up, credible, rating juggernaut” (on the Hauraki breakfast show, where he will still work alongside Matt Heath, he described himself as the lasso to Barry’s Wonder Woman). 

According to 2017 Nielsen data, Seven Sharp had an average 5+ audience of 449,949. That compares to 168,000 for The Project, a show that has brought more comedy to current affairs, and Wells, with his deadpan style, fits that entertainment mould much more than Hosking. 

David Turner, head of investment for FCB Media, plays down Seven Sharp as a ratings juggernaut, but applauds the move. 

“The new team to host Seven Sharp is a smart yet potentially risky move from TVNZ. Hilary and Jeremy are two unique personalities who will both individually bring very different qualities to the show, however it is a gamble which I commend TVNZ for taking.”

Turner also predicts Wells could lure a younger audience, but he is wary that a large proportion of the older demographic that has traditionally tuned into TVNZ could switch off. 

“The change in talent will likely result in a large proportion of the older demographic switching off, however, this is not a bad thing since TVNZ1 often suffers from over-indexing against these demographics.”  

He says on-screen talent is one of the most integral factors in the performance of locally produced programming, especially news and current affairs. Turner further predicts that Wells will have less emphasis on the news and current affairs, which came with Hosking’s experience.

Additionally, Turner delves into vital balance reporters have to be knowledgeable, comfortable, trustworthy and most importantly grasp a connection with viewers. He cites those who have struggled to appeal to the wide range of audiences in the past.

“These traits were missing from a number of presenters who have all been and gone; Paul Henry, Susan Wood, Mark Sainsbury, John Campbell, and not too forget the original Seven Sharp combination, Jess, Ali and Greg.  Jeremy and Hilary are both great presenters and have the experience to pull off live television.”

Matt Bale, managing partner for MBM media also credits TVNZ for the move, describing it as an “intriguing and positive move”. Also, Bale predicts the fresh, young presenter in Wells will likely shift Seven Sharp’s audience demographic.

“Hilary has a strong fan base that will provide a good platform to launch the new hosts next week, and Jeremy will likely attract a younger audience to the show. Our pick is that we may see a slight increase YOY against the AP 25-54 audience given their slightly younger appeal.”

Bale agrees that the role presenters play on current affair style shows are integral to the show’s ratings. Bale alludes to the fact that unlike the 6pm news, the 7pm current affairs slot features more opinion, causing audiences to be more respondent to particular presenters. However, Bale believes personalities are not the only vehicle for audience ratings.

“Certainly, the history of 7pm shows in New Zealand have demonstrated time and time again that personalities do matter when it comes to the show’s ratings, but it’s not the only driver. For example, when Holmes left TVNZ and went to Prime, his audience didn’t come across with him, entrenched channel behaviours and the strength of the competition at 7pm matters.”

Nigel Douglas, CEO of OMD is curious to see how Wells transfers from the rather ribald tone on Hauraki and the Alternative Commentary Collective to Seven Sharp’s more mainstream, more conservative audience. 

He claims personalities on news and current affairs programmes are directly linked to ratings, stating: “It is very important, there’s plenty of precedence for this going back as far as Judy and Richard, probably further.”

Furthermore, Douglas believes we will see a spike in interest before the proof comes in the pudding. However, he is sceptical about the chemistry between Barry, Wells and TVNZ1’s audience. 

We wait patiently to see whether Wells will don distressed jeans, do his Hosking impression and hope no-one notices.  

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