BOTW: A grand reprogramming; and reworking the news business
Welcome to Best of the Week, mostly written on Friday close to Lake Macquarie in NSW.
Happy Thomas Crapper Day.
Today: The TV networks attempt to change the conversation about ratings; a new newspaper boss; and why doesn’t Nine have a 24 hour news channel?
So the taking-the-trash out PR window is now closed until Easter.
That gap between the Christmas break and Australia Day exists as a nether realm when the world is physically back at work, but minds are still on the beach.
In politics, Labor slipped through that closing window to announce its tax reversal while the only people paying attention were the political classes.
And Australia Day eve saw the TV networks slip out their own announcement while everyone was distracted by the looming long weekend and the big news of Kim Williams’ appointment as ABC chair. I initially missed it in my own inbox.
The announcement was sent to the trade press after most had sent their last newsletter of the week just before Thursday lunchtime; the sweeping changes kick in from Monday.
From next week, there’ll be far less information publicly available about the performance of individual TV shows, and what data there is, will go into the public domain later.
The TV networks hope that from Monday they can pull off the biggest shift in three decades in how the industry talks about their declining audiences.
Ratings provider OzTAM, owned by Nine, Seven and Ten, will no longer release to the trade press information about the average number of people in each city who were watching each show.
Instead, the networks want to shift the conversation to reach - the total number of people who tuned in at any point of a show.
The last time there was as big a move in media metrics was eight years ago, when the three remaining large magazine publishers simultaneously quit from the Audited Media Association of Australia under cover of the 2016 Christmas break.
The assassination of the magazine audit bureau came because the publishers had tired of the cycle of relentless falls in their circulation, which created a new wave of negative headlines each time the numbers were released.
Instead the magazine bosses hoped they could switch the conversation from the specific one of circulation to the woolier - and much bigger - metric of readership.
But the readership number - based on a survey and with methodology that favoured delivering as high a number as possible (spotted the newspaper on a counter at the supermarket? Yup, that’s good enough to make you a reader) - was never as credible as circulation. It also rarely changed, which made it less newsworthy. As a result, magazines simply disappeared from the industry conversation.
This time, the networks are trying to shift the conversation from average audience to reach. There’ll be a ranking published later in the day, just before lunchtime, detailing which show has reached the most people. Rather than leading with the average number of who was watching at any given time, anybody who tuned in at any point via any means will be counted in that number. For those tuning in via streaming, just 15 seconds will be enough to count.
As far as I can tell, there will no longer be data on share of audience - so no easy way to tell which network won (or lost) the night.
It marks a second big change in less than a year. It was only last May that OzTAM started sharing “Total TV” numbers offering a view of the average number of people watching shows over the airwaves, plus streaming them live or on catchup. That was fair enough. Of course more people are increasingly streaming their content, and that number deserves to be included too.
However, the first seven months or so of data suggested that the existing TV networks were losing steam even via the new Total TV reach metric.
I crunched those numbers just ten days ago.
How we covered the first months of Total TV data earlier this month:
It was a laborious data entry process, opening each of the published weekly Total TV spreadsheets on OzTam’s VOZ (Virtual Oz) web site, and using them to produce a graph to help me see the trend.
Thank goodness I got around to doing it. This week, OzTAM deleted all that data from the website. It says it has done this “to avoid confusion”.
The hope of the networks will be that as this latest new number is all the publicly available information, the trade press coverage will fall into line.
On Thursday, OzTAM sent journos suggestions for the sort of sentences they should write:
To be clear, OzTAM will still be producing all the data it has previously, and there will be some overall average viewing numbers publicly available. The media agencies paying to subscribe to OzTAM will still be able to find the information if they go looking for it.
And TV networks will presumably be free to crunch the numbers and put out their own press releases boasting about their best performance.
The release of the data will miss the morning newsletters, and feel terribly stale a day later. What will also be missing is the ability for the journalists who write about the media sector to look at all the numbers for themselves and decide what the real story is - for good or bad.
I suspect that in reality, just like magazines, the performance of TV shows will simply be less talked about within the industry.
This may turn out to be a mistake. TV is still our most powerful medium, offering advertisers the ability to connect en masse with consumers with the sort of emotional stories that can’t be delivered in an online banner ad.
And yes, the networks do need to find a way to avoid competing with the version of themselves of 20 years ago, when they were all powerful. This isn’t the answer.
Reworking TV news business models
Tim Burrowes writes:
Sticking with TV, this year we’ve already seen a couple of signs globally and locally that a key ingredient in the recipe is getting a rethink: the business model of TV news.
For something so intrinsic to their brand, commercial TV companies have been slow to adapt their news offerings to the 21st century.
Around the world most free to air news operations are mainly viewed as a cost centre, albeit one that’s crucial in building trust in network brands and viewing habits.
As traditional models break, the reinvention of TV news models has been slow to come, particularly in Australia.
Alongside network news, the US, with its 340m population, has been able to support operations including Fox News, MSNBC and CNN. There are also newer, more fringe offerings like News Max and NewsNation, and finance networks including Bloomberg.
The UK, meanwhile has the Comcast owned Sky News as the long established pay TV player along with the newer arrivals of GB News and Talk TV.
Locally, the only big commercial player is News Corp’s Sky News.
The last few days have seen a couple of developments, overseas and here in Australia.
In the US, CNN has a new boss, who’s about to shake things up. Mark Thompson, who previously spearheaded the transformation of the New York Times into a subscription juggernaut, has just set out his vision for where the news giant needs to go. It comes not much more than a year after the closure of the short-lived CNN+ streaming service.
The death of CNN+ was hastened by the merger of its owner Warner Media with Discovery to create Warner Bros Discovery, but the CNN+ offering was wrong anyway, a long way from the core brand.
This week in Australia, Sky News, finally announced it was launching its own standalone streaming app, available via a $5 monthly subscription.
Previously the service was only available as part of a bundled subscription to Foxtel or Flash. Symbolically, its a big change as one of the points of the service was about creating loyalty amongst Foxtel subscribers.
But Sky News Australia has also been developing its own new advertising revenue streams. It has 4m subscribers on YouTube, many of them in the US. Its videos often get big numbers, in the millions of views.
The biggest player in Australia with only one foot on the pitch is Nine News. It’s extraordinary that Nine has not launched its own 24 hour news channel in the seven years since it sold its one third stake of Sky News Australia to News Corp.
Factoring in state and regional news bulletins along with shows like A Current Affair, Today and Today Extra, Nine is already producing more than enough content to fill a channel.
Admittedly there’s a cost involved, particularly if - if - the company committed to 24 hour live hosting. But the ABC has demonstrated it can be done on a relative shoestring. ABC News 24, launched under MD Mark Scott nearly 14 years ago, was done without any new funding.
Nine is currently spooling up for a suite of live FAST (free ad supported TV) channels for the Olympics. Perhaps that will create a slipstream.
Sport and news are the network’s most important two assets. Even in a tough year, it’s hard to believe the cost of a Nine News channel wouldn’t be money well spent.
Crossing the bridge
Speaking of which, beyond TV news, Nine is also the second biggest player (after News Corp), in news publishing.
This week Nine’s publishing operation got a new editorial boss. New executive editor Luke McIlveen will head its two big metro mastheads The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, along with WA Today and the Brisbane Times.
Culturally, it’s a fascinating move. McIlveen has held senior roles at News Corp and Daily Mail Australia. But theories that the appointment signals a move of the Nine newspapers towards the values of News Corp is overblown. It’s hard to think of a better qualified editor currently in the market, and the world didn’t end when former Daily Telegraph editor Garry Linnell became editorial director of Fairfax Media.
The new monthly numbers from Ipsos came out on Tuesday. The site once edited by McIlveen, news.com.au, still has a clear lead over the rest.
But traffic is no longer the real battleground. Display ad revenue is falling all the time. The real fight is for paying subscribers.
McIlveen has worked in environments where the wins come via persuading the reader to click on one more headline. What motivates a subscriber to enter their credit card details requires more substance.
Aspermont hits new low as Unmade Index flattens
The short trading week ended with the Unmade Index down by 0.22% on Thursday to 615.1 points. The drop came after four consecutive days of growth.
The worst performer was B2B operation Aspermont which has now dropped to the lowest market capitalisation inn the company’s history. The resource sector-focused company lost 14.3% on Thursday, taking it down to a market cap of $10.2m.
There was little movement at the big end of town. Nine nudged upwards by 0.25% while Seven West Media lost 1.9%
In radioland, ARN and Southern Cross Austereo both lost ground while Sports Entertainment Network gained 10%.
Time to leave you to your Saturday.
We’ll be back to full speed from next week. Abe Udy and I will return on Monday with Start the Week.
Have a great weekend.
Publisher - Unmade