Friday, January 06, 2006

WIN Television knows news (and apparently what you want too)

Originally, I intended to explore the news that Network Nine’s resident lounge lizard David Reyne had made a clean getaway and was headed to ten to replace Bert Newton, who recently moved to Nine for unspecified duties… (and when I say “explore the news” what I actually mean is shoehorn in even more bad puns involving the words getaway and Reyne).

All this changed when a brief glance at Thursday’s Mercury revealed WIN Television is scuttling its local 6pm news bulletin. The 30-minute local news service is being scrapped in favour of a composite bulletin of local, national and international news. The Mercury reported:
The station's network news director Allen Clark said the changes were in response to what viewers were saying.......
He said it appeared Tasmanians were saying half an hour of local news followed by half an hour of national and international news and then half an hour of current affairs was too much.
Apart from the non sequitur (they’re counting A Current Affair as — well… how to put this delicately — a current affairs program) my first thought was why not just lose ACA and continue with the two bulletins or better yet combine them and trim a little of the padding such as repeating the weather.

So Little Mr Square Eyes emailed Allen Clark a couple of questions and to my surprise and his credit, Clark answered promptly:
You're quoted in the Mercury story as saying: "It's quite clear to us there isn't in Tasmania a market or expectation for an hour and a half of news and current affairs.” Given this is the case couldn't WIN drop A Current Affair from its schedule rather than the local news bulletin? If not what are the reasons that this is not a viable alternative?

The ratings figures clearly demonstrate that an hour and a half of news and current affairs isn't what Tasmanians want. You prefer a half hour bulletin of State, national and international news followed by half an hour of current affairs, which is what SX and ABC both provide, and we're recognising that preference.
Fair enough, rightly or wrongly commercial television lives and breathes ratings. As to the validity of the rest of the argument, Little Mr Square Eyes recalls as a beardless brat he would often try and pressure his long-suffering mother into agreeing to some particularly stupid activity by whining but all the other kids are doing it. And, as always, Mum would deadpan back, if they stuck their hands in a fire I suppose you’d do it too.
From what I understand, in the other states, WIN runs a local news bulletin followed by a feed of nine's network news from the relevant cap city. Will these other WIN stations also eventually start running a composite service or is this move restricted to Tasmania?

The format change is driven by WIN Television's Tasmanian management to meet identified Tasmanian needs so no to your first point, yes to the second.
This was interesting because the Mercury story didn’t specifically mention the changes were instigated by WIN Tasmania management. After paraphrasing state manager Greg Rayment at the start of the article, Clark was quoted a number of times, which gave me impression the orders were coming direct from WIN’s Wollongong death star.
Finally, you're quoted in the Mercury as saying: "We're confident we'll be able to provide a very much stronger and better service by putting all our resources into one bulletin." Given that WIN is significantly reducing the amount of airtime that can be devoted to local news (and staff levels) is it possible for WIN Tasmania to provide a better service? And if so in what ways?

Your question is predicated on the assumption that better equals more; clearly the Tasmanian TV audience doesn't agree. The new format is better and stronger because it satisfies Tasmanians' preference for an hour of news and current affairs.
I thought the question was predicated on the idea that a better news service isn’t usually delivered by cutting available airtime. The idea something is improved because it gives folk what they want can only be taken so far. Keep in mind high-powered rifles, crack cocaine and the Black Eyed Peas are all very desirable to some people but that doesn’t make them better.

At this point, I emailed Allen with a supplementary question. Had WIN commissioned any market research, apart from ratings figures, that had sparked these changes? He rang back and, alluding to commercial in confidence matters, declined to comment further.

Naturally, I assumed this meant they hadn’t. For what it’s worth Little Mister Square Eyes believes that a dedicated local news service is important – as does the WIN Television website:
“Australia's largest regional broadcaster produces 21 half-hour local news bulletins across regional Australia… WIN believes local news is the cornerstone of being a part of the communities the WIN Network broadcasts to… is an important part of our strategy to ensure that our viewers receive the most comprehensive local news picture every weeknight."
Unless, it seems, the ratings aren’t healthy enough. Somebody should change that to "20 half-hour local news bulletins".

Footnote (20/01/06). Since writing this column WIN Television have altered their website and there is now no mention of a commitment to local news.