tip off

Seven’s in strife unless Meakin’s successors shine in 2013

TV legend Peter Meakin announced yesterday he was stepping down as Channel Seven’s head of news and current affairs. It’s now up to Rob Raschke and Neil Mooney to fix some big ratings problems.

The departure of Peter Meakin from day-to-day management at the Seven Network has allowed a Brisbane takeover of Seven’s news and current affairs business by executives who were appointed by Meakin to their current positions. Meakin isn’t retiring as some reports suggested yesterday; he plans to remain as an advisor to Seven.

It’s a well-timed move — the 2013 tasks for Rob Raschke (the new director of news) and Neil Mooney (director of current affairs) are mighty. They have to arrest the developing slide in Seven’s news and current affairs hour between 6pm and 7pm, with Today Tonight and the Sydney and Melbourne news bulletins the biggest problems to be fixed. Mooney can’t succeed at Today Tonight without Raschke improving the news performance.

Raschke has to revive the 6pm broadcasts in Sydney and Melbourne while making sure Nine doesn’t further close the gap in Brisbane. He will have to decide whether to keep Chris Bath as the 6pm host in Sydney. And how long will Simon Pristel be given to halt the terrible slide in audience numbers in Melbourne? The slump in ratings since Pristel started has been highly damaging — the city was a Seven stronghold in 2010 and 2011; it’s now Nine’s best-performing market.

There was an interesting second announcement from Seven yesterday which told us of the approach the network will be taking in Melbourne in 2013. Rather than cutting budgets and staff numbers as it is elsewhere, it has hired four new reporters and producers and a new graphics person for the 6pm news in Melbourne. There were no similar announcements in Sydney and Brisbane.

TV networks normally don’t trumpet their hirings in this way unless it is a very well-known reporter or newsreader. Seven said Michael Scanlan was moving from Seven News in Brisbane to Melbourne, Sean Sowerby has been hired from Ten to be a sports reporter/producer and Brendan Roberts “recently joined us from Channel Nine, cementing our position as TV’s most experienced crime reporting team”. And Seven said it had made “two new off-camera appointments, with Natalie Schenken joining as a producer from WIN, and Chris Anderson joining the graphics department from Channel Nine in Adelaide”.

That fact that one of those appointments is a reporter already at Seven tells us this is part of a PR splurge designed to boost the standing of Seven under Pristel. Raschke’s task will be to support this new approach, but be ruthless if it becomes clear by mid-2013 at the latest that it is not working. If news and TT underperform in the June half year, as they have been doing in the past quarter, then Seven’s overall performance will come under more pressure in Melbourne. That in turn will bring pressure from TV head Tim Worner and his programmers for improvements at news to stop the rot.

As well as overseeing current affairs, Mooney will keep his day job as head of Seven’s Queensland operations. Seven Queensland is the regional arm of the network and dominates its market like Seven dominates Perth and makes money. That will allow Mooney time to try and revive the flagging fortunes of Today Tonight, which he has overseen in the past (as he did at A Current Affair when at Nine).

The irony is that while TT is still competitive in metro markets (helped by the usual strong performance in Perth), it is very much the underdog in regional markets with ACA out rating it most nights when broadcast to all regions. In fact, TT can beat ACA in metro markets on some nights because of the big win in Perth (and after losing Sydney and especially Melbourne), but ACA will add tens of thousands more viewers in regional markets to finish above TT in the national standings.

We saw the extent of Seven’s problems last night. Nine won Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, but Seven’s winning margins in Adelaide and Perth offset that and allowed the network to win nationally. No such luck for TT, with ACA winning Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane by enough to give it a win at 6.30 in the metro markets and a very big win nationally.

TV legend has it that Mooney has a big book from his times at both programs which lists all the programs and stories and the ratings those programs and stories achieved. Those figures will all be very much higher than what TT (and ACA) are now getting.

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