More news, better informed? The bloated TV news battle
It’s been done with little fanfare, but for a couple of weeks now, both Channel Nine and Seven have significantly upped the hours of news they’re beaming into Australian homes.
The centerpiece of this news push is the expanded hour-long bulletin both stations are now airing at 6-7pm. Not since Ten hired George Negus in 2010 to expand its news coverage — an experiment ultimately abandoned in the face of poor ratings — has Australian commercial television invested so much in its news divisions.
Channel Nine is spending an extra $100 million, to be used over two to three years. Crikey understands Seven’s investment is a fraction of that — something like 10% of the figure over two to three years — but it will still add an extra 27 journalists to its 400-person metro and regional news teams, as well as absorbing the several dozen journalists who were working on Today Tonight into the general news team after the show was axed along the east coast (Channel Nine still airs A Current Affair after the news).
Expanding the news is an expensive proposition, says CCZ Statton Equities’ Roger Colman. “But fundamentally, it’s what people reliably want,” he told Crikey. “People watch the news. It’s pretty safe stuff.”
Journalist Jill Singer was the first host of Today Tonight when it launched in 1995 and tells Crikey its axing along the east coast is no great loss. She’s thrilled those resources are now going into news, for which there’s always been a huge appetite. When Today Tonight and A Current Affair were rating better, they were the focus, she adds. As those shows faltered, the investment went back into news. “News programs have never been as toxic and on-the-nose as those current affairs programs,” she said. “You could view this as about regaining credibility.”
So, what are people watching exactly? Channel Nine began its news revolution in early January, while Channel Seven only began its hour-long bulletins three weeks ago. While it’s still early days, Crikey asked media monitoring firm iSentia to send us the transcripts of all Seven and Nine news bulletins from yesterday and, for comparison, Ten’s output.
In Sydney alone, Channel Nine aired five hours of scripted news (the figure goes up to 10 hours if you count breakfast shows and hourly news bulletins — in 2009 it was around six hours in total a day). Channel Seven aired four hours of scripted news (five if you count the 7pm bulletin on SevenTWO), while Ten aired two (its Late News has made way for the Olympics this month).
The bulletins were standard fare. The format of the stories hasn’t shifted significantly, with Seven, Nine and Ten all sticking to the standard one- to three-minute story length for now. Nine, which aired the most news, used some of the time for unscripted segments like “The Chat Room” on Nine News Now, featuring 4BC breakfast host Ian Skippen and ACA reporter Elise Elliot chatting about household finances, dobbing in ho0n children and the rise of “food porn”.
There was a rather intriguing segment at 4.11pm on Nine Afternoon News about how “Qantas and Arnotts have helped Winton residents reunite with loved ones”. It wasn’t marked as an ad, but the vision for the three-minute segment was provided by QantasLink and Tim Tams. On Friday, television blog TV Tonight ran a piece querying a curiously branded segment that aired in some form on all three commercial networks last week about footy team Port Power being hypnotised, with Energy Australia and Power TV watermarks on the footage. Nine and Ten told the website they sourced the footage from YouTube, but the incident does raise the question: more time for the news does mean more time you can fill with branded content.
“What’s undeniably happening is that Seven and Nine are simply airing far more stories than time-constrained Ten.”
Page 1 of 2 | Next page