A link up with The Bulletin and a softer format and 2005 is already looking life a tough year for Nine’s formerly dominant Business Sunday program, as Terry Television explains.

Does Business Sunday matter any more? A tough question last year, but after the first program for 2005 when it ignored current events to look at only two issues, one of which was marginal, it’s a question more easily posed.

But first, another point. Business Sunday is now actually, Business Sunday with The Bulletin. It’s now tied to the ACP magazine, the struggling Packer weekly.

Back in 1986 when Business Sunday was being piloted, the idea was to link the program to The Bulletin and have heavy hitters from the magazine and ACP like Trevor Kennedy and Trevor Sykes, do interviews to give Business Sunday credibility.

The idea failed as both proved to be duds as interviewers. A Kennedy interview with Brian Loton of BHP had to be junked. Helen Dalley, an experienced business reporter, did the first interview on the first Business Sunday with Brian Loton.

After the less than stellar efforts of The Bulletin ‘heavies, the idea was junked and Kerry Packer decided that Business Sunday would be a stand alone Nine Network program.

The Bulletin’s circulation by the way was much higher in 1986 that its present figures of less than 70,000 copies. It has been a steady slide.

Business Sunday’s audience numbers fell last year to where they now total less than 200,000 each Sunday morning.

But it had lasted for 17 years to where it was the ONLY business current affairs program of note, although falling viewing levels last year reflected confusion about management and direction.

Then it was back to 1986 with the first Business Sunday of 2005 today. A timeless program, no financial markets, some news, a business program without any recognition of markets is an amazing situation, but does resemble the boring Money program from Britain’s BBC.

But by being timeless, Business Sunday, with the news stripped out of it, will be available for Nine and ACP to sell to Qantas to screen on its various services. More synergies between the Packer empire and Qantas, of which James Packer is a director.

They also no doubt hope to drive more traffic to the Ninemsn websites of Business Sunday and The Bulletin, both of which have fallen behind the Fairfax, ABC and News Ltd websites in relevance and direction.

Nine already sells the news three times a day to Qantas and ACP magazines are exclusively on the airline.

But as to Business Sunday’s latest tie-up with The Bulletin, a few more editions will have to be watched to make a final judgement, especially about relevance and timeliness. Judging from Sunday morning’s effort though, viewers and people with an interest in current business events shouldn’t be holding their breath.

It had all the verve and timeliness of The Bulletin’s business section, which is hard to find these days.

The new approach is based on decisions by the new executive producer, John Lyons. It shows a person uncomfortable with news and without much knowledge about business, apart from the superficial.

Big picture stories that some how fill the slot and do not require hard decisions. More profiles that sell someone or a company, but do not attempt to look at what the realities of the business or that person.

More like the late 1980s style Business Sunday, easy stories in a boom, but hard to sell or do in a bust!

Breaking news, one of Lyon’s mantra would be good, but to break news, you have to know what you are supposed to be looking at.

The elimination of a producer’s role late last week and the moving aside of experience business producer, Vickie Smiles (the last person at the program with solid business knowledge) is testament to this new, softer direction.

Lyons apparently wants more reporters, but despite attempts to hire one late last year and in January, there’s been no sign of any action. Karen Tso, the new business reporter hired by Max Uechtritz will not be working full time and will have her work cut out. She is already having trouble adjusting the vagaries of working in the Sydney newsroom of Nine.

There’s talk Lyons has hired a high priced reporter (understood to be a male), and perhaps from The Australian Financial review.

That would not surprise if true. Paul Bailey, the former editor of The Bulletin and SMH under John Alexander is there after serving a couple of years at Nine and so is Glenn Burge, The AFR’s editor and a close workmate of Alexander’s at the SMH and whom Alexander tried to recruit to ACP in 2003.

So what about the content of the first Business Sunday with The Bulletin for 2005? Well, in the first half hour there was only one story plus two news broadcasts.

That one story was the Ross Greenwood holiday job report on the NAB bank robbery in Northern Ireland.

A cross promote with The Bulletin sees Greenwood writing a story on the bank job for The Bulletin this week. As it happened so long ago and The Bulletin has been back on the newsstands now for a few weeks, what will be new?

And no it hasn’t had any impact on the sale of the Irish banks, despite the best attempts of host Ali Moore and Greenwood to suggest otherwise in the intro and story. Greenwood clearly didn’t understand why banks self-insure with bank robbery, theft and fraud. They have so many branches, so many employees and so much money that the cost of insurance premiums would be prohibitive, if they could get insurance.

For example, the Nine Network self insures for damage up to a certain level (just like an excess) on its company cars. Same principal!

Ali Moore’s long two part story on where to put your money in 2005 in the market was long on pictures and grabs, but short on recommendations.

The best comment was at the end when Chris Caton reminded us of that old market saying, ‘time in the market instead of market timing’. Don’t forget that the longer you stay in the market the more compound interest and capital growth can work for you.

To have investors talking about asset allocation is okay, but when property and other forms of investment were not mentioned (and yes, I know they are doing property next week, so this is effectively a three part, two week story) what was the point?

Thursday’s poor retail sales figures for December should have been dragged into the story and made a big point. They help explain the patchiness in Woolworths figures which the market has ignored, why Millers is struggling, why Lincraft finally fell over and why Harvey Norman is finding it a little tougher than it wants.

Are consumers spending less and saving? Employment is high, so bank bad debts will not be a problem, nor mortgage defaults.

But the problems in corporate collapses (we’ve seen five in the past three months) were not mentioned at all and that is a concern!

Takeovers (around $12 billion worth) got a passing mention, but if investors accept, that cash will come back into the market and provide a further inflationary push to prices, or sit on investment accounts weighing down performance.

There’s also more than $100 billion coming into the market this year from the superannuation levies. That makes being a fund manager pretty easy. That money has to go somewhere and that drives up prices and provides a base under the market.

In that case being a fund manager isn’t all that hard. It’s more about being a marketer than manager.

And finally, fund managers get paid fees and their employers charge investors fees. They were not mentioned at all, nor the looming choice question for investors in corporate and industry funds.

Perhaps that’s being held for the report on supernnuation in a few weeks time, but if so it made the Ali Moore story this morning less than complete.

This week will provide the big test for Business Sunday, the first of many. The Commonwealth Bank reports its interim mid-week and there’s a lot of scepticism about whether CEO David Murray’s wholesale revamp of the retailing bank can work. It’s cost more than a billion dollars, is producing some savings, but at the expense of jobs and employee unhappiness.

Don’t wait to see David Murray on Business Sunday, from the rundown at the end of today’s show, there’ll be no time next Sunday to hear from one of the country’s most important business leaders.

I bet Nine tries to go for Ziggy Switkowski in his last interim profit announcement and tries a little ‘number’ on him.

Michael Pascoe didn’t have an interview on Seven’s Sunday Sunrise, but at least he had a commentary which, in its usual fashion, was of far more use than anything that appeared over on Nine.

Paul O’Sullivan of Optus was used from an interview on Sky News last week for Pascoe to point to Telstra in the coming week.

He made the very telling point not to believe much of what you will read about Telstra or hear from analysts and brokers.

There’s tens of millions of dollars in fees in the T3 sale just waiting to be snapped up.

Never, ever get between a broker or investment banker and a pot of free money provided by a gullible government.

Crikey: With Business Sunday and Nine abdicating the current affairs and relevance approach to business reporting by forgoing interviews, you have to wonder who will pick up the pieces. Alan Kohler on the ABC’s Inside Business now has an opportunity to be relevant and grab the market position Business Sunday had. However, Kohler is a busy man with his Fairfax columns, nightly finance reports on the ABC and his new investment magazine which will be launched later this year.

Therefore, there is certainly also an opening for Michael Pascoe and the Seven Network. Will Seven grab this important opportunity?