A battle over who will be the Nine Network’s Sydney newsreader in 2009 seems to have been decided already with the news that Nine boss David Gyngell is searching for a new News Director for the ailing Sydney 6pm news.

Ian Cook is the incumbent, again: he was hired by former management, led by Network News and Current Affairs boss, John Westacott. But Nine sources say that Gyngell has started a hunt for a replacement, with a focus on Jason Morrison, the former Ten Network Sydney Chief of Staff and former/current 2GB Sydney news director and now fill-in for Alan Jones on 2GB breakfasts.

Gyngell has also been talking about a former senior Fairfax journalist. There is only one with the sort of experience he wants, but he dropped out of news a fair while ago.

Gyngell’s search is linked to the poor performance of the Nine News in Sydney, especially over the past three months. Some nights the 7pm ABC news has more viewers in Sydney than the more highly promoted and better resourced Nine outfit.

John Westacott is blaming Mark Ferguson, the current newsreader, for the loss and wants to use Peter Overton of 60 Minutes there next year. Ian Cook also blames Mark Ferguson, but wants his favourite, Michael Usher there. Westacott has a problem with Peter Overton: next year he knows Overton won’t travel for 60 Minutes because his wife is expecting their second child. Overton is in the last year of his contract and has to be kept in Sydney to placate him as much as possible.

Karl Stefanovic is on Today, but has in his contract that his next port of call is A Current Affair. However, Gyngell is sick of change and rightly sees that there needs to be an improvement in the quality of the news content at 6pm.

Cook sacked Sydney 6pm Executive Producer, Graham Thurston, just over five weeks ago: it was the fourth time Thurston has been fired at Nine News in Sydney.

Including the Olympics, Seven’s Sydney News is up 8%, or 30,000 viewers this year, to 400,000 a night average: Nine’s is down 12%, or 40,000 to 300,000 (That’s Monday to Friday). Excluding the two weeks of the Games, Seven News is up around 6%; Nine’s is down around 10%.

But in the past two months, Nine’s loss of viewers has turned into a rut. While daylight saving started a month early at the beginning of October (instead of at the end) and had an initial impact on audiences (Seven’s News lost 21% of its viewers that week and Nine’s 16%, the audiences have steadied, at lower levels.

Last week for instance Nine’s Sydney 6pm audience was off 18% Monday to Friday while Seven’s was down 6%: the week before Nine’s audience was off 17%, Seven’s 5%.

Seven is maintaining a clear margin across the network: 1.50 million Monday to Friday (up 4%, including the Games), versus Nine, down 3% to 1.118 million, including the impact of the games.

Peter Fray

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