I’m on record as liking the idea of the Ten news block. 2.5 hours of news seems excessive when looking at it as a continuous block on a schedule, but in terms of counter-programing, picking up the 9-5 workers as they get home, and maintaining a consistent viewer-base from the 5pm news to The 7PM Project, it’s a fairly solid idea.

Viewers haven’t turned up for 6PM With George Negus, which is a shame. Combined with the 6:30pm news, Negus’ show provides a great contextual understanding of the days news events. It was certainly clunky for the first few nights, but it quickly came good.

The 2.5 hour news block was a clear and cohesive vision. Today’s announcement that Negus is on the move to 6:30pm each night completely erodes the programing strategy. The thinking behind the news block had 6PM following the news to provide a counterpoint to the news bulletins on the other networks. It is different in style and purpose. Prior to the scheduling of 6PM, Ten had a massive problem of viewer drop-off at 6pm, with News audiences switching away from The Simpsons/Friends/random US filler in favour of other news programing. This meant that at 6pm, Ten were losing their lead-in, left with the need to build an entirely new audience.

The 6:30pm News serves as a news bulletin for those who may not have been home at 6pm, while providing a counter to the current affairs shows on Seven and Nine. By replacing that with Negus, Ten have a major programing problem with the 6pm timeslot once more. The media release from Ten doesn’t reference what will be programed in the 6pm timeslot. 30 minutes of US imported fare brings Ten back to square one, while an extension of the 5PM news (bringing it to a 90 minute news bulletin) really does feel like overkill and will do little to really generate bigger ratings.

It is understandable why Ten are moving Negus. It’s a quality show that they are invested in. Poor ratings means it needs saving. But, is 6:30pm really the answer? It creates too many problems with very awkward solutions:

  • Fill 6pm with The Simpsons? This is problematic for Eleven (branded as the home of The Simpsons and youth general entertainment) and creates the 6pm audience drop-off.
  • 90 mins of straight news bulletin? Does ANYBODY want that?
  • Move The 7PM Project to 6PM? Wildly risky and destroys the audience habits that have developed around that show. Also, there is a risk of audience drop-off following the harder-edged News.

Could Negus instead work much better simply as a late night news service at 10:30pm, replacing their existing late night news?

Negus at 6:30pm feels like a stop-gap measure which fails to address the programing problem that exists between 6-7pm. Ten need to take the time to create a clear strategy of what they want from their early evening schedule.  Negus at 6:30pm solves nothing.

UPDATE: Mediaweek are reporting that Sandra Sully will return to late night news reading duties, while the 6pm slot will be filled by the now 5pm-6:30pm 90 minute news bulletin. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Media Release:

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Network Ten today announced that George Negus’s news and public affairs program will move to
6.30pm from Monday April 4.

This change in TEN’s early evening schedule is in response to audience feedback, which has been
strongly supportive of the program as a unique, credible commercial television offering, yet has
revealed a preference for it to be scheduled in the more traditional public affairs timeslot.

TEN’s News at Five, the bulletin that consistently dominates its timeslot, will continue to be locally
produced, presented and based in the five mainland capital cities and extended to 6:30pm

David Mott, Chief Programming Officer TEN said: “We are making this alteration in the early evening
news schedule based on feedback from viewers who value competitive, intelligent and incisive news
and public affairs programs.”

“We are strong supporters of quality news, comment and analysis and believe that Network Ten
should remain a leading player in this space.”