Breakfast TV ratings are falling across the board, but the gap is growing between Sunrise and Today. Speculation has focused on the future of Today host Karl Stefanovic, but the idea of replacing him raises more questions than answers to the problem.

Fixing Today’s ratings isn’t as simple as just switching out Stefanovic for another host. TV researcher and managing director of Audience Development Australia David Castran told Crikey that the on-air personalities make a difference to the ratings. “But presenters will rise and fall to the high tide mark of content,” he said. “Content will always be king.”

Castran said that Today‘s problems were bigger than just Stefanovic. As well as consistently coming second to Seven’s Sunrise, it was even beaten by the ABC’s News Breakfast. “The ABC is consistently delivering greater value,” he said. “The ABC has put the emphasis back on the content and taken it off star power.”

Meanwhile, he said, the commercial stations (including both Seven’s Sunrise and Today) were light on any depth. “Many of their stories are just all bun and no meat,” he said.

Many of the suggestions, though (including in Crikey) have been that Today’s falling ratings are down to Stefanovic’s continued off-screen drama. But Castran said viewers mostly isolate what they see on the telly from any stories they see in the press.

The bigger issue, he said, was not with Karl himself, but with the high salary paid to the stars versus the amount spent on content. “Karl is one of the most popular people inside the industry. He’s loved by executives, he’s warm and he’s likeable. But the question is whether they’re getting value for their money with his salary.”

And, the biggest difference between Sunrise and Today is not the likeability of the male co-host, but of the weather reporter.

[Will Today unseat Karl as TV industry moves into annual renewal season?]

The roving reporter role at Today is currently filled by Natalia Cooper, who is on leave with her predecessor Stevie Jacobs filling in. And, according to Castran, they pale in comparison to Sunrise’s Sam Mac.

“That role brings back the magic to television,” Castran said. “If I was the Today Show I’d be looking for a new out and about person to compete with Sam Mac. And I’d take the emphasis off the talent and put the money into content.”

But who? The networks aren’t great at developing new talent, and they wouldn’t go for someone untested on screen. Castran said they’d be best to look at the regional networks, Sky News or even the ABC, if executives can see past the usual commercial/ABC divide. Options from the public broadcaster could include the ABC News Channel’s Gemma Veness, who fills in for Sydney 7pm newsreader Juanita Phillips, or ABC News Breakfast weatherman Nate Byrne.

Journalists from other networks with extensive experience in the field might also be considered — Seven’s Matt Doran has presenting and reporting experience, including filling in for David Koch on Sunrise.

Media analyst Steve Allen told Crikey that one of the most popular faces on TV at the moment who’d be suitable for breakfast television was Melbourne-based Carrie Bickmore, who hosts The Project“They need someone of that younger generation, and she’s really cut her teeth and carved out an audience,” he said.

Peter Fray

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