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Newshub loss will hit us all

Regardless of how you view Newshub as a news outlet, yesterday’s announcement that parent company Warner Bros. Discovery [WBD] is ‘proposing’ to shut down all its operations on June 30 represents a seismic shift in what one might call the country’s information ecosystem.

And make no mistake – the legal requirement to enter into a ‘consultation period’ with affected staff aside, ‘proposal’ should be read as ‘a 100 per cent done deal’.

It means “the closure of all Newshub’s multiplatform news operations and output” – including NZ’s third largest news website – and will mean that for the first time in just over 34 years, TVNZ will have a near-monopoly on television news broadcasts – and that won’t be good for anyone, including 1 News.

Competition is generally a good thing and – in this writer’s experience at that outlet – the TVNZ newsroom has always been acutely aware of what the other lot have been putting out, up to and including staff gathering around to watch the 1 News 6pm bulletin side-by-side with Three’s as a way of assuring themselves that they hadn’t missed a beat in picking ‘the important’ news stories.

The fact that, since what was then called TV3 launched in November 1989, the privately-owned operator’s news offerings have always had a bit of mongrel compared to the more staid state-owned broadcaster has also provided news consumers with a least a bit of choice in a country that’s never had sufficient population to support an especially diverse range of national media options.

WBD Asia Pacific operations James Gibbons, who made the announcement to staff in Auckland yesterday that around 200 journalists, producers, editors, camera operators and associated staff ‘could’ lose their jobs, put the decision down to “the impacts of the economic downturn” – both locally and globally – and plummeting TV advertising.

“Advertising revenue in New Zealand has disappeared far more quickly than our ability to manage this reduction, and to drive the business to profitability,” Gibbons said.

“We simply cannot afford to produce news in-house. This doesn’t mean news isn’t valuable. We just haven’t found a way to make it work financially here.”

It’s no secret TV news is expensive to produce – even though it’s become more efficient, an increasing focus on ‘production values’ means it hasn’t exactly gotten any cheaper. Combine that with the internet well and truly eating traditional media’s lunch when it comes to advertising – even though online ad metrics appear to be as much of an agreed-upon fiction as TV viewership figures – and the struggle is certainly real.

Indeed, for most – if not all – commercial TV broadcasters, news bulletins have long been a loss-leader for companies. In other words, they don’t make a profit but – up to yesterday, anyway – dipping into the red has been considered worth it because the 6pm bulletin was ‘the gateway’ to the rest of the evening’s programming line-up and thus the most effective way to attract – and hopefully hold on to – a decent sized audience. As such, don’t be surprised if TVNZ announces shortly after June 30 that 1 News at 6pm will be downsized to half an hour…

Based on yesterday’s announcement, Three’s overall programming offering is also going to be dramatically diminished, at least as far as local content goes.

“New local programming would only be in collaboration with local funding bodies and other partners,” a WBD statement said, which casts a shadow over the future of NZ-made factual programmes and popular entertainment shows and may prove to be the greatest loss resulting from this unwelcome development.

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