Television
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Television

Scott reveals Aunty's plans

Posted April 19th, 2012 by debritz

ABC managing director Mark Scott, in Brisbane to open the national broadcaster's new Queensland headquarters at South Bank, has revealed some of Aunty's plans for the digital future.

He told 612ABC breakfast announcer Spencer Howson that:

+ A new ABC app for Android phones would be released "within days";

+ An iView app for mobile platforms would be available soon, and that iView would eventually be available in HD, although delivery on the net was expensive for the broadcaster;

+ Aunty is lobbying government to extend digital radio coverage from beyond the major metro areas, although he conceded there was no great financial imperative for this as there was for the digital TV switchover;

You can hear the full interview here.

Video rewards the radio star

Posted April 18th, 2012 by debritz

As The Australian's Michael Bodey points out, we really shouldn't have been surprised that Hamish Blake won the Gold Logie.

Blake has successfully parlayed his success on radio, and in cyberspace, into Logies votes.

The problem, of course, is that while Blake is very popular -- and especially so with young people -- he has been ostensibly rewarded for his work on a television show that had low overall ratings but was a minor hit with its target demographic.

Developing Bodey's argument, it seems fair to say that the Logies have become not a measure of television popularity, but of overall popularity -- at least among those people who are prepared to go to the trouble of casting a vote.

How long, then, before the Logies -- or some new thing that will usurp their role -- become popular culture awards rather than TV awards?

The Gold Logie may, in the not-too-distant future, be awarded to the "most popular" person in all media, rather than just television.

Of course, as long as it relies on people who are motivated to vote, or are even aware that the award exists, it won't be a true indication of actual popularity.

But at least it will be a more honest reflection of the realities of media in the 21st century: that fame transcends platforms and that nobody is working in just one medium any more.

All-star effort

Posted April 17th, 2012 by debritz

I don't often share videos on this blog, but this is something else.

It's a promo for a Norwegian television talk show and it features a random array of blasts from the past, from Roger Moore to Harpo (Movie Star singer), Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), Rikki Lake, Huey Lewis, David Faustino (Married with Children), Lou Ferrigno (the Hulk), John Nettles (Bergerac), Gorden Kaye ('Allo 'Allo), George Wendt (Norm in Cheers), Fab Morven (Milli Vanilli), Kathleen Turner, Daryl Hannah and many, many others.

My hat tips to thepoke.co.uk for finding it.

Now, if only an Australian TV network could gather such a line-up ...

Never mind the Logies, here are the Logics

Posted April 12th, 2012 by debritz

Let's face it, the Logie Awards don't make any sense. Every year, the best and brightest of Australia's television industry gather at a function arranged by a magazine with a very low circulation to give out gongs to people who really haven't earned them.

Actors and presenters whose shows next-to-nobody watched are rewarded, while the creators and stars of the top-rating shows go home empty handed. (Why, by way of example, was Ben Elton widely ridculed last year when his Live from Planet Earth show actually attracted more viewers than the Today show, whose star Karl Stefanovic won the Gold Logie?*)

Because of these discrepancies, I have initiated the Logic Awards, which acknowledge programs and talent on the basis of the only true measure of popularity in the world of TV -- the ratings.

These gogns are based on the actual ratings -- the most accurate available measurement of a show's popularity -- not just a poll of a small subsection of the population who read a magazine or visit a certain website. These are the shows and the stars Australians actually watched in 2011.

Where the winners are from overseas, thus making them ineligible for a Logie award, I've added Australian runners-up.

(No methodology is perfect, but I've explained mine at the end of this post.)

GOLD LOGIC for Most Popular Personalities

Prince William and Kate Middleton, stars of the most-watched program of 2011, The Royal Wedding.
Australian: The cast of Packed to the Rafters

SILVER LOGIC Most Popular Actor
Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey
(Australian: Erik Thomson, Packed to the Rafters)

SILVER LOGIC Most Popular Actress
Laura Carmichael, Downton Abbey
(Australian: Rebecca Gibney, Packed to the Rafters)

SILVER LOGIC Most Popular Presenter
Tie: Grant Denyer**, Australia's Got Talent and Scott Cam, The Block

MOST POPULAR NEW MALE TALENT
Ryan Corr, Packed To The Rafters

MOST POPULAR NEW FEMALE TALENT
Hannah Marshall, Packed To The Rafters

MOST POPULAR DRAMA SERIES
Packed To The Rafters

MOST POPULAR LIGHT ENTERTAINMENT/COMEDY PROGRAM
The Big Bang Theory
(Australian: The Gruen Transfer/ Gruen Planet)

MOST POPULAR LIFESTYLE PROGRAM
Better Homes And Gardens

MOST POPULAR SPORTS PROGRAM
The Melbourne Cup

MOST POPULAR REALITY PROGRAM
The Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
(Australian: tie between Australia's Got Talent and The Block)

MOST POPULAR FACTUAL PROGRAM
Seven News

Audio link: Brett talks to Josh from the MolksTVTalk podcast
(Full podcast here.)

Notes about the methodology: For the purpose of these awards I've made a few adjustments to the categories and elegibility rules, and used some "best guesses". For example, I've extrapolated that if Downton Abbey was the most popular drama on TV, then its headline stars are the most popular actor and actress.
In the comedy category, which I bundled with light entertainment, while the debut of Ashton Kutcher in Two and Half Men was a huge ratings success, the show spectacularly lost two-thirds of its audience -- a sure and swift sign of unpopularity -- so it cannot be reckonned to be as big a success as The Big Bang Theory, which rated consistently well, even in its many repeats.
In the case of The Block, its audience average over the season was slighlty lower than Australia's Got Talent, but its huge finale helped compensate. I've declared the difference between these shows and their hosts as too close to call.
While I largely ignored the official TV Week Logie Awards nominations, I was somewhat guided by them in categories that I felt were unclear. The distinctions between light entertainment, reality, lifestyle and factual seem blurry to say the least. In the factual category, logic dictated that it must go to the highest-rated news program, even though the Logie nominees did not include news and current affairs programs. As nted above, I included comedy programs in the light-entertainment category.
I have not included the "most outstanding" award catgeories, which require a more subjective approach than used here.
In compiling these results, I am indebted to reasearch done by David Dale for his excellent blog, The Tribal Mind. Any misreadings of the data, however, are mine.

* Yes, I am aware of the difference between breakfast and prime time, but viewers are viewers, and I would argue that viewers in the morning aren't anywhere near as engaged with the box as those at night, so LFPE actually had command of far more eyeballs and ears.

** As an anonymous commenter points out (see below), I originally wrote Luke Jacobz here in error. Apologies to all.

Kimpossible dream?

Posted April 10th, 2012 by debritz

Is a fresh and funny Australian sitcom too much to ask for? Apparently so.

News that we're about to be subjected (if we so choose) to both a Kath and Kim movie and a new TV series is proof positive that there are either no original ideas in comedy now, or that nobody in televisionland is willing to take a punt on a new idea.

I was never a big fan of Kath and Kim. I always saw it as the latte set's cruel and too-broadly-stereotypical-to-be-funny satire on the working classes. To me it was just as authentic as millionaire shock jock Alan Jones is when he talks about "Struggle Street".

But I also realise that many people, including those out of whom the mickey was being taken, lapped it up. And I admit I am a fan of other work by the creators of Kath and Kim, Jane Turner and Gina Riley, and many of its cast, particularly Glenn Robbins and Magda Szubanski. (I think Riley's best work was in The Games, which had the benefit of John Clarke's brilliance behind it.)

If we must flog this dead horse, can we have something else, too? Why aren't the networks -- especially the cashed-up Seven Network -- investing in the future of television comedy? As I've said before, creating content is the only viable future for the free-to-air networks.

We've come a long was as a society since Hey Dad..! and yet, Kath and Kim aside, there hasn't been a hit commercial television comedy since it ceased production in 1994. It's time for us to move on; to invest in the writing that can bring us a genuinely funny sitcom that riffs off contemporary Australian themes.

Perhaps the Queensland Theatre Company will consider reviving its Australian Sitcom Festival, where in 2001 (wow, that was a long time ago) an ensemble of talented actors gave new scripts a try-out in a stage setting.

New Queensland Premier Campbell Newman doesn't seem to be a fan of the "high" arts (he scrapped the annual Premier's Literary Awards), but maybe this is something he could get behind. Anything that would encourage good writing, and provide potential employment for actors and film crew, is surely worth considering.

A job worth paying for

Posted April 4th, 2012 by debritz

My father, like his father, was a house painter. He wanted to be a teacher, but times were tough and he had to leave school at a young age to help support his family.

Still, he was a very wise man. He read widely in areas that interested him and he held strong opinions.

I remember him saying, about his own trade, that anyone could paint a house to suit himself, but not everyone could paint a house to the satisfaction of the people paying for it.

I'm a journalist, and I feel the same way about my own profession. Plenty of people can write but not everybody has the full set of skills a professional needs.

I think this approach to the craft is especially relevant at a time when the news media is desperately trying to reinvent itself in the digital age. In doing so, we must not forget our core skills.

When I tweet or blog about errors in spelling or syntax in media reports, I'm sometimes accused of being pedantic -- as if accuracy was no longer a prerequisite for the practice of journalism.

Recently, I've been having a minor rant on Twitter about journalists who misuse the word "allegedly". In news reports you will often hear or read about an "alleged robbery" when the reporter is referring to a robbery, pure and simple. What's alleged in the story is the identity of the person or persons who committed the crime.

If the court reporter and the sub-editor who handles his or her copy doesn't know how to use "allegedly" properly, then they don't know the law, they don't know the language, or they simply don't care. That is unacceptable.

I rail against people who confuse "deny" and "refute" -- words that have distinct meanings -- and those who believe there are degrees of uniqueness. Why? Because getting it wrong dilutes the power of the English language.

Oh, but language changes, I'm constantly told. Yes, but it should change to become more robust, not to become weaker. We should be adding words to the dictionary to make communication easier and more exact, not tweaking the meaning of existing words to the point where they lose potency and create confusion.

I'm by no means perfect. There are many errors on this blog, probably even in this post. But I'm working on my own here.

If professional news organisations can't leverage the huge resources and large staff they have to ensure that they get the basics right, how can they realistically hope to compete against the online aggregators and other cut-price operators?

The thing about being professional is that you do your job properly, you are acknowledged for it, and you get paid for it. Nobody's going to pay top dollar for a slap-dash paint job, and nobody should have to pay for consistently sloppy journalism.

When I point this out to other journalists, they say that budgets are tight and they can no longer afford the checks and balances that used to be put in place. I reckon that's a false economy that could ultimately lead to the demise of the established news media.

In the future, there'll be plenty of digital detritus but not a lot of solid, well-researched, well-written and well-edited journalism. What there is of any quality will be worth paying for, either directly or indirectly (through advertising).

It's my belief that, after a period of playing around with the amateurs, enough people will come back to the fold to make well-run professional news media organisations viable. But that's only if they are worth coming back to.

Guide to go?

Posted March 25th, 2012 by debritz

Back in the day when newspapers were king, one of the big circulation boosters for Sunday titles was the weekly television guide.

The insertion of the A4 TV Extra magazine, which listed the week ahead's programs spiced up with celebrity profiles and gossip, was a bold experiment that sent Brisbane's Sunday Sun soaring ahead of its competitor more than 30 years ago.

It also played a part in the launch of the Daily Sun and the subsequent News Ltd purchase of Queensland Newspapers.

Other papers followed suit, and now most Sunday papers in Australia still have a dedicated TV liftout.

But not for much longer, I'd wager. There is one sitting under the remote control on the coffee table in the lounge room now, but I doubt I'll be consulting it.

Why are these guides endangered species? Because they are expensive to produce and insert, and in the age of electronic program guides and the internet, they are not necessary. With their early deadlines -- up to five days before publication -- and the TV networks' renewed fondness for last-minute schedule changes, they are increasingly inaccurate.

On top of that, Sunday papers no longer have a stranglehold on "breaking" TV news; the networks are much more likely to take direct control of these scoops through targeted webpages, viral videos and social media (sometimes disguised as "leaks".)

That's not to say that television gossip will be absent from the papers. If anything, there'll be more of it -- but in the "news" pages and other features sections, rather than in a dedicated space. With the exception of highlights, the listings will eventually disappear altogether as they no longer justify the space they take up.

It will be a brave editor who first pulls the plug on the weekly TV listings, but I think we'll see it happen within a year or two -- and the sky won't fall any more in terms of lost circulation than it already has.

Disclosure: I briefly edited the Queensland TV Guide in the mid-Noughties, when part of my brief was to cut costs.

To be or not to be?

Posted March 20th, 2012 by debritz

Many years ago, I interviewed Mel Gibson, and I asked him how hard it was to get the green light in Hollywood to make non-mainstream films. He told me an anecdote that went something like this:

When Kenneth Branagh pitched the idea of Henry V, one potential backer asked him: "Henry Five, eh? How did Henrys One to Four do at the box office?"

I suspect it's an apocryphal story, but it illustrates a point not only about the American movie industry, but about the current state of Australian television.

When I look at the endless promos on the commercial channels for their new and upcoming local product, one thing is clear: everything is derivative.

Every show is either a reboot (Young Talent Time, Big Brother), a franchise (The Voice, Big Brother [again], Australia's Got Talent, Celebrity Apprentice) or a clone (The Shire is tipped to be our answer to Jersey Shore, for example).

Nothing on the commercial channels strikes me as being truly original, because nobody's game to back a hunch. Better to copy something else and hope it clicks (bad luck about Excess Baggage, which was a mashup of Biggest Loser and Celebrity Whatever) than to take a risk on innovation.

After all, nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. Oh, wait a minute ...

When the commercial networks do look for something "new", they almost always fall back on the same relatively small and intertwined cliques of "creatives" who've produced everything we've seen on television for the past 20 or 30 years.

I've written before about how free-to-air television networks' only chance of long-term survival is if they seriously invest in content creation. If they're going to succeed, they will have to take some real risks and seek out ideas from people other than the usual suspects.

Update: Last night's ratings go some way to illustrating how bad things are for Channels 9 and 10. They both, again, got blitzed in the overall figures by Seven, but they also failed to win their "preferred demographics", which must make it very hard to pitch to advertisers. I also find it's interesting that repeats of Big Bang Theory on 9 are doing better than new episodes of Two Broke Girls and Two and a Half Men.

The Shire's no Shore thing

Posted March 17th, 2012 by debritz

Australia's Ten Network is reportedly working on a new "reality" series to be called The Shire.

The word is that Ten is expecting the show -- about a group of people living in Cronulla, a beachside suburb south of Sydney -- to be Australia's answer to the US phenomenon Jersey Shore and the British hit The Only Way is Essex.

Not that anyone in televisionland is going to listen to me, but I would urge caution. Remember, Nine thought Excess Baggage would be a huge hit, too.

There are a lot of potential pitfalls with this kind of programming, and one of them is beating your chest too loudly when they are launched.

The days when people will watch a show based purely on the station's own promotional efforts are long, long gone. It takes positive word of mouth, and -- especially with shows targetted to a young audience -- a lot of genuine internet buzz before a show will become a hit.

If anything, overzealous promotion will turn potential viewers off (as I believe it did with Excess Baggage).

The fact that the formula has worked elsewhere counts for very little. Success or otherwise will depend on casting, production values, scheduling and a lot of luck.

The Shire may well be the next big thing and, given the lacklustre performance of many of its other shows this year, I'm sure Ten has a lot riding on it.

To be honest, I'm hoping it isn't a hit. Why? Because it means we'll have another bunch of oxygen-sucking pseudo-celebrities clogging up media coverage that could be devoted to actual achievers.

Given the backlash The Circle's Yumi Stynes and George Negus received over their comments about Victoria Cross winner Ben Roberts Smith, maybe Ten should be making a real "reality" show about people who've done something to benefit others.

Making a meal of it

Posted March 6th, 2012 by debritz

Yesterday, after I posted this item about the state of television in Australia, I received a direct message from somebody who works in the industry.

Noting that "fatal decay" in broadcast television began years ago, my correspondent added: "Who wouldn't rather order from a menu?"

The food analogy is a useful one, but I'd employ it differently. I'd say, who would want to choose from a limited menu when there's a whole smorgasbord to be enjoyed? Oh, and not everybody wants to eat at the same time, and no matter how good the chef is, we don't always want to eat at the same restaurant.

This is why, even with the greater flexibility offered by having extra digital channels, free-to-air television can't compete with pay-TV, let alone the internet.

Online, you can get anything you want exactly when you want it. The only problem is that it's not legal in Australia yet. But, as with music file-sharing, that can't be far away, because the people who make the product, quite reasonably, want to get paid when people consume it.

In reply to the message, I said that, even though it was apparent to people inside the station bunkers, it didn't appear that the television networks were doing enough to cope with this revolution.

Yesterday, I finished up by writing that My Kitchen Rules "is a step in the right direction, because it's popular, original content that the Seven Network can exploit in other media".

Another, perhaps better, example is Home And Away, the Australian soap opera that regularly attracts more than 1 million viewers at home and millions more in overseas markets. It feeds Seven's own schedule, and will be making money for its producers well into the future, through repeats.

At the moment, network production resources are largely devoted to news and current affairs. That's a good thing for short-term ratings results but, in general, these programs have a very short "tail". There's an immediate ratings return, that is rewarded by increased income from advertising, but there are no ongoing payments for repeats (except for sales of library material).

To survive, networks simply must focus on being production houses first, and broadcasters second. If they are not out there seeking fresh talent -- starting with writers who can produce great scripts -- and prepared to take a punt on drama and comedy, then they are signing their own death warrants.

The elephant in the room

Posted March 5th, 2012 by debritz

If you've been following this blog, or you've heard me speak on radio, or you follow me in social media, you'll already know my stock response whenever anybody tells me how a television program attracted a large audience.

Other person: "My Kitchen Rules had two million viewers last night."

Me: "Well, that's 20 million people who didn't watch it, then."

Now, I'm not dissing MKR, or the rugby league, or whatever else it is that Australians want to watch in great numbers. What I am saying, however, is that when, on an average night, fewer than two million people in the country's five biggest cities are watching the same program -- and, importantly, the same ads -- at the same time, can it really be referred to as "mass media" any more?

Take a look at the excellent research by popular culture historian David Dale.

According to Dale, at least three programs in the history of television have been watched by more than half the Australian population. They were all special events: the wedding and funeral of Diana Spencer and the 2000 Olympics opening ceremony. Now that's a mass audience.

But amid these one-offs, and a swag of hit movies and miniseries, you have to run your finger a long way down the list to find a regularly scheduled program that has captivated anything like a genuinely huge audience slice. And, as the years go on, fewer and fewer people are consuming the same thing at the same time.

So far this year, the top-rating show has been MKR, which has been watched by about one in 10 Australians. Of course, they are the same people night after night. From an advertiser's perspective, it's a matter of reinforcing a message to those people over and over again, but not reaching anybody new.

The figures are nothing to sneeze at, and television remains the biggest show in town for now. But while the number of eyeballs and ears glued to the goggle box is getting smaller and smaller, things are rather different on the internet. The growth is all online.

The internet is a wild and strange place, and advertisers and their bookers are rightly wary of it. Most importantly, rather than a choice of a dozen or so channels, there are hundreds of millions of websites.

However, some sites are cutting through big time. How can you ignore this burgeoning medium when one of the biggest players, News Limited, claims it alone attracts about 7.7 million unique viewers to its sites every month?

Now, there are big difference between banner ads (or even splash ads and video) on the internet and TV commercials, but the former do have some significant advantages.

While it is possible to block ads on a website, most people don't, and indeed can't, do it. They do see web ads (and, increasingly, hear them), but they can and often do choose not to see television ads (via time-shifting, or by changing channels, or by simply leaving the room for a few minutes).

Like newspaper ads, web ads are always there for most of the audience. Unlike newspaper ads, they can be directly targetted to the particular person viewing the page, thanks to technology that stores our personal information on our computers and, increasingly, in the cloud.

I can, and almost certainly will, write more on this subject, but the simple point I'm trying to make now is that the TV networks, and other "traditional' media for that matter, can't afford to ignore the elephant in the room. They have to ramp-up their own online offerings if they are to stay in the game.

And they have to realise that their competitors are not just the other television networks. Everybody with a web page is now a potential broadcaster, and television sets are not the only (or even major) means by which people tune-in.

At least, a program like MKR is a step in the right direction, because it's popular, original content that the Seven Network can exploit in other media. Other networks are relying on sport -- to which they have only the telecast rights (which they risk losing) rather than actual control -- and imported programs which audiences can access through other means.

When Davy met Marcia

Posted March 1st, 2012 by debritz

Perhaps this isn't the finest moment in the career of Davy Jones, the British actor and lead singer of The Monkees, who has died at just 66, but it was the one that imediately came to my mind:




(I'm not sure as a responsible parent I'd be letting an older man take my teenage daughter to the prom, though.)

How to ruin a good thing

Posted February 22nd, 2012 by debritz

Television viewers are creatures of habit. Occasionally television networks are able to break entrenched habits, but mostly they cannot. For example, viewers seem to like their shows to run for 30 minutes from 6pm to 7.30pm, and recent attempts to glue them to one program starting at 7pm on a weeknight and stretching to 8pm or beyond haven't fared well.

One sure way to harm a program, perhaps terminally, is to change its timeslot. Few shows can survive that -- although it seems a substantial number of people will watch Big Bang Theory no matter what time, or which station, it is on.

Channel Ten has provided a textbook example of how to ruin a popular show by not just changing its timeslot -- twice -- but by stretching its resources to breaking point, by doubling its length and adding an extra program on Sunday.

I am writing, of course, about The Project, which is now screening for an hour Monday to Friday, and 30 minutes on Sunday, at 6pm. It started life at 7pm, before moving to 6.30pm to replace the axed 6.30pm with George Negus (originally 6pm with George Negus).

On Sundays, The Project rates in the 300,000s -- the kind of figures that get expensive locally produced primetime shows axed very quickly under normal circumstances -- and on weeknights it generally attracts national viewing figures in the 400,000s. (The latest figure I have at the time of writing is 462,00 for Monday night.)

Let's rewind to this week last year, when The 7pm Project, as it then was, scored 536,000 viewers on its worst night and 720,000 on its best. Over five days, it averaged 660,000. That's not a huge figure for a night-time show, but it's half as well again as it's doing now.

That same week, Negus was scoring in the high 300,000s and the soon-to-be-axed and subsequently-much-derided Ben Elton Live from Planet Earth scored 491,000 on another network in a later timeslot.

Now, maybe viewers have tired of The Project, but my best guess is that they are sick of it being punted around the schedule, not fussed on getting an hour of it, and prefer their "straight" news from Seven and Nine at 6pm and their "current affairs" from Today Tonight or A Current Affair at 6.30pm.

That seems obvious to me, but then I'm not a highly paid television programmer.

PS Ashton Kutcher fans might want to note that a new Two and a Half Men episode rated 706,000 last night. This time last year, the Charlie Sheen version had 1,057,000 viewers. Who's winning?

Update In announcing half-year results that include a 12pc revenue fall for its television business, Ten CEO Jame Warburton said: "... our performance in the 5pm to 8pm timeslot, including The Project, this year has been pleasing."

The stock market ,a href="http://www.smh.com.au/business/media-and-marketing/ten-tanks-after-profit-downgrade-20120222-1tni7.html" target="new">did not like this news.

Breakfast table is too crowded

Posted February 19th, 2012 by debritz

As Channel Ten prepares to re-enter the breakfast television arena, I ask a question I've asked many times before: Why?

Putting together is a breakfast TV show, as Ten has done, is not only expensive, it would seem to be pointless -- simply because there are not enough viewers to go around the Ten, Seven, Nine and ABC offerings.

As the Sun-Herald reports today, morning shows have very small total audiences -- less than a fifth of the total population tune in at all, and then only for a matter of minutes per week.

Michael Lallo writes:

The Sunday Age commissioned a report from ratings provider OzTAM. It showed that more than 1 million Melburnians watched at least eight minutes of Sunrise, Today or ABC News Breakfast at least once last week. Still, this was dwarfed by the 3 million who heard at least eight minutes of breakfast radio. Nationally, 4 million Australians watched breakfast TV while 10 million listened to radio.

Additionally, morning viewers are not as engaged (because they are getting ready for the day, getting dressed, shouting at kids and preparing school lunches) as those watching prime-time shows. While advertisers don't pay as much for morning ads, they do pay enough, apparently, to sustain the shows and the salaries (and egos) of their stars.

But will that continue as times get tougher - meaning advertisers will start to re-examine the bang they're getting for their buck - and another slice is cut out of the commercial pie?

The Sun-Herald story appears to reach a different conclusion, but I can see no sensible reason for breakfast TV to be a ratings battleground.

Unlike with radio, it doesn't even set up an audience habit for the rest of the day. TV viewers dial-hop much more than radio listeners (despite attempts to thwart them from doing so by having programs overrun their timeslots).

One reason for this is that television has always been seen as an assemblage of different shows, while radio runs a continuous programming theme, be it news-talk or a particular type of music. Another, more practical, reason is that most radio receivers start up on the same station they were last tuned-in to, while many television sets no longer do.

Ten seems to be hitching the success of its Breakfast show to the acceptance of controversial New Zealand broadcaster Paul Henry, whose previous, and only, claim to fame is getting reprimanded for being both juvenile and racist in deliberately mispronouncing the name of an Indian official.

TV's a funny beast and there's a chance the show will work thanks to the PT Barnum observation that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the general public. Or, like The Bolt Report, it may remain on air for reasons other than the popular embrace.

Given the bizarre programming choices made by Ten in recent times (including its failed attempt to turn itself into a news and current affairs powerhouse, and its misguided mucking about with The Project), there's not a lot of cause for confidence that it will get this right.

One thing's for sure: all three stations are disproportionately focusing effort on this timeslot. At least one of the shows will either not exist, or will be significantly altered, by this time next year.

Mind you, having said that, one of the free-to-air networks may not exist in its current form by this time next year. But that's another story.

Poor Baggage handling

Posted February 5th, 2012 by debritz

Feb 7 update: The Nine network has reportedly moved Excess Baggage to its Go! multichannel.

Channel 9's Excess Baggage is reportedly facing the axe, or demotion to digital channel Go!, within a week. Now I know hindsight is a wonderful thing, but EB has presented itself as a textbook example of how to get the creation, marketing and programming of a show terribly, terribly wrong.

The concept probably looked good on paper. The idea was to do to weight-loss programs what Nine had successfully done to the Apprentice format -- spice it up with the addition of once-were and wannabe celebrities. (Genuine celebrities, of course, don't need to go on reality shows.)

The broader plan was for Excess Baggage to be the first of a series of programs, including Big Brother, The Block and a new season of Celebrity Apprentice, that would be "stripped" at 7pm, thus claiming that timeslot and gluing viewers to the station throughout the primetime schedule.

But the problems for Baggage began before it was even screened.

Mistake No. 1: Nine over-egged the show, running an extended "sneak peek" so often that even people well-disposed towards the program would have felt that they'd already seen it. For the rest of us, it just confirmed negative sentiments.

Mistake No. 2: Programming it against the similar, but already well established, The Biggest Loser, thus only ever being able to divide a finite potential audience. Crucially, TBL is a program that viewers don't hate, so why should they jump ship? (Also, as the Seven juggernaut Home And Away is also female-skewed, it placed three shows targetting a similar audience in the same timeslot. Nine should have gone the other way.)

Mistake No. 3: Removing the wildly popular US sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, from the 7pm slot, which it had made its own over the summer. Big Bang repeats were regularly trouncing first-run episodes of other shows on other channels. Nine was on a good thing, and should have stuck to it.

Mistake No. 4: Debuting Excess Baggage in a week when they knew it would be interrupted by the cricket. Of course, Ten cleverly forced Nine's hand there, by launching its 2012 schedule early. I guess that's more a misfortune than a mistake.

Mistake No. 5: Flogging it to death. One night last week, the show ran for 90 minutes. Viewers balk at committing that amount of time to a movie, let alone an untested new show.

Whatever the weather

Posted January 29th, 2012 by debritz

Dear Weather Bureau,

First of all, I would like to genuinely and sincerely thank you for all your hard work in times of disaster, when your skill, your radars and your other technology have warned us of weather emergencies. Without doubt, you have saved countless lives over the years, and you have prevented a great deal of property damage by warning people of violent weather events. Along with many others, I truly value that aspect of your work.

However, isn't it about time you acknowledged that all your training, and your technology, simply does not equip you to predict anything other than an imminent threat?

I know I am not alone in saying that I am sick of seeing "seven-day forecasts" on the TV news, online and in newspapers, that are wildly inaccurate.

Please, can somebody from the Bureau of Meteorology make a clear statement that, by and large, the weather is unpredictable.

Who wants their FTA?

Posted January 25th, 2012 by debritz

I have been involved in a discussion on Twitter on how much longer free-to-air television will be a force in Australia. I ventured that FTA stations would be in trouble within 10 years if they fail to change their primary emphasis from being distributors of shows produced elsewhere to creating their own content.

Two other people disagreed -- not to my proposition, but to the timing. One said it might not be as soon as 10 years, another said it would be more like 5-8 years when we see the first FTA station fold.

Now, of course, all the FTA networks will deny they are in trouble, but they most certainly are. The fact of the matter is that they don't have a collective monopoly any more; viewers can already access the content they want in many ways other than sitting down in front of a TV set at a designated time.

To use a current example, sure you can get plenty of The Big Bang Theory on Channel Nine and its sister station Go! If you're a fan, though, you can pay for a Foxtel subscription and get even more of it on the Comedy Channel.

Of course, both the FTA and pay-TV options rely on you watching whichever episode they decide to screen when they decide to broadcast it. You can time-shift it to watch later, or maybe stream it on the network's catch-up site, but you can't see it right now. However, if you're a BBT tragic, and you're prepared to take the legal risk, you can download the episodes you want to see when you want to see them. Say you missed a particular episode from series 1, or you want to show your best friend an ep you think they'd enjoy, well it's out there for the picking.

While Hollywood rightly wants to stem the tide of illegal downloading, the genie is already out of the lamp. They can't prosecute everybody who shares torrents, so the only real solution available to content creators is to enable people to download what they want, when they want it - and to make them pay for it.

And, when that happens, as it surely will, the FTA networks (and, to a lesser extent, pay TV) will have lost their biggest earner. Producers will either sell their content directly or through a model similar to iTunes or Amazon's Kindle book store. No role for the TV networks there.

For a short time -- be it five or 10 or 15 years -- FTA will continue play a role in introducing new shows to audiences, but that function will eventually be taken over completely by social media (in whatever form or forms it will take in the future) and other means of peer-to-peer recommendation.

Bottom line: the direct distribution of TV shows will bypass the existing networks, so to survive they will have to ramp-up the production of original content -- be it news, drama, comedy series, reality shows or whatever.

The only way for them to survive will be to sell this original content, or make it available via an advertiser-supported model, on demand.

Holding back the tide

Posted January 23rd, 2012 by debritz

This post is brought to you by the television networks who insist on calling repeats "encores".

An encore is a short repeated item or an additional item at the end of a performance. When you just screen something again, it's a repeat.

Oh, and while we're at it:

1) There are no degrees of uniqueness, the word "unique" is unique. Something that is "almost unique" is rare or unusual. If it's unique it's one of a kind. It cannot be "very unique".

2) "Refute" is not a synonym for "deny". If you refute a claim, you prove it to be untrue, you don't just contradict it.

3) If somebody has drowned or has been electrocuted, they are dead. There are no exceptions to this rule.

4) Alternative and alternate don't mean the same thing.

Why are these things important? Because it dilutes our language if we misuse words with specific meanings, and our ability to communicate effectively and efficiently with each other suffers in the process.

We all slip up occasionally but when it comes to the examples above, too many people in the media are repeat offenders. Or, in their language, they like to provide encores of their ignorance.

Ahoy there! Meet the pirates

Posted January 19th, 2012 by debritz

Taking something that isn't yours is illegal. We all know that; we learn it from a very young age. But not one of us isn't guilty of theft in some form or another, be it by accidentally taking home a pen that belongs to your employer or downloading a movie or television program from the internet.

It's the latter case that's been causing a stir recently, in the context of American "anti-piracy" legislation.

But why do people download content from the internet when they know it's illegal? I have no doubt that for many people it's simply because they can, and they figure that there's no point in paying for something you can get for free.

But what if you went to a shop and there was no checkout counter, or no staff to take your money? Would you do? Return the goods to the shelf, or take them anyway, reasoning that you had tried to pay for them but couldn't?

When I lived in Thailand, there were certain western TV programs I wanted to watch but simply could not obtain by any legal, paid means. Sure I could buy any movie I wanted from the stalls operating openly along Sukhumvit and Silom roads -- including titles that hadn't even screened at cinemas yet -- but they were all pirated anyway. So while I would have paid, none of my money would have gone to the creators of the product.

My other option would have been to download shows from the internet -- cutting out the middle man. That's something I would have gladly paid to do, just as I have gladly paid for songs over iTunes. But there was, and still is, no legal means of me doing so, in Thailand or in many other countries -- largley because of the deals the content makers have made with broadcasters and exhibitors.

I could have easily rationalised any act of 'piracy', especially since most of the shows I wanted to see are screened in Australia on the ABC, which is funded by the Australian taxpayer -- and that's a group that's included me for a very long time.

My point is that this is not a black-and-white issue. The only real first step to eradicating or minimising piracy is to make paid content available globally, directly and on-demand to those who want it.

4BC announces summer stars

Posted December 8th, 2011 by debritz

Former Brisbane television newsreader Jillian Whiting will team up with onetime 4BH and 4BC breakfast host Kim Mothershaw to present the breakfast show on 4BC over summer.

They will replace Peter Dick and Mary Collier, who are taking a Christmas break, from December 19 until December 30.

From January 2 to 6, Mothershaw will be joined in the breakfast chair by Dean Banks, a radio veteran who was once part of 3AW's breakfast line-up.

Meanwhile, 4BC has also confirmed that garden guru Colin Campbell will be hanging up the microphone after almost 30 years on air.

His last show will be on Sunday, January 1. His co-host Clair Levander, a qualified horticulturalist, will continue on in the popular show.

In a statement, 4BC general manager David McDonald said: “This is an extremely sad time for Col’s listeners and staff at 4BC. He has had nothing but a positive influence on both the station and the gardening industry over many, many years.

"I would like to personally thank him for his major contribution and wish both him and his wife Beverly all the very best for his pending retirement.”


Colin Campbell photo from 4bc.com.au.

Tribute to Artie Beetson

Posted December 4th, 2011 by debritz

A state memorial service for rugby league legend Arthur "Artie" Beetson will be held at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Sunday, December 18, at midday.

Premier Anna Bligh also announced that a bronze statue of Beetson would be cast and exhibited at the northern plaza of the stadium. The statue will be funded equally by the Queensland Government, the Former Origin Greats (FOGs) and Channel 9.

Beetson, who died while cycling on the Gold Coast last week, was the first indigenous Australian to captain his country in any sport.

He also captained the first Queensland State of Origin team.

We need to talk about Kyle

Posted November 23rd, 2011 by debritz

Update: Holden has withdrawn its sponsorship of the Kyle and Jackie O show.

Yesterday, when I wrote this, I was in a conciliatory mood towards Kyle Sandilands.

I said he was a good, possibly great radio broadcaster, but he - especially when teamed with his 2Day co-host Jackie O - couldn't carry a TV show, and that the television networks should be looking for fresh talent rather than spending more money on him.

Then I became aware of this rant. Sandilands had used his breakfast radio show to make a personal attack on a journalist who had merely reported criticisms of his Night with the Stars TV program (which turned out to be a ratings flop).

He called news.com.au's Alison Stephenson a "fat slag" and a "piece of shit", and he criticised the size of her breasts and her hairstyle.

Well, Kyle, I hope you feel like a big man, because you're not just the King, as you like to call yourself, you're the Emperor - the Emperor With No Clothes. And it's time for somebody to tell you so.

Back when Sandilands was hosting the Hot 30 program, I interviewed him over an incident where he put to air a confrontation between a schoolgirl and her mother, who had been having sex with her daughter's boyfriend.

A psychologist I interviewed for that story called what Sandilands was doing "child abuse".

During our interview, Sandliands complained that nobody acknowledged all the good work he was doing raising funds for and awareness of Kids' Helpline.

As experts pointed out, this was a case that should have been referred to Kids' Helpline, not broadcast across Australia. Even Jackie O tried to stop it going to air, but Sandilands proudly boasted to me that he overruled her because he had "more experience".

Well, Kyle not only survived that one, he got promoted and has been
emboldened. Is strapping a teenage girl to a lie detector, where it emerged that she had been raped, or calling a woman a "fat slag"*, helping kids in any way? No, it's setting an extremely bad example.

I tweeted something about Sandilands last night, and one of my followers said I was just giving him "more oxygen". I disagree, and prefer to run with the tweeter who said that there was no point in having programs against bullying in schools if the No. 1 bully - who, by virtue of his primetime status on TV and radio, has a large following among young people (many of whom have body-image issues) - is allowed to get away with unacceptable behaviour again and again.

(It's worth remembering that his rant against Stephenson was not only aired on 2Day, it also made it to the program's podcast, meaning other "adults" at Southern Cross Austereo were involved in spreading this poison.)

I was wrong to think even for a minute that Sandilands had changed his ways.

We not only have to talk about Kyle, we have to make sure that his employers - Southern Cross Austereo and the Seven Network - do something to rein him in.

And the authorities must make it clear that if his employers don't do something about Sandilands, the Australian Communications and Media Authority will.

* Do you detect a pattern here? The victims of his rants are often women. David Penberthy has more on that here.

PS: A petition at change.org is calling for Sandilands to be sacked.

Australia's got better talent

Posted November 22nd, 2011 by debritz

Update: Mumbrella has charted the show's dramatic fall from 1.4 million viewers (inherited from The X Factor) to 255,000 at the end. It has also reported on Sandilands' extraordinary on-air rant, in which he threatened to "hunt down" a journalist who wrote about the show.

I chose not to watch Kyle and Jackie O's Night With The Stars last night. In that decision, I was not alone.

Now, obviously I can't comment on the show itself (although others have) - but that's my point. Like so many other Australians, I deliberately did not watch it because I knew I wouldn't like it.

According to the OzTam figures, NWTS had only 560,000 viewers, coming 20th for the night and coming a poor second in its timeslot to The Mentalist (790,000 viewers). I haven't seen the demographic breakdowns, which I am sure the Seven Network will be eager to push if they suit whatever pitch they made to advertisers, but when the premiere of a show with "name" stars does that badly overall, there's not a lot of good news to be had.

I admit I have issues with Kyle Sandilands, including his cavalier approach to what he does and his astounding lack of self-awareness, but I also concede that he is a good, perhaps even great, radio broadcaster and he is undoubtedly a very successful one. However, apart from the brief screentime he enjoys as the acerbic judge on various talent shows, he is not a television star.

Sandilands has, at least, earned the right to have a go (and probably has a contractual arrangement with Seven to give him a platform beyond the talent shows). Jackie Henderson should just be thankful she comes as part of the package, because no programmer who was even vaguely aware of her track record would give her a gig.

The fact is that Henderson on her own, and she and Sandilands as a double act, have had enough chances on TV. It's somebody else's turn.

Every precious amount of airtime, and every dollar spent, on NWTS could have been more wisely invested. There are so many talented Australians who never get a look-in with television work because the usual suspects are clogging up the airwaves.

It really is time for television executives to get out a bit more and see some of our stage talent, and to consider pitches that come from beyond the small, exclusive club of creators and producers whose shows dominate our screens.

Yes, Australia has got talent, but are television bosses are not really looking for it. At a time when free-to-air TV is struggling, that is simply not good enough.

(Photo of Kyle and Jackie O from www.2dayfm.com.au)

The real Big Harto bows out

Posted November 9th, 2011 by debritz

I couldn't let today's resignation of News Ltd CEO and chairman John Hartigan go by without comment.

Harto, as he was universally known to everyone who worked for and with him, gave me my break in metropolitan newspapers by hiring me as one of the foundation staff of the now-closed Daily Sun newspaper in Brisbane.

He and the brilliant team he assembled - many of whom rose to great heights in News and elsewhere - taught me much of what I know about the media (but don't blame them for my failings).

Harto is a great networker, and he exudes great charm. It's difficult not to like the man - even those who have had battles with him concede that point.

Although one of the inside jokes at News Ltd is that everybody is called "Mate", one of Harto's great talents is remembering names and faces, even as the years go by. Whenever he walked into the Queensland Newspapers office, he'd remember everybody he had worked with by name and he would always find time for a chat with the workers on the "shop floor".

The last time I saw him was at a Daily Sun reunion four years ago, where he was especially generous with his time and his words.

While not everybody was a committed fan, many a glass will be raised as a toast to Harto tonight and on November 30 when he steps down.

According to online reports (here and here), Harto will be replaced by Foxtel's Kim Williams as News CEO and by Rupert Murdoch as chairman. Richard Freudenstein will take over at Foxtel.

In a message to staff, Mr Murdoch said : “John’s decision will end a distinguished 41 year career with News in which he has given us exemplary service and incredible leadership.

“John was an outstanding reporter, an editor with few peers and has been an inspiring executive, initially as Group Editorial Director and, later, as Chief Executive for 11 years and Chairman and Chief Executive for the past six.

“Few people have contributed as much as John to the quality of journalism in Australia. He has earned enormous respect among both colleagues and competitors.”

Missed it by that much

Posted October 30th, 2011 by debritz

There's no doubt that the grounding of the Qantas fleet was the big Australian news story of the day on Saturday.

What a pity then for Brisbane viewers who switched on the Channel Ten news at 5pm AEST - an hour after Qantas CEO Alan Joyce made his dramatic announcement at 5pm AEDT - to find it was led by a soft story about the Queen enjoying a barbecue in Perth and jetting off back to the UK.

Of course, Ten's weekend news no longer comes from the Brisbane studio but from Down South, and it's on a one-hour delay. In the breaking news cycle, 60 minutes can be forever.

Surely Ten should have the ability to do a fresh bulletin for the Queensland market when events dictate. (I remember Ellen Fanning, the former ABC Radio AM host, telling me many years ago that they'd sometimes do three versions of the program for different markets during daylight saving.)

It wasn't a great day all round for Ten, with political reporter Hugh Riminton sending out this tweet:

Such a shame that @alanjoyce is not Alan Joyce the Qantas CEO but a self-described "technophile" from Stanford, California. At least the American Joyce enjoyed all the attention, as his tweet today made clear:

He also tweeted: "I'm no more CEO of Qantas than @willsmith is a famous movie acto.r"

PS: It's worth pointing out, even if it's just for Hugh Riminton's sake, that @alanjoyceCEO isn't the Qantas boss either; it's a parody account (like @andrewbolt).

Update: A tweeter has pointed out that ABC TV's Insiders program is on delay in Queensland this morning (Sunday), when it should really be live on such a big news day.

Update 2: I wonder if Nine's Today Show and Seven's Sunrise will be shown live in Queensland during the Qantas dispute ...

Update 3: Riminton has his say.

Television on the road to nowhere

Posted October 26th, 2011 by debritz

I know the broadcast media is having a tough time at the moment, but some of it is due to a complete lack of foresight and a head-in-the-sand attitude.

It's well known to readers of this blog that I love radio, so it may not come as a surprise when I say that I think radio is more future-proof than broadcast television.

Why? Because radio is still largely about the creation of content; there are real, live people talking to you, devising and organising program elements (interviews, songs, comedy bits) to entertain and/or inform you.

Meanwhile, television is often just about broadcasting shows that have been made by somebody else - sometimes quite a long time ago. There are exceptions, such as news and current affairs programs, but they are very much in the minority in the schedule.

Radio can also react immediately to its audience's needs, to trends and to breaking news, in a way television still cannot. A radio show can change direction midstream as dictated by events, or simply on a whim. Television has to overcome many more technical and physical obstacles.

Given that it relies heavily on "bought-in" programs, television, especially free-to-air television, is going to have to adapt very quickly, or it will die.

Increasingly, TV stations simply act as "middlemen", trying to second-guess what kind of programs the audience wants to watch and when they want to watch them. There was a time when TV programmers made those decisions for us - variety shows on a Saturday night, movies on a Sunday, sport on weekend afternoons, news at 6pm nightly - and we had no choice but to go with the flow.

The VCR changed that, meaning we could record shows and watch them at our convenience. Now, with almost everything digitised and available on the internet (legally or illegally), each one of us can make personal programming decisions.

Television as we know it may play a role in introducing us to new material but if we're hooked on a particular show, we won't be waiting for them to decide when and how often to screen it, we will download it ourselves. Thousands of people are already doing this, and as their numbers grow, legal attempts to stop them will be increasingly ineffective.

It's a small world, and we're not going to wait weeks, months or years to see programs that have already been screened on free-to-air television in their home markets. (The second series of the popular UK drama series Downton Abbey is an example of something Australian viewers will have to wait too long to see on FTA TV.)

It's only a matter of time before content producers demand that their contracts with broadcasters are redrawn to also allow one or both parties to sell the shows directly to the public via download.

Producers and broadcasters who try to defy the tide of the torrent clearly haven't been paying attention to what happened in the music industry. When Apple gave people the option to download songs at a reasonable price, many of them did so - thus ensuring that the creators of the product got some compensation from people who were previously taking a free ride thanks to technology.

The challenge for the TV networks is to make production their core business, not just something they have to do (for example, to meet Australian content
requirements). Make great shows that people want to watch, and the future is assured, whatever the method of delivery happens to be.

Trying to make a buck simply buying product and screening it at leisure after stuffing it with advertisements (sometimes cutting the show to make way for them) is a certain road to ruin.

Give the Brizzos a go!

Posted October 24th, 2011 by debritz

Update: Channel 7 has denied reports it is contemplating line-up changes to Sunrise and Today Tonight. But, if there's a change of heart ...

If persistent newspaper and online reports are to be believed, Channel 7 is preparing to make drastic cast changes in a bid to revitalise its once-dominant breakfast show, Sunrise.

The latest speculation is that Melissa Doyle will become host of Today Tonight and David Koch will move to another, unspecified, position in the night-time schedule.

Sunrise, apparently, will be hosted by Today Tonight's Matthew White and Kylie Gillies, who will be replaced on The Morning Show by Samantha Armytage.

Exactly why the network would want to move White from a winning position and risk losing Today Tonight's dominance over Nine's A Current Affair isn't explained - although some reports have Doyle moving to the Sunday Night program rather than TT.

And while it's been reported that Seven initially tried to lure Georgie Gardner over from Sunrise's competitor, The Today Show, I wonder whether the network looked further afield before deciding to just shuffle the deck.

How about, for instance, importing some Brisbane talent? There are many suitable candidates to follow in the footsteps of Robert Rough, Billy J Smith, Leila McKinnon, Andrew Gunsberg and Chris Reason (among many, many other Queenslanders, stretching back to the likes of Ray Barrett and Leonard Teale) to become national stars.

Some suggestions (others very welcome):

+ Channel 10 newsreader Bill McDonald. He's got a warm personality and he sure knows his sport, especially AFL. He also has an established on-air partnership with Georgina Lewis that could become national.

+ 612ABC breakfast announcer Spencer Howson. He's a proven ratings winner, and he's used to the early starts. (OK, he was born in the UK but he's lived in Brisbane most of his life.)

+ Nova's Meshel Laurie may be in Melbourne now, but she is a Queenslander, and she's great value in any medium. Maybe she could be teamed with Kip Wightman (not a Queenslander, but he's been embraced by Brisbane radio audiences).

+ 4BC newsreader and Zoo Weekly "babe of radio" Natalie Bochenski.

+ Robin Bailey has TV experience (she was on Hey! Hey! It's Saturday), and has a strong radio following in the 24+ female demographic. (Yes, she is originally from Tasmania, but she's a Queenslander now.)

+ Channel 7 Brisbane's own Sharyn Ghidella, who did some wonderful, and quite touching, interviews as part of Channel 7's royal visit coverage.

+ Just about anybody on my list of suggested new 612ABC mornings hosts.

The perfect Malaysian Solution

Posted October 17th, 2011 by debritz

It's A Knockout always was a parody of a television sports show, so it makes perfect sense to cast H.G. Nelson as one of the hosts of the remake.

The format itself has been around for yonks in various countries - controversially so in the UK when Prince Edward produced a royal version, much to the delight of anti-monarchists.

In Australia it's remembered as a national vehicle for Billy J. Smith and Fiona Macdonald, who until then were largely unknown outside of Brisbane. (Remember local television? Anybody?) While I'd love to think Billy J. has one more season in him, it's a great gig for H.G., who has referred to the format as "the people's Olympics".

Now if only somebody will give H.G. and Roy Slaven a gig calling the real Olympics next year ...

The news about Mike Dalton

Posted September 28th, 2011 by debritz

As I tweeted yesterday, Mike Dalton has been officially appointed head of news at Channel 9 Brisbane, replacing Lee Anderson, who resigned in the wake of the "choppergate" affair (even though he was not there when it happened).

I've been informed by a hopefully-reliable source that the picture run in other media today (below) is of a Mike Dalton, but not the one in question.

I believe the guy in the picture is a "wacky" reporter for Nine's Today show. The one now in Brisbane has been senior chief of staff for Nine news in Sydney for the past seven years.

According to his Twitter profile pic, the "real" Mike Dalton is a somewhat more mature man with a liking for fishing.

Choppergate: 3 sacked, boss quits

Posted August 25th, 2011 by debritz

Two journalists - Melissa Mallet and Cameron Price - and producer Aaron Wakeley have been sacked, and Channel Nine Queensland news director Lee Anderson has resigned over what's become known as the "choppergate" affair. (The Courier-Mail has the story here.)

The decision to broadcast twice from Mt Coot-tha while pretending to be on location "near Beerwah" clearly embarrassed Nine News, which is trying to reclaim its No. 1 status on the back of qualityand trustworthy reporting.

I have known Lee Anderson for a very long time (we met while studying journalism at different universities) and I have always known him to be a man of integrity and great ability. According to reports, Anderson was not on duty when the decision to fake the "live crosses" was made, but he has fallen on his sword - perhaps in protest at the sackings, as Channel 10's Hugh Riminton has suggested on Twitter. However, Nine's media release says the sackings happened "subsequently" to Anderson's resignation.

Update: Price has tweeted: "Thanks for all the support. I believe what happened today is completely unfair .. And I am seeking advice on the matter." Mallet has called it "a difficult day to fathom". (Thursday pm)

Update 2: Price's Twitter status has been changed to "Walkey and Clarion nominated Journo. With a clear conscience." (Friday am)

Exactly how the decisions to fake the crosses came to be made may never be known, but the incident highlights not just a lack of professional judgment and breach of ethics (by whom?), but also the pressures under which journalists operate. In the case of TV reporters, the mantra is to have "vision" at all costs.

As one of my Facebook friends wrote earlier tonight, will the spotlight now fall on the practices of some other TV news and current affairs reporters and producers?

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