2018: The Year NZ’s Media Networks Evolve or Die

“It’s evolve or die, really, you have to evolve, you have to move on otherwise it just becomes stagnant.”

Craig Charles

“Humanity is now faced with a stark choice: Evolve or die. … If the structures of the human mind remain unchanged, we will always end up re-creating the same world, the same evils, the same dysfunction.”

Eckhart Tolle

The annual reshuffling of presenters amongst New Zealand’s broadcasters started again recently.

The most notable change, being Hilary Barry taking over from the recently resigned Mike Hosking and Toni Street on what used to pass for current affairs on our “State Broadcaster” TVNZ.

A few National Party spin doctors got their noses out of joint that Barry’s replacement on TVNZ’s “Breakfast” show will be former Green Party candidate (and co-host of both Crowd Goes Wild and Back Benches on Prime), Hayley Holt, but all that really came down to was sour grapes at losing their biggest primetime soapbox.

But it did raise one question: Where is New Zealand’s new media talent?

This has been an issue for New Zealand’s commercial broadcasting networks for years.

I have previously written about how little change there has been in network radio talent in New Zealand over the last 20 years. It’s gotten to the point where almost 160, once “live and local 24 hours a day!” announcer positions across New Zealand were covered by a mere eight announcers in their network’s Auckland headquarters’ studios.

A handful of long-term, nationally simulcast announcers have either recently “retired”, or been moved on from positions they have had on the airwaves for up to and over twenty years, but with such a dearth of positions for those dreaming of, or studying towards a career in radio, the waste of talent time, and investment in qualifications must be utterly disenchanting.

Add to that the popularity of personalised music streaming services and I would almost go so far as to say that by drying up their own talent pool and personal, local touches, commercial radio networks in New Zealand have already gone past the point of no return – Dooming themselves to obscurity and oblivion.

But are their television affiliates heading down the same path?

A recent NZME article opines, in light of the Breakfast / Seven Sharp hosting announcements that TVNZ’s selection of hosts is a bit.. “monochromatic” – That is a mainly Pakeha pool of talent, with a penchant for blonde females. (The article doesn’t mention that at least two of these same blondes featured in the photo for the link to the article also host shows for NZME’s own simulcast radio network “The Hits”).

Hair colour aside there does appear to be a significant stagnation and evaporation effecting New Zealand television’s talent pool.

While Barry and Holt are in new roles, they are not new to our TV screens. Before moving to TVNZ Barry was, of course, a cornerstone of Mediaworks’ Three News before the TV network’s management seemingly tried to scuttle their own ship.

Most other hosting roles for “new” shows (we’ll get to that in a minute) on our screens are merely filled by long-term staff from other sectors of Mediaworks’ TV and radio empire, or TVNZ’s television and NZME’s radio networks being shuffled around.

The “newest” hosting talent that immediately comes to mind is Mediaworks’ Kanoa Lloyd and TVNZ’s Sam Wallace, both of whom started out on TV3’s Sticky TV, before moving to weather hosting/reporting roles and beyond on the rival networks.

Both Lloyd and Wallace have now been in the industry for 9-14 years respectively, making them almost battle-hardened veterans by modern media standards.

But it isn’t just the hosting talent that is getting long in the tooth – The shows they are hosting are becoming less and less “fresh” and original.

When TV3 rebranded themselves as #HashtagLoLSelfie, sorry “+hr=e” early last year it gave a bit of insight of what goes on (or rather what doesn’t) inside the minds of those who pick what we can watch on New Zealand’s commercial television networks.

“..The (TV3 brand) has been around since 2003. And 2003 was the year that Saddam Hussein was found in a hidey hole, everyone was using the Nokia 310 as a mobile phone, and Lorde was seven years old – the world has moved on right?”

“There’s some nights I’ve watched 7 Days and thought, actually, that brand is bigger than Three – seems like it’s been bigger than Three for a period of time.”

MediaWorks’ chief content officer Andrew Szusterman.

Here’s humour and irony in Szusterman using 7 Days as an example, and not just because it’s a comedy show, but because the show is based, amongst other things, on similarly formatted “Mock the Week” (first screened in the UK in 2005, while the TV3 brand was still “fresh” and “new”), but 7 Days’ core cast of comedians had been regularly appearing on the very same channel – TV3 – since 1996 on a show called “Pulp Comedy”.

That’s the same talent, largely unchanged, on the same channel for 21 years!

“..the world has moved on right?”

While the world may have moved on, programmers and content officers’ sights have clearly not.

Let’s look at some of the options “+hr=e” viewers had last year:

The most recent series finale of “The Block NZ” (the sixth since starting in 2012) ended in confusion, derision and claims that it might be signalling the end of the Auckland real estate boom, or it might just have been a signal that New Zealand viewers were tiring of play-acting dressing up as wall-to-wall renovation “Reality TV” shows.

After all, the original “The Block” had first aired on Australian television 14 years before in 2003.

“The Bachelor”, another of TV3’s “reality TV’ stable staples first screened in America in 2002, so it’s roses were likely getting a bit dried up and losing most of their petals and appeal.

Not wanting to be left out, TVNZ last year premiered the NZ incarnation of the Granddaddy of them all, “Survivor”, which started in America in 1997 .

That’s 21 years ago!

TWENTY.

ONE!

The world has indeed moved on, but those at the helm of New Zealand’s TV and radio networks have clearly not!

Rather than try to change and innovate, like their now far more successful streaming competitors, managers of New Zealand’s broadcast media merely shake their fist and yell at the clouds, or, like dinosaurs, just stare at the glow in the sky as the asteroid hurtles towards them.

Will 2018 be the year they finally become extinct?

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