Next week TEN begins a radical shake-up to its Prime Time schedule with the introduction of two news-based programmes from 6 – 7pm.
6pm with George Negus and TEN Evening News represent the biggest change in the network’s News output since introducing TEN News at Five in 1992. It is a move the network insists is not negotiable, regardless of onlookers who question its schedule of 2.5 hours of news and current affairs.
But TEN has always been a risk taker and sticking with The 7PM Project has paid off. TEN was also the first network to abandon the traditional Sunday night movie, which was subsequently followed by other commercial networks.
Chief Programming Officer David Mott told TV Tonight the figures warranted a major overhaul and News was the answer, reflecting a changing landscape.
“As far as we’re concerned, nothing really changes in terms of TEN as a Network. It’s just a change between 6 and 7,” he explains. “For those in the business that understand data and numbers and positions in the market, and globally where the trends are, there’s no question that the News strategy is sound and absolutely right.
“The strategy 20 years ago to move News from 6:00 to 5:00 and have an alternative from 6 – 7 was absolutely right at the time. But we’re talking a long time ago, pre-internet, pre-Foxtel and before the current landscape of multichanneling. So, it was a sound strategy then, but it is not a sound strategy now.”
The demographics for TEN may be well-positioned between 7pm and 10:30pm says Mott, but the 6 – 7pm hour was suffering a 20% Year on Year loss. With the introduction of ELEVEN, it was able to shift Neighbours and The Simpsons.
The network even considered other approaches such as rescheduling The Biggest Loser in their place.
“The fact is they are expensive franchises and also you’ve got them there for 12 or 13 weeks and then what do you do?” he asks.
“We looked at game shows, we looked at buying in other series. But it’s very clear that when people come home they want to see the News of the day.
“Once we had established that News was the right environment for there we started the lengthy discussions on what is the make-up of our various News programmes? We liken this to what happens in the US. Every major broadcaster in the US has News between 4:00 and 7:00 before their Entertainment schedule. So this is not new territory in a global sense.”
While the landscape has indeed changed, News Directors now face the challenge that many in the work force already know much of the daily news before they reach home. As many Australians work longer hours there are also many who are arriving home later than evening bulletins.
“When we look at 6 – 7 there’s a lot of people who do miss the 6:00 News and there’s about a million people every twenty minutes arriving home around Australia. If you come home at 6:15 you’ve missed the main news of the day,” says Mott.
“I would argue that the two News services on Seven and Nine are very, very good. They’re very solid News bulletins, but very similar, arguably, in Presenters and some of the graphic components.”
In television timing is everything. Nine, Seven and ABC have just reminded viewers of their commitment to News with their coverage of the Queensland floods. TEN will have its work cut out to ask viewers to re-evaluate the landscape. But it has poured more than $20m into hiring new journalists and producers.
Hugh Riminton, Hamish MacDonald, Emma Dallimore, Max Futcher, Danielle Isdale and Emily Rice have all joined 6PM with George Negus. It promises to give viewers a deeper understanding of the main stories of the day.
“What we’re looking to do is create a national programme that absolutely gives you all the news of the day, so that you won’t feel devalued in any way. We’re going to go deeper with the main stories. The end result is that by the end of 6PM with George Negus you will be more informed of the bigger stories and with a very clear indication of all of the main stories of the day.”
At 6:30pm local hosts -Sandra Sully, Mal Walden, Bill McDonald, Rebecca Morse and Narelda Jacobs- will present state-based bulletins.
“The 6:30 bulletin creates an opportunity. Yes you’ve got the World News on SBS, and you’ve got, what I would argue, are the very tabloid current affairs shows on Seven and Nine. The ABC really don’t have a lot to offer at 6:30. So we think there is a great chance for the 6:30 News to break ground there and find its feet early on,” he says.
“That feeds beautifully into the lighter tone of The 7PM Project.”
Negus will no longer be a regular on 7PM, the show which gave TEN the confidence to move him to 6PM.
“It’s a loss to 7PM but certainly a significant gain at 6:00,” says Mott.
“I was at a bar with him one night having a few drinks over whether he was prepared to come on board, and I was amazed at the number of young kids who came up and were huge fans as a result of The 7PM Project.”
Next week TEN will find out whether the move will pay off. Knowing such a cultural move will require patience, Mott is outwardly pragmatic.
“We’ve all been around long enough to know it’s all about habit, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
6PM with George Negus and TEN Evening News begin Monday night.