Nine News has claimed the year in Sydney, just a week after doing likewise in Melbourne.
Nine News has 21 weeks to Seven’s 1 week in Sydney and now has 22 straight wins in Melbourne. In the 40 official survey weeks of 2012 (excluding Easter) it puts the bulletins in an unbeatable position in the two biggest markets.
The good news for Nine doesn’t end there. A Current Affair has beaten Today Tonight 21 weeks to 1 in Melbourne, while Today has 22 straights wins in Melbourne over Sunrise -both can claim the year in weeks won.
In Sydney Today is one week away from claiming the year while the 6:30 battle is still too close to call: ACA has 13 wins to TT‘s 9.
But Nine still has more work to do in Brisbane, where Seven News can claim the year with 21 wins to 1 for Nine. Sunrise also has 22 straight wins, while Today Tonight leads ACA 12 to 10.
And while the margins may have narrowed, Seven News, Sunrise and Today Tonight are all winning nationally.
For Nine’s Director of News and Current Affairs, Darren Wick, it’s positive news.
“It’s a strong result for Sydney and Melbourne and for Nine in Brisbane it’s a year of consolidation, getting the bulletins right, the staff right and the journalism right,” he said.
“They’re obviously coming off the back of a pretty big hiccup last year with ‘Choppergate’. So it’s been rebuilding, it was fairly devastating what happened with the team and what happened with Nine up there in Brisbane.
“Today hasn’t won a week in Brisbane but they’ve closed the margin a lot. Brisbane has been a real stronghold for almost 10 years for Sunrise.”
National wins remain a challenge while Nine doesn’t have control of WIN-owned Adelaide and Perth affiliates. But while Seven’s grip on Perth is impenetrable, Wick says Nine and WIN are now working much closer together.
“There are really good winds of change in WIN. Their new national News Director Stewart Richmond is very keen to work in really close with us. All of their state News Directors are working closer with us than they have for a long time. So everyone is pulling together now to make it a real network approach,” he says.
To what does he attribute the success of Sydney and Melbourne?
“The biggest thing we’ve done in here is eliminate a culture of blame. What I mean about a culture of blame is ‘It’s not us; it’s the lead in; it’s the lead-out; the network’s not doing well,’” he says, referring to past excuses.
“We looked at everything we’re doing in the bulletin. Did we have a better story list, did we put it together the right way? Did we promote it the right way for our audience? Did we really have better stories or were they genuinely a little bit better than us?
“With our ‘First on Nine,’ were they genuine ‘First on Nine’s or were they fudges? And if they were fudges don’t do it. The audience is too smart these days. So we really went back to the basics, were we doing everything properly? Were we getting all the story angles covered so we can wrap up a story?”
He also acknowledges the strength of Nine’s lead-in, which starts at 4:30.
“Our 4:30 News is very strong at the moment. We put a lot of effort and a lot of resources into making that a big, strong, rolling bulletin and that momentum rolls into Hot Seat and we know Eddie’s going to be a strong performer. So the idea is to take up the baton from Eddie run the News and then hand that baton over to A Current Affair,” Wick explains.
“We’re not going to win everytime, but you want people who hurt when we’re beaten and learn from it and realise, ‘We made a mistake here, we made an error there, let’s do this smarter, let’s do this better.’”
Wick even borrows from basketball champ Michael Jordan to illustrate Nine’s internal philosophy.
“He says the reason he is a success is because he has failed and failed and failed again. We’ve learned from our mistakes, and there have been a lot of mistakes over the past few years. If you look at Sydney and Melbourne News they’re virtually similar and I don’t just mean graphics but the standard. If you look at Brisbane News it’s virtually similar as well, so we’ve lifted the standard everywhere.”
Finally I get a chance to ask a News Director about an increase I have seen in our bulletins: the rise of Live crosses and YouTube clips.
“The whole point of the Live cross now is the immediacy of the story. The story’s got to be moving, developing, and if we’re doing Live crosses it’s because something is happening. Some of the Lives probably didn’t warrant a Live and that’s something we’re constantly evolving. If we’re doing a Live cross it’s got to be there to give information to the viewer,” he insists.
“YouTube is a source of vision and a resource tool for journalists. You’ll often find vision on there which hasn’t run anywhere else or hit anywhere mainstream.
“I think it’s part of the mix. We don’t do the ‘colour piece’ after the weather because people never watched it, and some of them were absolute garbage.”
And why so many and consumer stories? Isn’t that the terrain of ACA?
“There’s definitely a crossover and I think that’s directly related to how tough it is in the economy out there. Yes we have to do the News stories of the day but we also have to look at relevance for the audience, and relevance is also hip pocket. You’ll see with Channel Nine a lot of these stories are done with Ross Greenwood and we look for a hard edge. There’s nothing unique about what we’re doing here. News in the US and the UK are doing the same thing and the rise of these stories is probably directly related to the Global Financial Crisis a few years ago. It’s a tough economy, a lot of people are losing their jobs.
“Everything we’re trying to do with those stories is bring it back to the consumer and tell them what it means.
“It is all about hip pocket and family budget stuff. A lot of people are worried about that and there’s a real female appeal to it. Women control the remote, women control the audience there.
“The trick is not to do these stories at the expense of the major breaking News story of the day. People want to know the News of the day but they also want to know what else is going on.”
Despite the wins, there is no room for complacency, and no time to relax. News is a 24 hour grind and while viewers have many options to source the latest information, Wick knows the tide can turn without warning.
“Even though we’ve won it’s still a battle,” he says. “I do not disrespect Seven at all. I think they’re still a very strong, powerful machine. Peter Meakin is the best news director and current affairs director the country has ever seen. He’s a master. We’re all still students and he’s a master of the game and a great bloke to work for. But he’ll be consolidating, working stuff out and absolutely looking at tinkering and change and getting things back on track.
“‘First on Nine’ is not a slogan, it’s something we’re committed to. But what’s more important to us than getting it first on Nine is getting it right on Nine. Preferably we get it right and first, that’s the perfect result for us. If we have to be beaten I’d rather get it right first.”
Looking ahead, digital remains a changing frontier. There are plans to consolidate the Nine News and NineMSN brands, without diminishing from the broad popularity and tradition of television.
“For us the challenge is creating a 24 hour vehicle which will be online but maintaining the appointment viewing of on air,” says Wick.
“NineMSN and Nine News have virtually got to become the one. At the moment these two vehicles have worked parallel to each other and part of the challenge is to bring them all into one.
“Beyond that, without sounding boring it’s just slogging away. Hard work, honest work, and as I keep saying to the guys ‘Be honest to ourselves, we know how we got here, we know what it takes.’
“We have to keep evolving it and look at how we do the News, how we get the message out there and how we keep proving to our audience that we are the choice that they should turn to.”