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Are TV networks out of step with tech?

A lot of people were shocked when the news came out that John Campbell was leaving TV3. Equally shocking was the fact that his show was being replaced with another show that some speculate will be similar to 7 sharp.

Ignoring such a public outcry could be seen as a balsy move, or it could highlight just how out of touch with tech mediaworks execs are.

The public furore in the lead-up to John Campbell’s departure speaks volumes about the depth of the relationship John Campbell built up with Viewers.

This is not an easy thing to do. TV is a tough place, and viewers can be a pretty fickle bunch, yet large numbers chose to publicly and vocally stick by the presenter.

Much of the support for John Campbell was most likely due to John Campbell’s work with the disadvantaged.

That the show was also seen as one of the last bastions of investigative journalism was also a key contributor to the public outcry.

So Why Did Mediaworks End it?

If so many viewers stepped up to ask Mediaworks not to end Campbell Live, the question that begs to be asked is this; why end it? Why ignore such a large public uproar?

Let’s be clear here. TV is a commercial business. TV Networks need viewer eyeballs on screens to sell adverts. These may be annoying but they still pay for shows including Campbell Live.  If media commentators are to be believed, Campbell Live viewer numbers were declining. Equally important, viewers who’d tuned in to watch Campbell Live weren't sticking around afterwards to watch the reality TV shows that followed the show.

TV3 had to make some tough decisions to staunch the flow of viewers. But have they got it right? Investigative journalism and reality TV audiences are about as close as you can get to oil and water in TV. Those with a penchant for current affairs actively avoid it, while reality TV fans see current affairs as being boring.

Because of this, Mediaworks strategy of launching a new current affairs show in the same slot will most likely fail to be the silver bullet TV3 hoped for. 

Much of the consequences of the decision to axe Campbell Live have yet to play out. A big factor likely to figure in what comes next is how technology has changed TV.

Times they are a-changing

The way we watch TV has changed. Back in the day, TV viewing was an appointment based business.

While a few people managed to programme their VCRs to record shows, the video recorders in most New Zealanders homes still had 00:00:00 blinking on their displays because most of us couldn’t be arsed learning how to set its clock, let along going through the rigmarole of programming it to record a specific TV.

Because of this, most people dropped what they were doing and watched shows live as they aired.

Moving forward to the present day, hard drive recorders, such as the MySky box and its many Freeview equivalents have transformed how we watch TV. They can pause live TV, skip through adverts and record several channels at once.  Because recording is now so easy, and there are now so many more channels available, people watch what they want, when they want.

In short, TV networks have next to no control over our TV viewing habits as we FFW past the adverts they need us to watch.

Over the last few years the sheer amount of video content available has also exploded. iTunes and YouTube were the forerunners, but have been joined by Quickflix, Easyflicks, TVNZ One, TV2/TV3 on demand, Sky Go and Fan Pass as well as Netflix.

For those willing to pay extra for a VPN to bypass geo-blocking, there is also the BBCs iPlayer, and US based services such as Hulu. Then there’s twitter, Facebook and other digital distractions also competing for viewer eyeballs.

Add to this the growing number of screens clamouring for the attention of TV viewers. It isn’t all that uncommon for people to peck away on smartphone screens or swipe at tablet displays while the TV blares in the background.

Sadly none of this appears to have figured in the decision to axe Campbell Live.

So what does this All Mean?

In short the already competitive TV market is becoming hyper competitive as viewing options proliferate.

Fast broadband, smart TVs and other internet video playback devices means that the “build it and they will come” strategy employed by TV networks is no longer sustainable.

Because of this, you’d think that common sense prevail and Mediaworks would Keep a presenter whose deep relationship with viewers still made his show destination viewing material.

Sadly this hasn’t happened. Mediaworks have alienated a lot of viewers; these people now have a rapidly growing number of viewing options.  Getting them back from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube or even Facebook and Twitter will be a big challenge for Mediaworks.

Perhaps a key learning here is that building deep relationships with viewers is one of the few means TV networks still have to offset an exponentially competitive TV viewing environment.