Brian Edwards Media

At Last – The Official Word on what New Zealand Television is All About!

7410351The critics have been saying it for years.  The ivory tower intellectuals have been saying it for years. Lots and lots and lots of ordinary viewers have been saying it for years. But now, at last, we have it from the horse’s mouth, the official word on what New Zealand television is all about.

On Tuesday TVNZ ‘celebrated’ a half century of television in New Zealand with two hours of something called Cheers to 50 Years of Television.  There appears to have been general agreement that the ‘something’ was, as the Herald reported, ‘crap’ and ‘a pile of dog turds’. A gentler, though still unflattering assessment on Public Address was that the show was ‘the equivalent of offering some chips and a litre of orange juice at someone’s 50th anniversary on the job.’

On the whole, I thought these assessments were generous,  but it is not my intention to add insult to injury by contributing to the contumely that has already been heaped on TVNZ’s head. I want to congratulate them. And in particular I want to congratulate  the company’s spokesperson Andi Brotherston. We do not normally associate the art of public relations with telling it like it is, with delivering the unvarnished truth. But that is what Andi has done. She has told it like it is, she has delivered the unvarnished truth, the official word on what New Zealand television is all about.

She could have dissimulated. She could have used honeyed PR words to deny that the programme was ‘crap’ and ‘a pile of dog turds’. To her credit, she did not. Accepting that Cheers to 50 Years of Television had received ‘mixed reviews’ – presumably as in ‘some terrible, some diabolical’ – she is reported as having added that ‘what was important was the excellent ratings’. Bravo! Cheers! Well done! For that is indeed the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 

We toffee-nosed intellectuals have been putting it somewhat differently. Commercial television, we have said, is all about selling audiences to advertisers. And so it is. But Andi has put it better: ‘What was important was the excellent ratings.’ Though that does beg the question: what was not important?

Who cares! 760 thousand people are reported to have watched the programme and stayed to the bitter – I use the word advisedly – the bitter end. You should perhaps understand that those are cumulative figures, the total number of people who at some time tuned in to watch the programme. There will not have been 760 thousand Kiwis watching the show from 8.30 to 10.30.

But this is mere quibbling. As Andi reminded us, ‘If it was poor, people wouldn’t have stayed with it. People don’t stay watching terrible television.’ Sadly they do, Andi,  if only because, as my friend Gordon McLauchlan suggested to me today, ‘they were desperately hoping it would come right.’

We should nonetheless rejoice. Thanks to Andi Brotherston the truth not only will out, it is out. ‘What was important was the excellent ratings.’ Never mind the quality, feel the width!

[I have received an email from Andi Brotherston informing me that Cheers to 50 Years of Television had a cumulative audience (‘cume’) of 1.35 million and that the average audience for the whole show was 765,000. Those are remarkable figures. My view of the programme remains unchanged.]

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24 Comments:

  1. an email I recieved from a listener yesterday – first is the email sent by said listener to Gavin Wood producer of the “pile of turds” and at the bottom the reply from said turd-meister….

    From: Pete B
    Sent: Wednesday, 2 June 2010 11:19 a.m.
    To: admin@************
    Subject: Cheers To 50 Years of Television

    Having watched the 50 years show last night i had to give up not less than 15minutes into it. The most juvenile and stupid production ever TVNZ. I am absolutely ashamed if this is the kind of rubbish you can make today. Embarrassing, a travesty and lacking any form of quality.
    The producers need to be made accountable (but of course they want be).

    I am bewildered TVNZ that you got it so WRONG!. It wasn’t even FUNNY!

    The response:

    Dear Pete
    Reaction from 50yrs of tv (producer)

    Thanks for your subjective review of the show.

    I was the Producer and have always been accountable for my work.

    The majority of the nation would disagree with your views however as they were watching not whining.

    Thanks for taking the time to write though. Isn’t it great that we can utilise free will and change the channel or use the off button.

    Regards

    Gavin Wood
    Producer
    50 Years of Television

    • an email I recieved from a listener yesterday – first is the email sent by said listener to Gavin Wood producer of the “pile of turds” and at the bottom the reply from said turd-meister….

      Thanks Jeremy. I feel the need to reply to Gavin Wood, producer of 50 Years of Television on behalf of Pete B. First, all views of television are subjective, but that does not deny them validity. Second, as Producer of the programme, yours would be the most subjective view of all. Third, you have absolutely no evidence to suggest that ‘the majority of the nation would disagree’ with Pete B’s views, since TVNZ to my knowledge does no qualitative research on viewer response. Fourth, insulting a viewer who disliked your programme by accusing him of ‘whining’ really isn’t very professional. Fifth, the sort of sarcasm contained in your final sentence merely reflects the contempt you clearly feel for anyone who didn’t think your programme was very good. I know a little bit about television, Gavin. Been around for a long time. And my judgement of your efforts is that they were little more than an insult to the professionals who have worked in this medium over the last 50 years and an insult to the viewers who watched it. Kind regards. Brian.

  2. I watched it for about 20 minutes early on, and checked in briefly a couple of times later on to see if it’d improved (it hadn’t). Enjoyed the old clips, and faces from TVNZ past (Dougal Stevenson!) but the dodgy ‘pub quiz’ format was a hindrance to viewer enjoyment, rather than a help.

    I think Jane Clifton got it right in this morning’s DomPost: TV One desperately wants rid of its ‘over 40′ viewers and is making no bones about it!

  3. I have probably already said enough (as in this morning’s Herald story) but I do urge folk to watch for the upcoming documentary series 50 Years of Television on Prime. I have set up a research site as a place where people (viewers, that is) can post memories, experiences and comments.
    I invite you all to go to this site and register.

  4. We stuck it through to the bitter end, I wondered why. Thankfully Gordon McLachlan has put my mind at rest – yes, we desperately hoped it would come right. Sadly it didn’t.
    The only ‘celebration’ was of the sad state that TVNZ has sunk to. I had hoped to relive some of the moments from the time when there was something to celebrate, but it wasn’t to be.

  5. The only redeeming part for me is that the likes of Rodney Hide, Paul Holmes and John Hawkesby had to sit through the torment and couldn’t walk out. Particularly for Hide as it would not have looked good for his chair to suddenly appear vacant. One assumes that he accepted the “celebrity” invitation to get some more exposure. I couldn’t make out whether he was grinning or grimacing.

    It didn’t get much better the following evening when Dallow announced a “veteran presenter of 25 years” as a special guest – Who could it be we wondered. Delight of delights – it was the once disgraced (certainly sacked) Peter Williams. Oh joy. And his reflections were so insightful.

  6. I was not in the least disappointed by the programme. I fully expected TVNZ to serve up an abortion and it duly fulfilled my expectations. I listened to music via headphones whilst my wife watched. Even without the sound I could tell that TVNZ had fallen to the occasion. As my wife put it at the end, “it was a shameless exhibition of mutual masturbation”.

    Jane Clifton in the DomPost made a telling comment as to why TVNZ served up this garbage. “It’s an older audience and to be blunt , TV One doesn’t does not want it any more”. “TVNZ’s attitude seems to be a version of Marie Antoinette – let them get MySky” (not, I might add that there is a great deal to excite there either) Well they are succeeding beyond their wildest dreams.

    As I have commented before I now increasingly rely on DVD for drama and other entertainment; magazines and Internet for current affairs. TVNZ can take their programmes and put them where the sun doesn’t shine.

    As for Mr Wood: you sum up everything that is wrong with TVNZ; an arrogant individual working for an arrogant organisation.

  7. Like River Howe, I stuck with it hoping against reason that it would improve. Sadly it didnt and the end result was mediocre at best. The show seemed to be a self-congratulatory exercise for those in the industry with scant regard for the viewer.

  8. Let’s be honest and succint: A steaming warm turd is a steaming warm turd.

    It does justify descriptive lyrical prose being wasted upon it.

  9. Interesting to see that the programme had to fall back on some venerable earlier formats such as “What’s My Line” and “University Challenge” to try and get some cred. It didn’t help very much. I don’t know whether to feel sorry for the many “celebs” who attended and presumably felt they would be able to enjoy reflected glory.

  10. “I have received an email from Andi Brotherston informing me that Cheers to 50 Years of Television had a cumulative audience (‘cume’) of 1.35 million and that the average audience for the whole show was 765,000″

    I guess what that means is that around 50% of viewers who watched it tried switching to something else but gave up and switched back when nothing better was on the other channels

  11. How does TVNZ know that its audience was 1.35m and how do they know what percentage were actually watching as opposed to reading a book, sleeping or making love on the carpet?

    • How does TVNZ know that its audience was 1.35m and how do they know what percentage were actually watching as opposed to reading a book, sleeping or making love on the carpet?

      Unless things have changed recently, the figures are extrapolated from information gained from ‘peoplemeters’ around the country which record which channels a family is watching over the night. I’m not entirely sure how many peoplemeters there are now, but there used to be around 440 around the country. There is debate of course as to whether this gives a reliable result. They don’t tell you any of the things you refer to in the second half of your question. They also don’t tell you whether any of these people liked the programme. That, it seems, is simply assumed.

  12. Peoplemeters are placed in 500 New Zealand households around the country (representing about 1150 individuals), selected by a set of criteria–of which, house ownership is one of the most important. The panel is biased towards older, settled ‘nuclear’ family groups and under-represents young viewers (especially students and renters), and significant ethnic groups in NZ.

    All that AC Nielsen claim to measure (through people remembering to push buttons on the special remote) is “presence in a room where a TV set is on”. All the rest is speculation, conjecture and guesswork.

    (Disclosure: I used to work in TV audience research, in the UK and NZ)

    • Peoplemeters are placed in 500 New Zealand households around the country (representing about 1150 individuals), selected by a set of criteria–of which, house ownership is one of the most important. The panel is biased towards older, settled ‘nuclear’ family groups and under-represents young viewers (especially students and renters), and significant ethnic groups in NZ. All that AC Nielsen claim to measure (through people remembering to push buttons on the special remote) is “presence in a room where a TV set is on”. All the rest is speculation, conjecture and guesswork.

      Thank you, Geoff. I wasn’t too far off. But the ‘presence in a room where a TV set is on’ really does add some perspective to the question of how much these ratings tell you about viewers’ feelings about the shows they (may have) watched.

  13. I chose not to watch it.TV1 is a continuing disgrace and affront to the people of NZ.I have no doubt that the 50 years of tvnz(at least the first 25 )had sufficient material to create a show which was a true celebration of its achievements.TVNZ on demand provides a better service.I thought Dr Edwards feltex winning interview with a postal worker to be the sort of item to interest young and old.

  14. TVNZ seems happy to slap itself on the back on the basis of those numbers, “the only measure that counts”. I was expecting something special, certainly not the cheap and vaguely insulting tribute to the work done by the medium it was supposedly saluting. So, a few unanswered questions: How many viewers, like me, tried it, didn’t like it, and tuned out? How many others kept watching, even to the end, in the hope that it would get better? How many of those 1.35 million viewers were left disappointed? Can TVNZ measure audience satisfaction and, if they could, would they want to?

    • Can TVNZ measure audience satisfaction and, if they could, would they want to?

      Qualitative reviewing is possible, but requires much more time and manpower. As you see, TVNZ judges ‘satisfaction’ by numbers watching. To be fair, TV3 and all the other free-to-air channels do the same. By the way, I noted that the cost of texting had gone up from 75cents to 95cents (From memory. I’m happy to be corrected.) How can TVNZ justify either of these charges?

  15. John Clarke summed it up brilliantly when he said “TV is a shop”. On that basis “Cheers to 50 years” was produced by the Warehouse.

  16. When I worked in audience research in the UK, they often used a system of audience Appreciation Indices (AI), which allowed viewers to measure, on a scale of 0-100, a positive or negative response to a programme or series. It was rather crude, certainly, but it did allow for some kind of qualitative measurement. Rating are essentially quantitative measurements (and very flawed, at that) but they are continuously mis-used to make qualitative judgements.

  17. I did not tune in, on the basis that I could tell from the promo’s it would be crap….sounds like I had a better spent evening.

  18. 18

    It was appalling. I stayed with it for half an hour, and I was tempted to stay longer, out of duty, to see if it would come right. But by then Jason was firmly on to his course, and the quiz panels were too settled: I knew then that nothing would or could save it. And TVNZ, going by Andi Brotherston’s and Gavid Wood’s e-mails, have not realised just how awful it was.

  19. 19

    alister mcfarlane

    I did not see this production. Seems I did nnot miss a thing. But then from the time TV became recorded rather than live, when the staff television producers became a guild and lost contact with the public and worse, the workers in television, TV programs frequently became boring, artificial copies of overseas productions and highly forgetable.
    Having worked in TV from 1963 in AKTV etc etc, I know there are people out there that could tell of the fascinating work that went into making live TV from the tiny Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin studios. The incredible, talented personalities that came across from radio to become front people on the TV stations.Memorable moments from those early days when the news readers revolted against doing live commercials in the ‘break’ of reading the news. When the recital studio in Shorland street was eventually turned into studio 1: was found to packed with asbestos. I think I may have the only photos of that conversion.
    There was a time that 2 out of the three old cameras in the studio packed up, and a live production of ‘just a song a twighlight’ by Ian Watkins, of The Christmas broadcast fame,was all completed on one camera. No one of those days would forget the wonderful Aussie Cheesman and his singers.
    I dare to suggest that there are hundreds of stories to be obtained, and people still living from the era, to tell them.The incredible days of SPTV and the dirty tricks brigade to bring that to an end. But then it seems that the producers et al never got back in touch.

  20. Jane, you claim TVNZ wants to get rid of the over 40s, I presume you are referring to IQ.
    Have been away from NZ for many years and cannot believe the destruction wrought on our once good public broadcaster. I returned to this country during the 2008 gen election and well remember watching my first nz television news broadcast in 23 yrs, we genuinely believed we were watching satire. However the joke is very firmly on us !