Brian Edwards Media

More on ‘Cheers to 50 Years of Television’

Email from Andi Brotherston, TVNZ News and Current Affairs Public Relations Manager, in response to a complaint about the programme from regular contributor to this website, Merv Lowe:

Thanks for your email.
 
I appreciate that you didn’t like it. I also appreciate that you have very strong views on what the show should have looked like.
Our programmers disagree with you and decided to do something different. They did so and it worked. 760,000 people watched it.
Ratings are our benchmark and I don’t believe there is a better one.
 
Prime TV is doing a series of documentaries later in the month. They may well prove to be similar to what you had anticipated.
It will be interesting to see how many people watch them.
 
As you know TVNZ has to make money today. The only way to do that is to achieve high ratings. You may not like it, you may not be alone in not liking it but that is an issue for Government not an issue for us. We are doing what our shareholder requires us to do.
 
Andi

Email from Andi Brotherston to me, in response to my previous post:

Cheers to 50 Years of Television is one of the highest rating programmes in the last 50 Years of TV.  There’s few others that have held such a large audience over such a long time. It won every 15 minute slot between 8:30pm-10:30pm.
 
I have spent my entire career in private radio and private TV (until now) where we valued and respected our audience and never thought we knew better than them. So my view is that it’s extremely patronising to say 760,000 people are wrong.
 
Surely so many people can’t be that wrong? Added to that, we’re starting to receive calls from people wanting us to repeat the programme or to buy it on DVD.

Andi

My email response to Andi:

Thanks Andi. We’re never going to agree on this. In an email to Merv Lowe you wrote: “Ratings are our benchmark and I don’t believe there is a better one.” Ratings, as you know. reflect time slot, inheritance, what’s on the opposing channels and a variety of other factors. Do the ratings for Q&A tell us that this isn’t a good programme or even that it isn’t a popular programme. No, they tell us that it’s on at 10am on Sunday morning. As for this programme, I think tens and seemingly hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders were looking forward either to an essentially nostalgic programme on New Zealand television or to a history of television in this country. What they got was a game show.  If you really believe that there is no better benchmark for television programmes than ratings, then we’re simply speaking different languages. By that criterion ‘American Idol’ will be a superior programme to Jacob Bronowski’s ‘The Ascent of Man’. I entirely accept your argument that this is the brief which successive governments have given TVNZ and that, within that brief, it is near impossible for TVNZ to function as what I would regard as a ‘public service broadcaster’. But that is rather different from claiming that a headcount of viewers is the best benchmark for judging the merits of a programme.’

Andi’s email response to me:

I know we will never agree, however, at least you agree to disagree and do so in a cordial manner. Some of the emails I have received over the last couple of days have been straight out rude and abusive – it’s a shame many of us have lost our manners.
I am pleased to say that Merv Lowe is not one of those people though.  He’s an extremely passionate and articulate man who has been very polite in his correspondence with me.
 
Have a nice weekend
 
Kind regards
Andi

Comment to this site on how TVNZ gathers ratings information from recognised ratings authority Geoff Lealand:

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)

I want to thank Andi Brotherston for responding so reasonably to my original post and my subsequent emails. She also agreed to let me publish her emails to me. I find it acceptable that viewers should write to her to complain about a programme that disappointed them or that they did not like. To subject her to personal abuse is, however, totally reprehensible. She is also totally right in one respect: TVNZ’s ability to act as a public service broadcaster has been severely compromised by the demands of successive governments that it act as a commercial entity, more concerned with returning a profit than with serving the interests of the viewing public.

That said, it remains my view that the programme was an insult to two generations of broadcasting professionals and to its audience.

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20 Comments:

  1. I was one of the 760,000. I was wrong.

    These are always no-win arguments for us, the public. If we didn’t watch it, we can’t criticise, because we don’t know what we’re criticising. If we did watch it, we can criticise, but … we watched it. So the programme was a “success”.

    But it really, really wasn’t.

  2. I’m noticing that, if this programme supposedly pleased so many thousands and thousands of people, where are the supportive comments from satisfied viewers? Even a handful of them? I don’t think I’ve seen any. Surely they can’t *all* be so intimidated by the negative criticism that they couldn’t send in a few lines like, “Actually, my family watched it and we really enjoyed it.”

    So far, the only enthusiastic comments I’ve seen about the programme were made by people who work for TVNZ.

  3. I’m with Simon on this one – I’m a statistic – I watched it because Jim Mora kept promoting it on Afternoons, and while it was certainly ‘entertaining’ in a ‘lightweight beer froth in a Nor’West’ way, it might be better situated as a pre-6p.m. News ‘gameshow’. Sadly, I even attempted to win a new TV (to replace the old 20 year old 18″ model) so they got 99 cents (?) off me while I waited over a minute for my text to go through.

    Current television, so much like those shallow ‘lifestyle’ magazines, is all gaseous promotion and posturing without substance…the word ‘cheap’ springs to mind. Add to this the dumbing down of the population by feeding them a constant diet of high fat/low nutrient programming … engineering low intellect in the population?

  4. Correction. 760,000 people started to watch it with great expectations. How many people watched the credits roll at the end?

  5. “Surely so many people can’t be that wrong?”

    I am not saying this to be offensive, but I would point out that similar numbers attended Nazi rallies and those of Stalin. Are you really sure so many people cannot be that wrong?

    As Jim Bolger might have said, “bugger the ratings”. Numbers mean absolutley nothing.

  6. The TV ratings in NZ are a joke.

    The TV website Throng posts a daily ratings summary. At the bottom it has an interesting biggest increase/decrease in ratings from the previous week.

    On one weekday from couple months back the #2 biggest increase was the Informerical at the 2:00-2:30am timeslot. Apparently an extra 60,000 watched this informerical compared to the previous week.

    Bollocks!

  7. Proud to say we haven’t watched tv for 9 months now … an easy habit to kick actually. I watched John Campbell turn from a great kick-ass journo into a lightweight infotainment host I think that did it for me .
    NZ changed for the worse when we all got a blue glowing box in our lounges , it really did .

  8. Wouldnt serving the interests of the viewing public actually achieve a commercial imperative?I also find the extrapolation of 500 viewers into 760,000 unbelievable and would consider any company wishing to pay advertising under these terms to be seriously misguided.

  9. Although TVNZ may say otherwise, they know ratings are not a measure of success or popularity. They are merely a comparative rating system used to gain advertising revenue.
    Neither TVNZ nor the advertiser really cares about the merits of a programme, particularly this show. Given the build up and public expectation they could have shown 2 hours worth of old black and white ads and it would have rated just as well.
    Hmmmm…. maybe even better!

  10. Perhaps if TVNZ spent more time checking the bona fides of their “guests” (see here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10650469&pnum=0 )

    than making spurious defences of their programming even more people might watch their channel…

  11. My family barely watch TV now…thanks to the wonders of Bit Torrent. All our TV is “on demand” – although not live as we download overnight – and of excellent quality. The Wire, Treme (you need to run it through your stereo…the music is amazing!), Breaking Bad, Pulling, Peep Show, Charlie Brooker. All within hours of original broadcast.

    Immoral?…we’d be suckers not too…you’d be surprised how many people do it. Even the Telcos are caching popular shows to save on their own international bills.

    If we didn’t download we’d be missing out on participating in the best of world culture, which is now an instant culture – try having an opinion on an international blog about a programme Americans watched 6 months earlier – so until the powers-that-used-to-be sort out their technology, we’ll be continuing to download for free and on-time.

    I’d pay if there was a system as good as the old fashioned co-operation shown on Pirate Bay…ooo arrrr…shiver me timbers!

    We really only watch real TV to have a laugh at that guy with the moustache on Close-Up pretending to be a journalist – RIP TVNZ and the other ones,,,whatever their names are.

  12. Brian… can I just highlight/respond/translate what I considered some rather ‘telling’ quotes from Andi Brotherston’s emails? (Based on my 20+ years of producing and directing television series, specials, news/current affairs and numerous documentaries both locally and around the world?…

    “Our programmers disagree with you and decided to do something different…”

    – Programmers now deciding on what local content should be… and of more concern, what it going to look like! I can recall numerous scraps over the years with TVNZ Programmers who were attempting to interfere in program content and presentation… it was bitterly resisted at the time because as producers, we knew full well what the long-term effects of setting such a precedent would be… clearly someone allowed it happen and now this is the result. I have yet to meet a programmer to this day who has actually produced or created a television program themselves at any point in their career… enough said really.

    “…They did so and it worked. 760,000 people watched it. Ratings are our benchmark and I don’t believe there is a better one.”

    – It worked? Well that’s debatable. When was the last time a locally made production received this amount of media ‘feedback’ or negative attention? I can’t think of one to be honest.
    As for ‘Rating being our benchmark’… well to attempt to frame ‘Ratings Data’ as being the only measure of ‘broadcasting success’ is just offensive. Ratings serve nothing more than to provide the network a base starting-point for which to draft their rate-card for advertisers. Period.
    She cannot state with any authority or credibility that 760,000 people watched that show…. there’s only 400 people meters, residing in demographically ‘static’ environments: 2 x Married Adults, 2 x pre-teen adult children etc”… no flatters, no renters, no singles, de factos or otherwise as they’re all considered to transient to measure for any useful or valuable marketing data for advertisers.
    By the way… anyone with a Sky Decoder is excluded too. Think about the implications of that one small fact on Ms. Brotherston’s 760,000 NZ Viewers… her arguments and justifications is laughable, bordering on embarrassing.

    “Prime TV is doing a series of documentaries later in the month. They may well prove to be similar to what you had anticipated. It will be interesting to see how many people watch them.”

    – What an aggrogant, patronising cow… who does she think she is?

    “As you know TVNZ has to make money today. The only way to do that is to achieve high ratings. You may not like it, you may not be alone in not liking it but that is an issue for Government not an issue for us. We are doing what our shareholder requires us to do.”

    – Cop-Out PR speak when completely defensive and have nowhere credible to run to.

    “…one of the highest rating programmes in the last 50 Years of TV.”

    – Utter rubbish again. Fails to take into account the dramatic increase in Sky Subscribers, further skewing the ‘People Meter’ data for this show’s viewing figures.

    “… I have spent my entire career in private radio and private TV (until now) where we valued and respected our audience and never thought we knew better than them. So my view is that it’s extremely patronising to say 760,000 people are wrong.”

    – When was she ever in ‘Private TV’? She was Comms for NZ Police before TVNZ.
    As for ‘respect for their audience’… where to even start responding to this. TVNZ have had absolutely no respect whatsoever for their audiences for more than a decade. The first sign of a network’s demise in every quarter can be judged without fail, by plotting the systematic demise and disappearance of their News and Current Affairs programming… every time, and proven the world over.

    “Surely so many people can’t be that wrong? Added to that, we’re starting to receive calls from people wanting us to repeat the programme or to buy it on DVD.”

    -Completely unsubstantiated and she should be made to back up her statements, as they were delivered in a professional capacity as TVNZ’s representative… post the ratings, post the letters asking for a repeat or a DVD. Arse.

    Ironically the one TVNZ event that I am enjoying watching at the moment is their ever accelerating demise into irrelevance and obscurity… and with an arrogance the likes of Ms. Brotherston;s permeating that rotting old institution, the sooner the better.

  13. Reading John Drinnan in todays The Business Herald of TVNZ’s decision to air their two-hour ’50 years of news’ special opposite Prime’s opening episode of the in-depth documentary series ’50 Years of Television’ makes me furious. TVNZ yet again show their contemptuous and arrogant take on the world. They continue to snear down their noses at us all whether we be a part of the industry or as viewers. We are but turds. And no doubt they will privately agree.

  14. @ Nic: “Completely unsubstantiated and she should be made to back up her statements, as they were delivered in a professional capacity as TVNZ’s representative… post the ratings, post the letters asking for a repeat or a DVD.”

    I have to agree. Saying, that people wanted to order the DVD and she has letters of support, seems like a sign of desperation and floundering. This is a case of, “Don’t tell me, show me”. Evidence, please, Andi.

  15. Enjoyed the Prime 50 Years of TV – the first episode at least. BE was highly praised as that fearless agent of change current affairs interviewer. Goodness that Muldoon was an unlikable chappy.

  16. Surely so many people can’t be that wrong?

    Probably not — but neither were the millions of people who made Simon Scharma’s fifteen hour ‘A History of Britian’ one of the biggest commercial and critical hits the BBC has had this millennium.

    The difference is that The BBC, and it’s American co-producers The History Channel, got that you can be commercial, even populist, without patronising your audience.

  17. And not to leave the Americans out, Ken Burns has also made quite a career out of assuming that, contrary to popular opinion, there are television viewers out there who don’t have ADHD and senile dementia. His monumental (critics would say interminable) surveys ‘Jazz’, ‘The War’ and ‘The Civil War’ are far from flawless, but they at least do viewers the courtesy of assuming they have more than two functioning brain cells at any given moment.

  18. Oh, you are all terrible people, doubting Andi’s word! You should all realise that those who are in positions of ‘authority’ (control?) need only to say it and it is so? She could make a reasonable facsimile of a politician.