Brian Edwards Media

On Agent Anna, humourless realtors and dodgy viewing figures from TVNZ

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[I think it’s important that, if I get something wrong in a post, especially in a criticism of an individual or organisation, I should fix the mistake. In this post I surmised that the more than 400,000 average audience cited by TVNZ for its first three episodes of Agent Anna was a ‘cume’, that it included anyone who had watched the programme for more than 5 minutes during those three weeks. In a comment on the site, TVNZ’s Drama and Comedy Commissioner Kathleen Andersen said that this was incorrect.  She wrote: ‘The 400k was the audience average in 5+ for each of the three episodes that had been to air. It was not the cume.’ I accept that that is the case and that my surmise was incorrect. However, I stand by my assertion that TVNZ’s claim that 1.2 million people ‘tuned in’ to the programme over those three weeks, which Kathleen Anderson concedes was a cume,  is ‘rather misleading’ since it conveys to the ordinary reader, not familiar with ratings jargon, that this was the total number of people who ‘watched’ the programme, when in fact it was a headcount of anyone who literally ‘tuned in’ for 60 seconds (not even 5 minutes, as I suggested)  or more during those three weeks.  Given that the average audience for the show was more than 400,000 and the number of people who ‘tuned in’ for a minute or more over those three weeks was 1.2 million, the inevitable conclusion would seem to be that significantly more people ‘tuned out’ over that period than ‘tuned in’. 400,000 is nonetheless a solid rating for the programme. I’m indebted to Nielsen Television Audience Measurement for their assistance in this.]

Years and years ago, in another life, I fronted a television commercial for the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand. I don’t recall seeing the result on TV but I remember that I wasn’t very good. After numerous takes the director took me aside and said, ‘We’re having a bit of trouble with the accent, Brian. Viewers won’t know what you’re talking about.’

I was naturally affronted.

‘What on earth do you mean?’

‘Well, it sounds as though we’re in the railway business.’

‘In the railway business! Is this a joke?’

‘Well, come and have a listen.’

I listened to the playback, but couldn’t hear anything unusual.’

‘Well Brian, you’re saying “Rail Estate Institute of New Zealand”, not “Real Estate Institute of New Zealand”’.

He was right. If you say ‘real’ with an Irish accent, it comes out ‘rail’.

Twenty takes later I’d got it right.

I can’t remember what I was paid for this gig, but it was a lot less than Kev got for flogging carpet.

Thanks to our gypsy lifestyle, Judy and I have had lots of dealings with real estate agents over the years, some brilliant, some dire. So we were quite interested to see how the profession would be portrayed on what the Herald has described as ‘TV One’s new hit comedy series Agent Anna’ starring Robyn Malcolm.  

My verdict – mildly amusing. Judy, whose credits include ‘TV dramatist’ (Close to Home, Gloss, Shortland Street to name but three), thought it was better than that.

My former employers, the Real Estate Institute, and assorted realtors weren’t so happy. The programme showed real estate agents in a dim light. A dim light might well be the kindest to show real estate agents in, but they definitely weren’t amused. The programme, they said, just reinforced negative, often misleading stereotypes.

Barfoot and Thompson’s MD Peter Thompson said it was ‘a load of rubbish, to be honest. It’s anti real-estate agents. I would just love to do the same thing for media, TV people, plumbers or politicians. I find it incredible they can create a programme like that. Let’s do one on actors.’

He obviously hasn’t seen Seinfeld, Extras, The Thick Of It or about a hundred other TV shows and movies poking fun at all those occupations with the possible exception of plumbers. It’s a thought though!

REINZ CEO Helen O’Sullivan was equally unimpressed. Referring to the lying, backstabbing, cheating and promiscuity shown on the programme, she said, ‘It’s TV, it’s not real life.’

By Jove I think she’s got it. And she should let Peter in on the secret: they aren’t real people, they’re actors; and it never really happened, it’s a story; and it’s not meant to be taken seriously, it’s a comedy; and like many comedies, it pokes fun at one social group, which is just what Peter would like to see done to TV people, plumbers, politicians and actors. I mean, we really wouldn’t want people thinking that the real estate industry was full of hypersensitive, humourless people unable to laugh at themselves, now would we?

But this isn’t the end of the story. TVNZ turned out to be a bit hypersensitive itself about the criticism levelled at its new comedy and, adopting the ‘never mind the quality, feel the width’ approach, told us that more than 1.2 million people had tuned in so far and on average more than 400,000 viewers had watched each episode.

Now I’m going to hazard a guess that the 400,000 figure is what we in the industry call a ‘cume’. ‘Cume’ is short for ‘cumulative’ and records how many people over the age of five tuned in to a programme for more than 5 minutes. So if you watched for, say, just  6 minutes, decided you hated the programme, turned it off or switched to a different channel, you’d still be counted as a viewer. With a cume of 400,000 it’s extremely unlikely  that anything like that number of people were watching at the same time, let alone for the entire programme.

Then we come to the 1.2 million. Now it’s not entirely clear from TVNZ’s statement, how many episodes the figure refers to, but if the average viewership per episode is 400,000, then it ought to be three. Three times 400,000 = 1.2 million. Fair enough.

But hold on, that would only make sense if the 400,000 who watched Episode Two were new and different viewers, not the same 400,000 who’d watched Episode One; and the 400,000 who watched Episode Three would have to be more new and different viewers, not the same 800,000 who, added together, allegedly watched Episodes One and Two. You can’t just multiply an average audience of 400,000 viewers per episode by three and claim that as a total of 1.2 million people who’ve watched the programme. It’s the same bloody 400,000 watching each episode (give or take a few thousand or ten thousand).

Now I really, really didn’t want to say this, but TVNZ’s 5+ viewing figures for Agent Anna do seem to be rather misleading. But then we’re all entitled to exaggerate just a bit, aren’t we?  Ask any real estate agent.

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  1. 1

    Agent Anna is rubbish, compared to The Blue Rose it is a limp tragedy, sad when we have so few dollars to go around this got any cash.

  2. “Now I really, really didn’t want to say this, but TVNZ’s 5+ viewing figures for Agent Anna do seem to be rather misleading. But then we’re all entitled to exaggerate just a bit, aren’t we? Ask any real estate agent”

    Or pollster’s perhaps? or anyone else for that matter who purports to ‘just report’.

  3. Brian,
    I think you’ll find that if you asked TVNZ they would confirm that the cume figure is measured in one minute blocks not five. So 1.2 million tuning in so far actually means 1.2 million tuned in for 60 seconds or more.. and that could have been in an ad break.

  4. Just quietly, Agent Anna is growing on me. Possibly because I’m in a demographic more likely to relate to the ‘starting over’ theme, but I’m starting to find the character more likeable as she starts to find her feet. But I’m not so old and tired that I could swallow TVNZ’s viewing figures!

  5. Who in their right mind would believe the viewing figures for commercially driven tv channels? TVNZ have been caught out lying in the past.

    TVNZ ‘hid real TVNZ7 viewer figures’

    • I think my point was that the 1.2 million figure was just stupid and that TVNZ was relying on public ignorance of how ratings work to exaggerate the success of the programme. I wanted to demystify the process. I’m not suggesting they’re lying about the ratings.

  6. I was cheered up by the accompanying Herald article which claimed that many realtors do not make a living wage.
    Subliminal advertising by Tui, perhaps ?

    • I’ve not read the Herald article but if that was their claim, there was nothing “Yeah, right” about it. How many salespeople remain working in real estate two years after gaining their license? I would suggest less than 20%. If they were all earning a living it would be more than 80%.

  7. I seen about 3 minutes of the show, it was a scene where Anna had her hand stuck in the letterbox while delivering flyers. It was so cheesy and corny, that I got up out of the lounge chair and went and made myself a cheese and sweetcorn toasted sandwich.

  8. My ex tried his hand at selling real estate a few years back.* Apart from all the sex, Agent Anna seems about right. You do whatever you can to get the sale because it is all commission-based – that include stealing contacts from your colleagues’ diary while they’re in the loo or talking up the value of a property to an unrealistic level to get a listing. The manager won’t care about tactics or ethics; the agent who closes the deal is the agent who gets backed. You can be nice and you can be honorable in your dealings with people but if you don’t make sales you are a loser and your family starves.

    *No doubt the REINZ will say things are different now, the game has been cleaned up etc. But commission sales incentivise a certain kind of behaviour and the industry still mostly works on commission.

  9. I would expect 400,000 people in NZ to be capable of watching this.
    My funniest program is Seven days and seeing how i can watch the whole program and not laugh once apart from at how unfunny it is. Schadenfreude or whatever but it is fun to do especially when Dai Henwood thinks hes being funny

    • Now there I disagree. I’m a fan of Seven Days. One problem is that the comments move so quickly that you’re likely to miss the humour. You can also look at some of the edited material on demand. Could be worth a try.

      • Ok thanks i will have a look, either way it will be funny. The show is filmed with the participants often having over five minutes to come up with a response so if it is too quick its the editors fault.

  10. I watched a bit of Breakfast on Friday; it was about a forthcoming outdoor camping equipment expo. But it turned out to be little more than a vehicle, whereby, Toni Street and her co-presenter could ‘ham it up’ by the scripted — puerile at that — grandstanding of one another. It was all about the presenters rather than the content that was being reported on.

    Same, with Seven Sharp; it needed the 3 of them to announce (from the autocue), the Muriwai shark-attack story. I’m not sure whether the presenters were trying to mimic parrots or they were all dyslexic with questionable reading capabilities.

    This all tells me where TVNZ’s mindset is at when it comes to catering for the “wants” of its audience. What kind of magic mushrooms are being smoked on the top floor?

    • “What kind of magic mushrooms are being smoked on the top floor?”

      Not the drug of choice for the driven and ambitious Effendi. Perhaps they are on the same hard stuff that has been rotting the brains of some media personalities and leading to the appalling trivialising of what we are dished up on the idiot box.

      In 2003 Darren McDonald admitted to having presented the news under the influence of hard drugs.

      • I used to like Darren McDonald! Seriously, this show is, as you say Brian, “mildly amusing,” but it lacks the real bite of cutting satire to make it any more than that. It’s not in the same field at all as Seinfeld or The Office.

        Mind you,I think my dislike of the whole real estate business doesn’t help.
        I know it’s a differnt genre, but I am really enjoying The Blue Rose.(Though I think they may have overplayed their hand a bit too early-hopefully I am wrong about this).

        • JC and I disagree about The Blue Rose. I’m a huge fan of Antonia Prebble who I think is absolutely gorgeous, but the plot-lines are simply too complex to follow. The viewer needs to be able to play detective in this sort of drama, not simply wait for the writers to let us know ‘whodunnit’. Poor scriptwriting in my opinion. Judy thinks the show is fine.

  11. This isn’t the first time TVNZ have done this, of course. We addressed something similar ( when TVNZ sent out a similar press release about Go Girls (

    I can only assume that you too, Brian, have been summoned to TVNZ to be lectured over daring to suggest a press release was misleading.

  12. All this programme does is reaffirm that New Zealand TV writers and producers are useless at sitcoms. It is as lifeless and charmless as a real estate agent’s bill board. If it were substituted for 7# no-one would see the difference.

    Perhaps like many real estate adverts the programme should be tagged with the line; “writer desperate to emigrate.”

  13. Given that boosterism is part and parcel of selling real estate – when has it ever not been a good time to buy? – using inflated viewing figures to promote a programme about real estate seems quite appropriate

  14. My heart bleeds for the much maligned members of the real estate agents’ profession. Once, after I had sold a house by auction, the agent came to me and asked me to write him a reference, saying what a jolly fine fellow he was, presumably so he could show it to potential customers. I said I did not want to do that because I could not think of anything nice to say about him. He displayed absolutely no curiosity about this. If he had asked me to enlarge, I would happily have done so at some length and with some warmth, but having satisfied himself that I would not write him a reference, he had nothing more to say to me. As to the average income – it seems to me that many agents crowd the market and they are desperate for listings (selling the house isn’t important; if you list it, you get half the commission even if another agent sells it. That’s why they say your house will easily fetch 2 mill and when it’s listed announce to their consternation that they are getting market feedback in the 400s). They have their own greed to blame for the shortage of work. If the country were oversupplied with teachers, I would not train as a teacher. In any case, my house has quadrupled in value in the past 20 years; so, therefore has the percentage-based commission of any agent who sells it. Hands up those whose pay has quadrupled since 1992. Thought so …

    • 14.1

      I have to say that of all the times I have bought and sold property I have dealt with only one crappy agent and that one was not of my choosing. Some became good friends.

      Commissions are not a straight percentage since they reduce for higher valued properties. If you have any kind of clue you will surely check out the sales of similar properties in the area yourself. QV provides a simple online service to do so. Greedy people create their own problems, hear what they want to hear, frequently miss opportunities and suffer the consequences. I have seen that far more often than I have met bad real estate agents.

    • Peter

      I’m sure how much you know about real estate. But a lister doesn’t get half of the commission if another agent sells the property. Try a quarter! So much for agents getting inflated commissions.

      Oh and if an agent was quoting $2 million for a property worth $400,000, that would be grossly irresponsible and the agent could face a substantial fine and or lose his or her license.

    • By the way, the former head of recently announced that the average pay of realtors in NZ is about $35,000. I’ll leave it to readers to decide if realtors’ pay has quadrupled in the last 20 years.

    • You weren’t the most-engaging vendor when your home in Wairere Ave was listed for sale, so your unkind thoughts are just running true to form.

      • 14.4.1

        Desi Boyz
        I assume your name is fictional, since it is the name of a Bolliwood film. So we have established that you lack sufficient courage of your convictions to put your name to your comment.
        If you knew that I sold a house in Wairere Ave you are either a real estate agent, in which case you have just engaged in an unprofessional breach of confidentiality or you are a buyer who somehow met me in which case you simply lack the intelligence to stick to the point. What on earth does whether I was engaging or not when selling a house have to do with the issue? There were several reasons at that time – not the least of it being under the burden of a $400,000 bridging loan because I had unconditionally bought a place before selling Wairere. So you must excuse me if I was a bit twisted out of shape at the time. But I can assure you that however unengaging I might have been then, I would be considerably more so if you were to identify yourself to me in person.

  15. Real Estate Institute of NZ chief executive Helen O’Sullivan, quoted as being ‘very disappointed’ in the Herald article, admits that she has never watched an episode of Agent Anna.

  16. Must say I am enjoying Agent Anna. Strikes a few chords -woman on her own-corporate greed-the divided world’s of New Zealanders. NZ 2013. It is not so often that the tele speaks of what is in our faces..

  17. 17

    Kathleen Anderson

    “But this isn’t the end of the story. TVNZ turned out to be a bit hypersensitive itself about the criticism levelled at its new comedy and, adopting the ‘never mind the quality, feel the width’ approach, told us that more than 1.2 million people had tuned in so far and on average more than 400,000 viewers had watched each episode.”

    The Herald came to us last week for a quote to go with their article about the unimpressed real estate agents and we were very happy to provide one. Instead they used material from a press release we issued two weeks ago announcing how well the show was doing. Those numbers were correct at the time. The 400k was the audience average in 5+ for each of the three episodes that had been to air. It was not the cume. The 1.2 million was the cumulative reach for the those episodes. This number accounts for anyone aged 5+ who would have tuned in for at least 1 minute. There was nothing misleading in the figures. We are proud of the show. In the press release we thanked the cast and crew and thanked NZOA for funding it. The numbers truly are great and we are happy to supply the up-to-date figures if you want them. We believe the show’s makers deserve to be congratulated, rather than have doubt cast on how well the show is actually doing.

    Kathleen Anderson
    TVNZ Drama & Comedy Commissioner

    • Thank you for responding to the post, Kathleen. I don’t doubt anything you say. However, while technically correct, the use of the term ‘tuned in’ is calculated to mislead the average reader, to whom the term ‘cumulative reach’ will be unknown and who will almost inevitably take it to mean ‘watched’.

      I agree, and most readers would have understood, that an average audience of 400,000 viewers indicates a successful programme. So why was it necessary to muddy the waters by introducing a figure of 1.2 million which was bound to be misunderstood? 1.2 million people have not watched the programme.

      The use of ‘cumes’ in TVNZ releases about its programmes is now relatively common. I can see no justification for it other than to exaggerate in the public mind the number of people who actually watched a programme.

      The Herald has today re-printed your figures for Agent Anna and I have written to the editor along lines similar to those in my post. No doubt you will take the opportunity to reply.

  18. Know what you mean about Rail estate, but. I used to elide the pronunciation of ‘railwaymen’. It came across as ‘railwomen’, no doubt leaving NUR listeners bemused.

  19. It could be, that Kathleen Anderson is right: and the show is wildly popular. And those malcontents who don’t like it — along with those who don’t real estate agents — have all coalesced around this blog.

    But, bear in mind, this: a vendor doesn’t pay the agent unless an unconditional sale has been achieved; unlike grasping-and-avaricious lawyers.

    Oh, and Calder is correct re commission split amongst the listing agent and selling agent; the weight of it — after the company taxes the commission — is in favour of the lister.

  20. “We’re having a bit of trouble with the accent, Brian. Viewers won’t know what you’re talking about.”:

    I do a devastatingly good Ulster accent, myself. Base it entirely on news memories of the Reverend Ian Paisley mouthing-off down the old Shankill Road.

    Ye liar, ye. Get oot of my hoose, ya derty fenians !!! This is a laar-oyalist province, this is a Baarrr-itish communit-ay !!!

  21. re 7# (otherwise known as E flat Minor).
    I just watched a promo for tonight. My first & LAST thought was:
    For F’s sake Greg, BALE now!!. I know you’ve got a mortgae to pay but there’es the question of journalistic integrity to consider also.
    The sham could, at a pinch, possibly be resurrected as the Jesse and Ali show under the guise of magazine stoil krunt fairs, but please – give it a miss. How big is your mortgage?
    Crippling quite obviously