Anti-Social Media: Network Broadcasting in NZ

I wish this was a new problem, but it has been going on for as long as I've been a curmudgeon! ;)

I wish this was a new problem, but it has been going on for as long as I’ve been a curmudgeon! ;)

Broadcast media in New Zealand is struggling. Watching live, free to air television is becoming a thing of the past as the quality of content drops and viewers switch to the internet to watch the latest episodes of shows, where they want, when they want.

Similarly, despite hundreds of stations to choose from, former radio audiences now make their own playlists of downloaded songs to listen to at home, at work and on the go.

Who is to blame? While the evolution of technology and the fickleness of modern consumers certainly must play a part, I would argue the biggest contributor to audiences turning off mainstream broadcast media had been the media themselves.

The scale with which tight-fisted network simulcasting and cronyism (or “cross-promotion” as they would probably prefer to call it) has encroached across our screens and airwaves has become suffocating – Not only to its audiences, but to the broadcasters who instigated and maintain it.

Of all broadcast media, radio has always been the most “personal” – it’s just you and your radio. Indeed, one of the first things they teach in announcer training is that you aren’t talking to hundreds or thousands of people, but to just one person listening at home, or in their car etc.

The voice across the airwaves wasn’t some stranger, it was your friend. Some announcers even took on familial names – Maud Basham and Reverend Colin Scrimgeour became “Aunt Daisy” and “Uncle Scrim” in the early days of New Zealand radio.

Later on, when most cities had their own station, broadcasting became “Live and local, 24 hours a day!” If there was a fire in Hastings, you heard about it straight away. A crash blocked a road in Napier? They gave you detour directions as it was cleared. Some minor local celebrities were created, but it also kept you close. You often met announcers in the street.

Then in the 90’s profits started to take over. Individual stations were bought up, joined into national networks and local content was stripped back and in many cases away completely.

“Live” and “local” became too “costly” and “old fashioned”. The personal touch gave way to a wide, sweeping brush.

Ring up the local station (now an 0800 number) to ask about a fire in Havelock and you will be asked “Is that Havelock in Nelson, or Havelock North in Hawke’s Bay?” Similarly, just for fun, try asking what the weather is doing at the moment and you’re likely to receive an answer very different to reality.

Take NZME’s “The Hits” network for example: It has 25 “stations” / frequencies across the country. Each broadcasts five to seven different shows per day with one to two announcers hosting each show.

17 of those stations have a sole local announcer, usually on the breakfast show and three stations have two local announcers – again usually a breakfast radio duo like Hawke’s Bay’s “Martin and Sarah”.

Four stations have no local announcers at all – including Kapiti and Whanganui, whose “local” announcer is simulcast from Wellington and Palmerston North respectively.

In total the network has 31 “local” announcers, given the 8 announcers who are simulcast throughout the country from NZME Radio’s main studio in Auckland are technically “local” in Auckland.

This means around 158 announcing positions across the country are covered by the same 8 people in Auckland.

That hardly seems fair on local listeners, locally based broadcasters or those wanting to break into the industry.

The other main player on our airwaves, Mediaworks, is just as bad with just as may stations simulcasting just as many shows from their Auckland studios.

We are supposed to believe these few announcers are the cream of the broadcasting crop – at the top of their game. But they’re not.

As New Zealand’s two biggest radio networks vie for listeners – each trying so hard to be different to the other, just like teenagers searching for their individual identity, they all too often end up being almost exactly the same. Bland, networked drivel rules the airwaves.

Even when networks re-structure, there is little actual change.

NZME Radio “rearranged their deckchairs” in the last twelve months. But all it basically meant was the more seasoned announcers (two or three years on one station is a VERY long time, never mind 20!) on the youth-targeted ZM network moved to the studio next door and now voice the more “Classic” “Hits” network.

Where is the new talent? Where are the fresh, new voices?

It’s hardly surprising that the main examples of successful graduates the New Zealand Broadcasting School (long considered New Zealand’s premiere broadcast media training facility in Christchurch) uses are all now based in London!

Once again New Zealand’s biggest export proves to be its talented youth!

But it gets worse for broadcasting job-seekers.

It’s no longer good enough for networks to try and dominate one media platform – they must dominate ALL platforms!

Paul Henry and Mike Hosking are prime examples. Mediaworks have (unsuccessfully it appears) attempted to put all their eggs in one basket by dropping the individual Radio Live, 3 Breakfast News programmes and regular internet news service (at least a dozen jobs down the tubes in total there) and replaced them with “The Paul Henry Show” which broadcasts across television, radio AND the internet simultaneously.

Not to be out-done, Hosking hosts the breakfast show on NZME’s simulcast “Newstalk ZB” network, has a regular column in the NZ Herald (also owned by NZME), as well as being the headline act in TVNZ’s derided “Seven Sharp” and now has his own op-ed videos on NZ Herald’s online edition!

And it’s not just news shows.

Mediaworks seems hell-bent on dumbing down our television screens with board member’s pet “hyper-reality” shows. No matter how dire, repetitive, convoluted, or just plain crap these televisual offerings are, Mediaworks’ other brands, stations and network staff will still sing their praises.

“Hey, did you see ‘Show Z’ last night, wasn’t it great!?” they will broadcast, tweet and opine.

“Oh, look! Who just happens to be walking on to the set of “My Kitchen Garden Rebuild is New Zealand’s Top Singer” – it’s Dave and Jane from ‘Bland FM’ with the contestants’ latest challenge!”
How convenient…

Need a host for your new show? Why have auditions for someone new, when you can just shimmy a current staff member over from another of your network’s brands?

Can someone else have a turn, please?

Yes, they can!

Here is where the wonder of SOCIAL media comes in. You can say what you want, listen to who you want and share things with like-minded and located people.

Ask online about that fire in Havelock and you will be told precisely where it is, when it started, how big it is and likely get pictures and video live from the scene. Similarly, live weather tracking from nearby online friends will allow you to get the towels in just before the sky opens.

Social media does what it says on the packet – it is a SOCIAL MEDIA! It has a (world-)wide broadcast range, but it can also have the most personal of touches. It works superbly.

If traditional media’s income, reach, influence and almighty ratings are hurt by that, then they have only themselves to blame.

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