Stuff to provide news bulletins to replace Newshub on Three

Warner Bros Discovery NZ chief executive Glen Kyne and Stuff publisher Sinead Boucher
Warner Bros Discovery NZ chief executive Glen Kyne and Stuff publisher Sinead Boucher announce "a new future for 6 pm news". Image: Stuff livestream

By Colin Peacock, RNZ Mediawatch presenter

Warner Bros Discovery has done a deal with Stuff to provide news to replace Newshub. It will keep news on TV channel Three from July 6 and help Three retain some viewers.

It also means important income for Stuff, but it will also stretch the company’s staff, finances and technology.

Stuff will provide a one-hour bulletin each weekday and a half-hour on weekends.

Stuff will also retain a live Newshub website.

Warner Bros Discovery chief executive and Stuff publisher Sinead Boucher confirmed the arrangement at a joint news conference today.

Boucher had told her staff the company will “definitely be bringing some Newshub staff” to produce the 6pm bulletins.

She then told reporters she was unsure how many staff would be required, but it would be fewer than “40 to 50” specified in a “stripped back” proposal from Newshub’s own staff.

‘We are digital first’
“We’re not getting into the TV business. We are a digital first multimedia company building a new 6pm product for Warner Brothers,” she said.

Mediawatch understands many media companies approached WBD with proposals to provide news after the company first proposed the cost-saving closure in late February.

However, by the time of the confirmation earlier this month most of those had been rejected by WBD.

Sky TV was also reported to be in the running. It currently runs a Newshub-produced bulletin at 5:30pm each weekday on the free-to-air channel Sky Open and would require a replacement. It also had plenty of TV production facilities.

Sinead Boucher said a Sky bulletin was not included in the deal, but she hoped there would be discussions about that.

Negotiations were carried out in secret both before and after Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) confirmed the complete closure of Newshub on July 5, leaving the company with no news presence.

Stuff refused to comment during the process and Stuff journalists told RNZ Mediawatch on Monday night they were unaware of an impending announcement.

“We didn’t want to raise expectations for Newshub staff when we weren’t sure what would be required,” Boucher told reporters today, explaining that the deal had been done in haste.

Why do the deal – and what’s it worth?
The money WBD is putting into the deal is confidential but it is certain to be just a fraction of the current cost of running Newshub, which would run to tens of millions of dollars a year.

WBD was clearly determined to carve that cost off the bottom line of its loss-making local operation. The financial benefit for Stuff may not be great taking the set-up and running costs into account.

WBD’s Glen Kyne said neither company would comment on specific commercial details, but when asked about the possible profit margin for Stuff, Boucher said: “Both parties are satisfied with where we have ended up.”

But while the audience for TV news bulletins is declining — and the ad revenue has fallen accordingly — it is still substantial for TVNZ 1 and Three. The “appointment viewing” time of 6pm creates a viewing peak which the TV broadcasters use to hold viewers for the entertainment or factual programmes that follow.

Former Newshub chief Hal Crawford told Mediawatch the overall audience for Three could collapse without news in the evening.

“There’s still a reason that the 1 and the 3 on remotes around the country are worn down. News is the one programme that runs 365 days a year . . .  which the schedule is going to rely on to lead into prime time. So the rest of your schedule is going to dwindle. Ratings are gonna fall off and everything is going to go to pieces,” Crawford told Mediawatch.

“The loss of the newsroom represents the loss of the ability to respond to any event in real time. That is the heart and soul of a traditional TV broadcaster.”

Why Stuff?
Stuff has journalists in more places around the country than any other news publisher.

Stuff’s publisher Sinead Boucher recently told a parliamentary committee it had journalists in 19 locations, even after years of cuts and successive retrenchments.

“We have replatformed our business and have new ways of working. We look at this as starting this bulletin afresh rather than using the broadcast-heavy technology of today,” she told reporters at today’s news conference.

It also has audio and video production facilities at some sites and some senior journalists with TV reporting and presenting experience, such as former Newshub political editor Tova O’Brien, former TV3 current affairs reporter Paula Penfold and senior journalist Andrea Vance.

But Stuff video ventures have not endured. It launched its own free online video platform Play Stuff in mid-2019. It also hired key former TV3 current affairs staff for its own longform video productions but disbanded the Stuff Circuit team earlier this year.

When the Stuff app and website were refreshed recently, short vertical videos were added as a feature, called Stuff Shorts.

Stuff’s weakness has in the past been a dependence on newspaper advertising. It was only last year that Stuff launched its first paywalls for online news for three of its mastheads.

Stuff’s main rival NZME has half the country’s radio networks in addition to newsrooms supplying its newspapers and websites. NZME’s New Zealand Herald has been getting revenue from “premium content” digital subscriptions for four years.

After Boucher acquired Stuff in 2020, Stuff embarked on a digital transition creating more digital audio and video content. It has hired executives from multimedia companies such as Nadia Tolich (ex-NZME now Stuff Digital managing director) and former NZME digital leader Laura Maxwell, now Stuff’s chief executive.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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