NZME’s paywall strategy became clearer this week – it is planning to target the big end of town, Mark Jennings writes in this week’s MediaRoom column

NZME is building up its team of business reporters.

This week it hired NBR editor Duncan Bridgeman after earlier poaching the business publication’s head of digital, Chris Keall.

The move makes sense as financial news is proven to be a product that people and companies will pay for, with NBR now claiming over 5000 subscribers.

NZME is planning to put the ‘Premium and In-depth” section of behind a metered paywall in the near future.

Some issues at NBR

The decision by Bridgeman and Keall to jump ship will be a major concern for NBR owner, Todd Scott.

Bridgeman had been at the NBR for 16 years and Keall for nine years. Both were close to Scott and were regarded as key players.

Their defection comes on top of useability issues with its new website and the departures of high-profile columnists Matthew Hooton, Bob Jones and David Cohen.

To top it off, Scott also lost a case in the small claims tribunal this week. The tribunal directed the NBR to pay the money it had been withholding from a former content supplier, Wellington-based BusinessDesk (a business news wire service).

Owens on the move

Lisa Owen’s move from MediaWorks to host RNZ’s Checkpoint programme is likely to have significant flow-on effects for the company’s TV and radio programmes.

Owen has hosted the The Nation on Three and Radio Live’s drive-time radio show with Ryan Bridge.

The Nation will face an uphill battle to retain its NZ On Air funding without the strong presence of Owen sitting at the presenters’ desk.

The programme receives nearly a million dollars from the public funding agency, but there has always been a question over whether it should fund both TVNZ’s Q+A and The Nation.

Owen’s meticulous research and tough interviewing style gave The Nation a distinctive flavour, but with her departure NZ On Air will be weighing up whether it needs to fund two shows that focus on New Zealand politics.

Just The Hui left at Mediaworks?

If The Nation collapses it will leave the Māori-focused The Hui as Three’s only serious current affairs programme. This would be another blow to Newshub which is already struggling in the 6pm news battle with TVNZ.

Newshub is also faced with trying to shore up its struggling 7pm programme The Project.

This week it announced that Paddy Gower will be a permanent guest on Monday nights.

For whatever reason, it has taken MediaWorks a long time to wake up to Gower’s potential to give the show a badly-needed ingredient – some edge.

Gower supplied it on the first night of his new role when he called out All Black coach Steve Hansen for suggesting taxpayer money might be needed to keep key All Blacks in New Zealand. Gower went head to head with veteran sports writer Phil Gifford who supports Hansen’s idea. It was entertaining and almost compelling TV – something that has been mainly missing from the show.

‘The ratings dial needs moving’

MediaWorks CEO Michael Anderson says The Project offers the network a better transition between Newshub at 6pm and the entertainment programmes, but the show hasn’t moved the ratings dial.

The audience numbers are similar to its predecessor Story and less than Campbell Live, but the Australian franchised show is much more expensive to produce.

If Gower can lift the programme’s ratings on Monday night, then he will quickly replace one of the The Project’s two male hosts or the programmes format will he changed to fit him into the regular line up.

MediaWorks’s other problem child is also in for a shake-up after being given the once-over by two Australian consultants.

Problems at Radio Live too

Wendyl Nissen, the early afternoon host, is leaving and morning host Mark Sainsbury’s future is in the balance.

Sainsbury’s ratings have been poor, but the current lack of radio talent means finding a better prospect involves either a high cost poaching attempt on a competitor or cannibalisation of its own ranks.

Owen’s move highlights the problem facing Live.

Her combination with Ryan Bridge in Drive was starting to gel and give Live a chance to take audience share from Newstalk ZB and/or RNZ. The most “like-for-like” replacement for Owen is the news anchor on the AM Show, Amanda Gillies.

It is unlikely, however, that Gillies would want to do both shows and this would leave MediaWorks with a problem in the early mornings.

AM host Duncan Garner will have a major say in who would replace Gillies as the chemistry between hosts on a morning show either makes or breaks them.

Three names will be in the frame. Weekend Newshub anchor Melissa Davies, Newshub weather presenter Ingrid Hipkiss and former TVNZ presenter Nadine Chalmers-Ross.

It is unlikely that Davies will want the role as she is nicely positioned as back-up to Samantha Hayes. Chalmers-Ross could well be the front-runner because hiring her doesn’t create another problem in another programme.

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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