In this week’s media column Mark Jennings looks at why a key executive at Mediaworks has quit and what his departure means for locally-produced shows. And the latest moves in the war between on SKY TV and SPARK SPORT.

COMMENT: Two big announcements emanated from Mediaworks’ headquarters in Auckland this week. 

The network announced it was not going ahead with a local production of British show Love Island, and then a day later Chief Content Officer (TV programmer) Andrew Szusterman, quit.

The company was quick to dismiss any connection between the two events.

On the surface that is true, on a deeper level it’s not.

The previous week an email from CEO Michael Anderson, outlining new cost containment measures was leaked as soon as it hit staff inboxes. Mediaworks management would have known it would leak at some point but the speed at which it reached other media would have alarmed it.

The financial struggles of the TV arm of Mediaworks (only occasionally profitable in its 30 year history) will have played a part in Szusterman’s decision to go. He follows other battle-weary executives who have left for greener pastures.

The departure of Szusty (as he universally known in the media industry) is a signal that Mediaworks has decided to scale back the number of local shows it produces. Of the three major free-to-air networks it has been the biggest supporter of local talent and content.  

The strategy has been both a success and a failure.

High rating local versions of Dancing with the Stars and Married at First Sight have carried the network to number one in the most commercially important demographic, 25 to 54 year olds.  

Szusterman and Anderson have done what previous managements couldn’t do and pushed TVNZ’s channels back to 2nd and 3rd place.

But, it hasn’t paid off in the way it should’ve. Mediaworks’ sales teams have struggled to sell enough advertising spots in these programmes at high enough prices to give the company the revenue it needs.

Local shows are potentially high rating but nearly always expensive to produce. Most of them can’t be sold to overseas markets or if they are, it’s for next to nothing.

Revenue from these high cost shows comes solely from New Zealand’s relatively small advertising market and that market that has been going backwards in recent years.

It is far cheaper to buy in foreign programmes that are screened in many countries, than make your own.

Szusterman, having got his side to number one, knows that if local production is scaled back then Three will certainly drop to number two or once again slip back to being the third-ranked channel. 

In that position, the network could end up with bigger losses than it is already incurring. It’s likely that he lost hope and decided the door was a better option.

Szusterman, who was at Mediaworks in various roles for 17 years, is certain to be replaced by Ben Quinn, another old hand in Three’s programming department.

Quinn has an encyclopedic knowledge of international programming and will do a good job, but the loss of Szusterman could have a big impact on the one thing that differentiates Three from its competition – personality.

Compared to the relative blandness of TVNZ1, TVNZ2, and Prime, Three has always had a personality-driven persona.

As the media release from Mediaworks noted, Szusterman developed and encouraged performers like Dai Henwood, Jaquie Brown, Jono Pryor and Clarke Gayford. 

An ebullient personality himself, Szusterman was also good at identifying cross promotional opportunities between Mediaworks radio and TV operations.

After losing its CFO Ciara McGuigan (TVNZ), key news executive Richard Sutherland (RNZ) and now Szusterman, Mediaworks is starting to look a little unstable. Anderson will want to steady the ship and not lose any more executives overboard.

Former TV3 reporter Kate King and Radio Sports’ Goran Paladin will be the faces of the news channel that will also show live bulletins from Fox Sports News Australia and Sky Sports News UK.  Photo: Supplied 

SKY fights back

SKY TV CEO Martin Stewart has started to roll out his strategy to revive the company’s prospects and take the fight to Spark’s start up sports streaming service.

Yesterday, he announced a major revamp of SKY’s sports offering. Subscribers will now get 12 dedicated sports channels, including a 24/7 sports news channel.

Former TV3 reporter Kate King and Radio Sports’ Goran Paladin will be the faces of the news channel that will also show live bulletins from Fox Sports News Australia and Sky Sports News UK.  

Stewart has also revamped Fan Pass. The streaming app is now called SKY SPORTS NOW and is available on weekly, monthly or yearly basis.

Instead of the four channels available on Fan Pass, the new product will carry all 12 sporting channels and extra content like stats and competition tables.

The old four channel Fan Pass originally cost $100 dollars a month, the latest 12 channel version is $40 a month if you sign for a year.

Stewart has also shown himself to have an eye for PR opportunities.  

He allowed the World Cup finals of the Cricket and the Netball to go out live on Prime, SKY’s free-to-air channel, and yesterday gave an unspecified amount of money to the Silver Ferns for a bonus pay after revelations they had received nothing from the organisers of the world championships.

This has been a PR opportunity there for the taking in light of our male cricketers getting $186,500 each after they lost to England in their World Cup final.

Later in the day, Spark Sport hit back with an announcement that they will stream all 380 matches from the English Premier League which starts on August 10, as well as a “huge range of additional content” including game highlight packages and magazine shows.

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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