TVNZ won the election night ratings. Photo: TVNZ

TVNZ wins election night ratings

TVNZ cruised to a comfortable ratings win over Three but, Mark Jennings reports, advances in streaming are creating opportunities for other media.

Both TV networks reached over a million viewers with their election night coverage but their days of dominance are starting to dwindle.

Stuff’s owner, Sinead Boucher, tweeted that her website’s election night special had 1.2 million video streams. The television background of Stuff’s producer on the night, Carol Hirschfeld, was evident and she made good use of the company’s geographical strength and reporting depth. Hosted by former TVNZ presenter Alison Mau and Sunday Star Times editor Tracy Watkins, it was an earnest affair without much fizz or glamour, but it seems to have attracted plenty of eyeballs on the night.

Streaming figures need to be taken with a grain of salt as they give no indication whether people watch the stream for 3 hours or 30 seconds. But streaming allows digital media to compete with the television stations even though they have minimal broadcasting infrastructure.

The New Zealand Herald teamed up with its radio operation, Newstalk ZB to stream video coverage anchored by Mike Hosking and ex TVNZ and TV3 journalist, Heather du Plessis Allan. RNZ poured considerable resource into a special anchored by Lisa Owen and Corin Dann.

TV networks also had plenty of streaming customers. Their YouTube channels did good business, with Newshub claiming 230,000 views and TVNZ 176,000.

TVNZ On Demand recorded 117,000 streams and Three 35,000.

The battle that advertising agencies are most interested in though, went to TVNZ.

1News’ live television coverage averaged 193,000 viewers aged 25 to 54 for a 41 percent share. Newshub averaged 140,000 for a 29.5 share.

In all people aged 5 and over, TVNZ averaged 530,000 and Newshub pulled in 280,000

It was a reverse of the 2017 election night ratings and underlined the dominance 1news has re-established in this demographic recently.

Both programmes were good, informative watches and the hosts appeared hell bent on enjoying themselves. Hilary Barry and John Campbell, the ex-TV3 presenters, joked about anchoring 1 News’ coverage.

Barry: “ Who would have thought 10 years ago”

Campbell: “That you and I would be sitting here hosting TVNZ’s election coverage”

Barry: “(squeal) I love it”

Campbell: “Mark Weldon (Ex TV3 CEO) and Julie Christie (ex TV3 board member) if you are watching….phhhhrt (sound of flatulence).

Campbell has long held Weldon and Christie responsible for the cancellation of his long running TV3 show, Campbell Live.

Things also got predictably loose over on Three. Political editor Tova O’Brien started the show with an introduction “ We are in for a wild, wild night.” It wasn’t – the Labour landslide put the kybosh on that but Paddy Gower seemed to be in Monty Python mode. Charged with operating explainer graphics on Newshub’s video touch screen, Gower put as much effort into a variety of silly walks and ditties: “Red sky at night is Kiri Allen’s (Labour East Coast winner’s) delight.” As Gower said later, he was “high on democracy.”

But Gower’s celebrity status appears to have been overtaken by O’Brien. Her eviscerating interview with failed politician Jamie-Lee Ross on Sunday has been a social media phenomenon. Media luminaries like Piers Morgan in the UK and CNN’s Jack Tapper have retweeted the interview which has now gone past six million views.

John and Hilary won the ratings but Tova became world famous.

NBR overturns Joyce defamation finding

The week before the election, the business news site NBR had success at the Court of Appeal in the defamation case brought against it by former National finance minister Steven Joyce.

The High Court had found NBR, through a column by Matthew Hooton following the 2018 contest for the National Party leadership, had defamed Joyce – and that NBR’s owner, Todd Scott, had subsequently also defamed Joyce in several posts on Twitter defending the site’s column.

NBR and Scott appealed that ruling and the Court of Appeal found the Hooton column’s claims about Joyce were not capable of carrying the meanings claimed by the former MP. Further, it said meanings substituted by Justice Pheroze Jagose in his finding of defamation were also incapable of being met.

Because the column could not have defamed in the way Joyce’s lawyers had claimed, or the judge had found, it followed the tweets by Scott were also found not to be defamatory.

Joyce had been awarded $269,000 in costs after the High Court success but the Court of Appeal ruled he must now pay NBR and Scott’s appeal costs.

At the Court of Appeal hearing, NBR’s lawyer, Peter McKnight had argued it was not open to Justice Jagose to, by his own acknowledgment, find the defendants NBR and Scott liable on the basis of “materially different meanings” and the defamation claims should have been dismissed. Joyce’s lawyer, Zane Kennedy, argued the meaning instead adopted by the judge was not materially different from what Joyce had pleaded, and that meant the judge could find as he did.

The Hooton column had claimed an attempt to introduce a copper tax under the National government had been “to subsidise his [Joyce’s] friends at Chorus.” The Court of Appeal said ordinary readers would have taken this to mean only that Joyce was well-disposed, or friendly, to big businesses such as Chorus, not that he actually had personal connections at the company and was being unethical.

A Hooton reference to Joyce’s former National colleague and portfolio successor Amy Adams as being a “proxy” was found by the appeal court “not to suggest concealment or pursuit by Joyce of personal objectives.”

The Court of Appeal judgment said Hooton was a provocateur and Justice Jagose focused too closely on the pronoun used “his”, versus “their” and the ordinary meaning of the word “friends”.

That was close linguistic analysis of a type the Court had counselled against in another case.

“A reasonable reader of the article’s exaggerated and colourful prose would understand that it was, as Fourth Estate [NBR] pleaded, intended to be an entertaining ‘hit’.”

The column did not convey the meaning Joyce claimed (that Joyce was prepared to engage in improper conduct in pursuit of his political objectives).

Not did it convey the meaning preferred by Justice Jagose (that Joyce was prepared to engage in otherwise improper behaviour in pursuit of his (rather than his party’s) political objectives.”

While the appeal court accepted there might be limited circumstances where a judge could reformulate a plaintiff’s pleadings, it believed these needed to be kept “narrowly confined.”

The Court of Appeal decision, while good for NBR and Scott, is not thought to necessarily extend any greater protection to media in criticism of politicians, according to defamation lawyers. One told Newsroom the finding was “standard stuff” assessing the meanings against the whole column and its surrounding words – and could have been the same had it involved a business person or entertainer. The finding was not particularly tied to the fact this case involved political commentary.

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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