Discovery, the owner of TV3, has unveiled its programme line-up for 2022 and, as Mark Jennings writes, a show about sustainable farming and changes to the AM show seem to be the highlights.

The media world has been waiting for American giant Discovery to put its stamp on the local market following its buyout of MediaWorks’ TV operation a year ago. The company has been taking its time but promised exciting developments on Wednesday at what it labelled “the virtual event of the year.”

Using the American term “Upfronts” to describe its new season programme launch, Discovery had been sending journalists weekly emails to remind them the company was about to “share its ambitious plans.” And, we should “expect attention” in 2022.

Overhyping programme launches is not new. TVNZ and TV3 have a rich history of trying to out-compete each other with their launch events. The quality of champagne and cocktails always lifted the mood of the advertising and media types attending the functions, even if the programming slates were a bit thin.

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This year’s virtual events (pre-recorded video show reels streamed at a set time) will see more scrutiny on the content offerings and Discovery’s “upfronts” look to be more about makeovers, reheating and repackaging of reality TV than anything really fresh or new. 

Three’s schedule in 2022 will barely deviate from well tried formulas – cooking, singing, dancing and decluttering shows.

Masterchef NZ is coming back and will run over multiple nights. The competitive cooking reality show started in Britain 30 years ago and spread successfully to the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Masterchef will be one of the anchors in Discovery’s ‘all week, all year strategy’ of having a strong (mainly local) programme on most nights of the year.

Nadia’s new life

Nadia Lim, winner of Masterchef in 2011 when TVNZ had the franchise, will appear in her own show on Three next year. Nadia’s Farm looks at the how Lim and her family are building a new life, sustainably farming in Central Otago.

After winning Masterchef, Lim was a judge in TVNZ’s My Kitchen Rules in 2014 and 2015. Two years ago she switched camps and competed in TV3’s Dancing with the Stars. She understands reality television.

Lim and her husband, Carlos Bagrie are co-founders of meal kit company My Food Bag and they could easily turn Nadia’s Farm into a commercial hit.

Green-conscious companies are likely to be be clambering to get their ads into a show about sustainablity, especially if it rates well.

The other new show that sounded original, if not a little bizarre, is My Town Makeover.

Produced in-house by TV3, the show will pick a town (presumably a small one) and give it a full-on facelift. Turns out this might not be such a fresh idea.

Discovery owned network HGTV started filming a similar show in March this year called Town Takeover, where 12 major renovations were carried out in Wetumpka, Alabama. The town renos included restaurants, shops, historic homes, public spaces, a farmers’ market and, according to HGTV’s publicity blurb “even an entire downtown street.”

Wetumpka has a population of 7,200 and according to its Mayor Jerry Willis the little metropolis has boomed with tourists since the airing of the show.

Stand by Kawerau (pop 7,750), Thames (7,380) and Waitara (7,290) – one of you is going to be on the telly. There’s a possible catch though, the townspeople seem to end up doing most of the work.

Comedy show 7 days is also getting a makeover and a time slot change. The show has been running since 2009 and its, at times, risque content has meant an 8.30pm or later time slot, but next year it will screen at 7.30pm, presumably minus the cruder jokes.

The move highlights the dilemma facing free-to-air programmers as they try to counter the streaming services like Netflix, Apple and Amazon. Fragmentation of audiences has forced a different approach says Juliet Peterson, Discovery’s senior director, programming.

“Back in the glory days you gave people variety, now you need to give something of the same ilk. The best lead-in (programme) for 7 days is The Project. When you capture a certain type of audience you try to keep it flowing to the next show.”

7 Days will be entering its 14th season but Peterson confirmed it will be reinvigorated with some new faces and content.

“It has worked really well for a really long time. But there is some great young comedians out there. I was watching the Billy T awards the other night and the pipeline of talent in this country is amazing.”

Two ‘new’ free-to-air channels

Peterson was also upbeat about the prospects of two new free-to-air channels Discovery is launching. Well… sort of new.

Choice TV, which was owned by Discovery before it bought the MediaWorks’ stations, is being renamed Gusto and given a programme makeover. A centrepiece will be ITV’s black comedic drama Finding Alice, starring Nigel Havers and Joanna Lumley. The Guardian’s reviewer, Lucy Mangan , described the show as “unsatisfying”.

Peterson says the channel will be targeted at the 40 to 54-year-old end of the market and be all about “energy and passion and great TV”. Other shows on Gusto include Changing Rooms UK, Big Family Farm UK and Great Southern Truckers.

The other new channel will carrying the same name as Discovery’s joint venture with Channel Nine in Australia – Rush.

Rush will target males in the 25 to 54 demographic to complement Discovery’s other smaller channel, Bravo, which skews female.

Given that streaming services are clearly the future and Discovery’s own subscriber service, Discovery+ will launch here next year, does it make sense to invest in these rather niche, free-to-air, channels?

Peterson’s view is that there is still a “market opportunity” in linear TV. “There is life left in the old dog yet, “ she told Newsroom.

Discovery’s General Manager Australia and New Zealand, Glen Kyne says he expects the new channels to help the company “leverage the last drop of blood” out of free-to-air and increase Discovery’s overall reach. His expectation is that Gusto and Rush will attract viewers from TVNZ and Sky rather than cannibalise TV3 and Bravo.

The frequencies for Rush and a plus one channel for Gusto were previously assigned to Edge TV and Breeze TV. It was never likely that MediaWorks would be able to hold onto these channels for its radio brands after selling its TV arm to Discovery.

Melissa Chan-Green and Ryan Bridge will co-host the next iteration of AM.  Photo: Supplied

AM now a no ‘show’

Interestingly, Kyne made a point of telling Newsroom that the relationship between the two companies was still good despite MediaWorks dumping Newshub as its radio news provider, pulling out of AM and then hiring Tova O’Brien to present its own morning radio show.

There has been speculation Discovery might fold the AM Show after MediaWorks pulled the pin and the presenting team of Duncan Garner, Amanda Gillies and Mark Richardson decided to move on. Morning shows are expensive to produce but Kyne says the breakfast slot is important commercially and now, without having to cater for radio audiences, AM (‘show’ is being dropped from the name) can be more of a TV or visual experience for viewers.

In what seems to be a doubling down on its commitment to AM, Newshub boss Sarah Bristow announced a new studio set and new presenters were on the way.

Melissa Chan-Green will join Ryan Bridge as co-host,  with a yet-to-be named news presenter and roving weather reporter.

Chan-Green was a top flight Europe correspondent for 3 News – possibly its best – but she hasn’t quite had the impact many expected her to make as the co-anchor of Newshub’s weekend news bulletins. The new role, alongside the affable and energetic Ryan Bridge, looks like a good opportunity for her to show her well rounded skill set and personality.

While the changes to AM aren’t “beyond exciting” or “incredible” or even “boldly ambitious” –  as the other initiatives revealed at the “virtual event of the year” – they do appear to involve fresh thinking and will register as more than a blip on the radar of TVNZ’s executives. The State broadcaster has its own (virtual) programme launch next week.

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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