MediaRoom column: After three years co-hosting TVNZ’s early morning show, Breakfast, John Campbell is returning to a reporting role. Mark Jennings looks at what the move means in the battle between the state broadcaster and its main competitor, Discovery.

Not a lot has been heard of TVNZ’s head of news, Paul Yurisich, since he came into the job at the end of 2020. The juggernaut of 1News ploughs on in its own bland sort of way and maintains its grip on the title of most trusted (commercial) news service.

Yurisich, like his predecessors, has been steering a steady course and avoided hitting any rocks that could jolt his relatively content and sedentary audience into reaching for the remote.

But there are signs that the former Al Jazeera producer and Bloomberg journalist is getting more proactive in his approach.

Yurisich has recently hired two of his old team from Doha into key roles. Mereana Hond, who was an executive producer at Al Jazeera digital, and before that a producer at AP in London, is now heading up digital news content for TVNZ.

She posted this on her Linked In page when she took over:

“It’s time to transform the way we do news in Aotearoa. Make sure to subscribe to 1News wherever you get your news because some pretty cool things are coming your way.”

And, from Monday, Kamahl Santamaria, takes over John Campbell’s seat on TVNZ’s early morning show, Breakfast. Santamaria spent 16 years at the Qatar-based broadcaster and steadily rose up the ranks to be one of its key presenters. Before that he worked as a reporter and producer in New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

Santamaria is a serious broadcaster and is likely to have had comprehensive discussions with Yurisich about his role on Breakfast. After years of hosting news programmes covering major international stories, Santamaria will naturally want to pace up the show and inject a more serious tone.

In Campbell’s time at Breakfast the programme seems to have developed a very team orientated approach with Jenny-May Coffin, Matty McLean and Indira Stewart sharing the billing with Campbell. There are times when the cast feels almost too large and the programme gets bogged down.

That said, Campbell’s strong brand and skills have helped Breakfast stay well on top of AM. Nielsen ratings figures for the week beginning February 8th (the first week of the revamped AM) had Breakfast at more than double the audience of its rival in the commercially important 25 to 54 demographic.

It is a slightly better picture for AM when the cumulative reach (number of people who tune in over a week) is compared.

Source: Nielsen TAM; Overnights 08/02/22; AP 5+, AP 25-54,

The fact that AM averaged less than 20,000 viewers daily in the 25 to 54 age group will be worrying TV3’s new owner, Discovery. It has sunk plenty of money into the revamped show but the ratings in the younger demographics don’t look promising.

Newsroom asked Discovery for the AM latest ratings. Acting head of communications David Cormack replied, “We’re not releasing ratings for AM just yet – it’s still early days, so it is bouncing around a bit but we’ll be happy to do that in a month or so.” Given that TV networks are always eager to release ratings when they are good his answer probably indicates things haven’t improved. The reverse could be the case.

The changeover from Campbell to Santamaria gives AM a small window of opportunity. Santamaria has proven himself a highly adaptable broadcaster but it will probably take him a couple of weeks to settle in and gel with the existing team. Some Breakfast viewers will sample AM and if the TV3 programme is firing it could hold on to a few of them.

The one area where TV3 has scored wins over TVNZ is the prime-time documentaries presented by Newshub journalist Paddy Gower. Gower: On Weed was watched by 794,200 people including 412,500 in the 25-54 demo. Gower: On P and Gower: On Hate were also hits.

Gower has added the documentaries to his normal job as Newshub’s national correspondent (fancy name for a roving reporter) where he has come up with a steady stream of scoops and strong coverage of high profile stories.

Paul Yurisich will surely look to John Campbell to take some of this territory back off Gower.

This is a reprising of the role Campbell came to TVNZ to do four years ago. TVNZ’s then head of news John Gillespie described him as a “high impact player for 1News.”

After a year as a roving reporter, Campbell headed back to the studio to host Breakfast, replacing Jack Tame who moved to Q & A. The roving role didn’t have the impact that Gillespie was hoping for, but that was not necessarily Campbell’s fault,. He appeared to be spread across too many news programmes with different formats.

Gower is probably the first broadcast journalist in this country to make a success of what is generally regarded as difficult role due to its peripatetic nature.

Part of his success has been due to giving up some control of his own stories.

His highly successful documentaries are produced by an independent production house that brings a distinctive look and feel to the way a topic is covered. This results in programmes that skilfully weave elements of comedy and quirk into examination of grim topics like drug addiction. It is primetime television that can compete with the best local and international shows on TVNZ.

Gower’s ability to take serious issues into the entertainment schedule of a mainstream TV channel has earned him an almost cult like following. Campbell has the ability and experience to beat Gower at his own game but, this time, TVNZ will need to back him with the right level of talent and resource.

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

Leave a comment