Discovery gambles on sweeping change at AM Show

 

Don’t believe what your old granny told you: A new broom doesn’t always sweep clean.

Nor is a clean sweep always a good thing.

However, whichever way you look at it, TV3’s AM Show looks like it has been taken to the cleaners.

The show’s original on-camera line-up will be gone by the end of the year and the network’s new owner Discovery is hinting there will be even bigger changes next year.

I don’t know the reasons for the departures and I’m not going to speculate on why Duncan Garner has already left the early morning simulcast programme nor why Amanda Gillies and Mark Richardson announced they would leave at the end of the year. What is clear is that, if Discovery had wanted the line-up to stay intact, it would have found ways to make it happen.

There are huge risks in sweeping away an established team that had developed a close rapport and engaging on-camera relationships. That chemistry will be difficult – if not impossible – to replicate.

To his credit, Garner’s replacement Ryan Bridge has fitted well into the ménage à trois (to use the literal French meaning). He had time to practice, having stood in for Garner on occasion and, toward the end of the original host’s tenure, with increased regularity. He is a known quantity for the audience.

Bridge will be joined by new news and sports presenters and that will change the dynamics. There are no guarantees that the easy familiarity and sense of fun that has characterised the AM Show (and differentiated it from the more earnest Breakfast on TV One) will be recreated.

Garner has gone, and has resurfaced with a weekly column – ‘Duncan Disorderly’ – in National Business Review. Next year Gillies will join Patrick Gower as a Newshub national correspondent and Richardson will do a weekly shift on The Project in addition to his reality show hosting.

Ryan Bridge, previously drivetime host on MagicTalk, will be able to use the remaining months with his existing co-hosts to put his own stamp on the show and, I hope, rid himself of the talkback host’s prerogative of talking over callers. His interviews with the prime minister have become punctuated with “Ryan, let me finish”. However, the chemistry with the replacements for Gillies and Richardson will remain an unknown quantity and there are no guarantees the audience will warm to them in the way they had to the old line-up.

The changed line-up and other signalled changes have all the hallmarks of a new owner wanting to stamp its mark on the network. If the ‘revitalisation’ of 3 is being driven from across the Tasman in Discovery’s regional headquarters there is a danger of audience disconnect.

As far as the AM Show is concerned, the sweeping changes are doubly surprising given the network’s claim that the show is “beating Breakfast” and, in the latest ratings, has achieved its biggest audience since 2019. As my old granny used to say: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. And you can believe that.

Winners and losers

There are some disturbing findings in an international audit of media organisations’ digital reader revenue conducted by Merja Myllylahti, co-director of AUT’s Centre for Journalism Media & Democracy.

Her research paper published in Digital Journalism analysed data from three platform companies (Facebook, Google and Apple), and 14 newspaper groups operating in nine countries.

It was no secret that reader revenue – online subscriptions – has created winners and losers in the news business. The winners are the big news brands, the likes of the New York Times, the Washington Post, News Limited, and Asahi (the Japanese owner of the Financial Times). The losers have been local and regional newspaper owners.

Myllylahti analysed payments being made to the publishers by Facebook and Google and found they have the potential to strengthen the winners – those dominant international and national brands – and weaken losers including the regional and local news publishers and independent news outlets.

Worse, she believes these payments have the potential to make publishers more dependent on platforms that were intent on calling the shots.

“Platforms have the power to choose who they pay for, how much they pay for, how long do they pay for, and what are the terms for the payment,” she said, adding that recent experience in Australia showed that the platforms had a powerful bargaining position.

The looming imposition of a ‘news media bargaining code’ that could give the Australian government the power to impose charges on the platforms saw both Google and Facebook temporarily remove news or access to news from their services. The platforms won the stand-off and negotiations resumed on their terms.

Myllylahti believes that the deals being done between the platforms and publishers – some are inside the tent and others outside – means that funding local news journalism “may become even more challenging at a time when the local newspaper is already badly bruised”.

Nor does she see the platforms as altruistic funders of journalism.

“We know that platforms’ willingness to pay for news publishers is not evolving naturally, the payment schemes are enforced by the regulators and legal frameworks in different continents, countries, and markets. So far, platforms have mainly agreed to pay “compensation” for news publishers due to regulatory pressure and legal rulings.”

In July, France’s antitrust watchdog fined Google  €500 million because it failed to negotiate in “good faith” with news publishers about the copyright payments. This month Google appealed the fine.

The research covers Australia (where The Australian and other News Ltd titles have 613,000 digital subscribers) but not New Zealand. It does lead me to conclude, however, that if this country wants to make any headway with the digital platforms it will need to seek alliances with bigger players (it should have been in the Australian arrangement from the outset). “Playing tough” with the behemoths will only result in their calling our bluff. And behaving like a mouse will see our news media’s hard work continue to be shamelessly appropriated

Facebook fightback

Facebook’s past tactic in the wake of more-often-than-not justified criticism has been to appear to be the voice of sweet reason. Conciliation and a willingness to engage in solution-finding has been at the forefront of its responses.

That may be changing.

Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have published the results of investigations that reflect very poorly on the social media platform. The Journal claimed Facebook has a special programme – XCheck –that allows celebrities to get around the platform’s rules of behaviour, and has ignored the advice of its own researchers (on issues such as effects on teenage girls) in its drive for growth at both Facebook and Instagram. The Times reported that the company is trying to sway public opinion towards Facebook by stuffing positive stories into users’ news feeds as part of something called Project Amplify.

Facebook came out fighting against both publications. In an article headed “Facebook goes on the offensive over critical reporting”, the Columbia Journalism Review reports that Facebook’s vice president of global affairs (and former British deputy Prime Minister) Nick Clegg posted a lengthy rebuttal to the Journal investigation, which he labelled “just plain false”. A response to the Times story alleged misrepresentation and claimed Project Amplify was a “test for an informational unit clearly marked as coming from Facebook”.

All of which is very interesting, considering the company’s oversight board is now examining Facebook’s practice of holding high-profile users to separate sets of rules. And Instagram is now looking at body image issues that its own researchers had been warning about.

With 2.85 billion active monthly users, one might wonder what Facebook needs to amplify. However, embedded in the Times article was a quote that encapsulated the multinational’s change of approach to criticism.

Katie Harbath, a former Facebook public policy director, told the newspaper: “They’re realizing that no one else is going to come to their defence, so they need to do it and say it themselves.”

I wonder why that might be.

 

 

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