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Senior vice president of WBD, Glen Kyne, and Stuff owner Sinead Boucher (Image design: Tina Tiller)
Senior vice president of WBD, Glen Kyne, and Stuff owner Sinead Boucher (Image design: Tina Tiller)

BusinessApril 17, 2024

14 (!) crucial questions about Stuff replacing Newshub, asked and (mostly) answered

Senior vice president of WBD, Glen Kyne, and Stuff owner Sinead Boucher (Image design: Tina Tiller)
Senior vice president of WBD, Glen Kyne, and Stuff owner Sinead Boucher (Image design: Tina Tiller)

Based on interviews with the heads of Stuff and Warner Bros Discovery, along with staff across both organisations, Duncan Greive presents an in-depth primer on the biggest news media deal in years.

With additional reporting by Stewart Sowman-Lund and Alice Neville

Why did Stuff win out over NZME?

This is in many ways the big question: NZME has far more broadcast experience, and in-house broadcast talent – so how did Stuff win the pitch? Commercial terms have not been made public, so there’s no way to know to what extent price came into it – but Three owners Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) leadership are saying that it was innovation when it came down to it.

“It’s the way Stuff are thinking about producing the bulletin – it’s very different from a very traditional studio newsroom broadcast setup,” says WBD’s Glen Kyne. Stuff owner Sinead Boucher says this leans heavily on its new platform and structure. “A year ago we wouldn’t have put ourselves forward.” She is also adamant that the product will not be a traditional news hour. “We’re not going into linear television. We’re not even going into broadcasting – that’s for Warner Bros Discovery – we are producing the news.” 

How many jobs will this save?

Very few. While Newshub is laying off around 200 staff, it was confirmed at a joint press conference that the number of jobs created will be “less than 40”, a number put forward through a Newshub staff proposition to WBD. To be profitable for Stuff, it’s likely to be a bit lower again, and rely heavily on Stuff’s journalists.

Glen Kyne and Sinead Boucher at yesterday’s press conference (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

Does the Stuff-WBD deal maintain plurality in the news?

Not really. It maintains competitive tension within TV news, and will create a small number of jobs – but the function of this is largely to reskin existing news produced for Stuff into a video format. That is good for audiences, and for both companies – but is unlikely to have a significant impact on the number of journalists employed or the amount of fresh stories created. And on the plurality front, the brutal blow that is the loss of Newshub’s newsroom and news culture remains.

What’s in it for Stuff and WBD?

Stuff is “producing this on a fee basis”, says Boucher. “We’re producing it as a supplied product.” This means that, provided it has got the deal structure right, Stuff should be able to make a profit on the 6pm news product it supplies to WBD (and potentially Sky too, which needs a new news provider: “we remain interested in delivering strong local news, where it makes commercial sense, and are considering our options,” a spokesperson told The Spinoff) – but that’s not where the revenue story ends.

“This definitely unlocks a lot of fresh monetisation options on Stuff,” says Boucher. Currently Stuff has a carousel of vertical video on its homepage under the name Stuff Shorts, but this deal should allow it to step-change the volume and quality of its video. In an ad market that leans ever more into video, that could give Stuff a rare clear edge over rivals at NZME.

As for the money, video stories must debut at 6pm, but thereafter the news clips are fair game for both organisations. “We wanted to keep that really simple and clear,” says Kyne. “So revenues on Three and ThreeNow will stay with Warner Bros Discovery and revenues on Stuff will stay with Stuff.” The other thing big thing it does for WBD is retain as much of the 6pm news audience as possible for Three to take into its evening schedule, when the vast bulk of linear revenue sits. However, the most recent Nielsen figures showed Newshub at 6pm having lost 18% of its 25-54 audience year-on-year, with under 60,000 of that coveted demographic tuning in – making the digital side ever more crucial.

Is the government helping out here?

Not yet – but that might change. An intriguing element of this story was reported by Tom Pullar-Strecker for The Post yesterday morning. He wrote that “it is understood that the government has been considering offering Warner Bros Discovery and other broadcasters a break on television transmission fees that would normally be paid to state-owned enterprise Kordia, on the condition that they continued to offer television news bulletins”.

Pullar-Strecker suggested that this would be worth around $5.2m per year to WBD, and Kyne confirmed to The Spinoff that as it would still be broadcasting the news (though not creating it), any Kordia savings would drop straight to WBD’s bottom line. This effectively means that despite WBD laying off hundreds of staff, and closing one of the most significant newsrooms in the country, it would effectively be rewarded by the government with a cancelling of Kordia fees – and use that to fund a very large proportion of the fee it’s paying to Stuff to create the new 6pm bulletin.

How will other newsrooms feel about that?

Kordia relief is likely to be welcomed by many, while proving somewhat controversial for other parts of the news media. Kordia is a state-owned enterprise, and its fees are only paid by broadcasters across radio and TV, so any relief would give millions of dollars in benefits to TVNZ, NZME, Whakaata Māori, MediaWorks and WBD, while giving no relief to news organisations in digital or print mediums.

What’s happening to Newshub’s archive?

Newshub’s work functionally stretches back to the dawn of TV3 News 35 years ago. There has been huge concern about its retention as an archive of enormous cultural and historic significance. However, it will also be crucial to the success of Stuff’s project. 

Kyne confirmed that WBD is in talks with audiovisual archive Ngā Taonga about preserving as much as it can, while also wanting to make sure that Stuff can use it to create its product. A large chunk of news requires near-instant access to archive – any package covering comments from John Key or Helen Clark will often use footage from their time as prime minister, for example. A WBD spokesperson confirmed that Stuff would have access to the archive, but not ownership of it – how that is managed is complex and potentially fraught.

Three’s 6pm news bulletins through the years (Image: Tina Tiller)

How about the brand and website?

“The brand will pass over as part of the website,” Kyne told The Spinoff. This means that, despite assurances to the contrary, it’s not impossible that the Newshub name will live on, as the site remains highly viewed – and could plausibly be kept alive with a syndication of Stuff stories and video. 

Could the Newshub name be retained for the 6pm bulletin?

Stuff has reported that it will “leave the Newshub name and brand behind”, but that was contradicted to an extent by WBD’s Kyne. “It’s not out of the question,” Kyne told The Spinoff. “Lawyers at the moment, just in the background, are working through the machinations of that.” 

The retention of the name might prove emotive and controversial among Newshub staff, who would lose their jobs only to see the name branded across a fundamentally different product. “One of the main things for Newshubbers is that it’s not going to be called Newshub,” said one current Newshub journalist. 

Will Stuff staff now have to front stories on the 6pm news?

While Stuff will almost certainly hire some presenters from Newshub, it’s hard to see a way this can be completed without Stuff’s journalists creating stories for the new 6pm bulletin. Yet this brings with it a number of difficulties, as many Stuff staff were hired on the basis that it was a largely text-based website producing written stories. 

All news organisations have asked staff to do more in recent years. A single story might appear on Stuff, while the reporter might also break it down for TikTok and appear on a podcast like Newsable. However, one Stuff journalist asked whether they would “get a wardrobe allowance now?” 

This has historically been on the cards in TV, but not in print, and it’s also common for TV journalists to have consideration for hair and makeup. This points to a key difference between a short piece of vertical video designed to be consumed on a phone, and a news production running on a 55-inch screen in HD. Boucher told The Spinoff that “our journalists are already expected to come to work, dressed and ready to fit in with any situation from going to court or interviewing the prime minister or hitting out or breaking news story or whatever. So no worries on that.” 

That might not be the attitude of staff. A Stuff source told The Spinoff that “someone asked today whether this meant pay increases for journalist staff (given it means more responsibility, more work etc) – we got a resounding no”. Instead, Boucher talked about training and career development opportunities. In a subdued employment market for journalists, many might feel they have little choice but to try the new medium – but ultimately the success or failure of this project will in large part rest on whether Stuff staff as a whole embrace it or reject it. 

What is the fate of Newshub’s Google News Showcase deal?

Neither Boucher nor Kyne could confidently say what might happen to Newshub’s financial contract with the tech giant. The deals are typically predicated on a mix of head count, revenue and audience size, all of which are likely to drastically change. Google did not respond to The Spinoff’s request for comment by publication time.

How do Newshub staff feel about this?

“It’s better than nothing, and it’ll be good for some people,” said one Newshub staffer characterising the mood. “But it’s not going to save Newshub, and it’s not going to save many jobs. The vibe is quite deflated.” They went on to say that “Newshub people are thinking, how can they do the bulletin in any way like what we had?”

Another told The Spinoff they were pleased there would be something at 6pm. “Good on Stuff for stepping up,” said another longtime Newshub staffer. “Details so far are light though. [We’re] not expecting a lifeline for many staff, and getting tired of the rollercoaster.” 

How do current and former Stuff staff feel about it?

Multiple current Stuff staffers expressed enthusiasm about it, in terms of an opportunity to become a more rounded and scaled video player. “It seems pretty exciting – good to see us showing ambition.” Another believed it represented a huge opportunity for Stuff, and believed it capable of delivering a strong product. They said even limited employment opportunities were welcome at a time like this. “No one begrudges anyone going to get work,” they said. Another described the general feeling as “cautiously optimistic”, while saying there was concern that it might mean “more work for a newsroom already stretched to breaking point”.

Former staff were less hot on the idea, however. “Stuff is very good at getting distracted by pet projects which they sink a lot of money into, for minimal return, while ignoring the core business and the fact staff morale sinks lower and lower,” said one.

Another told The Spinoff that “I wish them well but I truly have no idea how they’re going to pull it off, and using what money. The ‘transformation’ of the Stuff business has meant widespread confusion and the loss of jobs and support to do meaningful reporting for many Stuff journalists.” A third ex-Stuff staffer said “it strikes me as another adventure Stuff will embark on. If the past tells us anything about the future, this move will result in the company once again ‘flailing around’ instead of focusing on its core business.”

Where do Stuff and WBD leadership see this going?

Change is often greeted with trepidation within organisations, especially those that have been managing decline. But both Boucher and Kyne are at pains to underline that while this partnership begins with a 6pm bulletin, that does not have to be where it ends. 

“We’re helping Stuff, to some degree, build capability in this area,” says Kyne. “The partnership allows us to innovate even further into the future. And so when we think about declining linear audiences, but growing digital audiences, it’s the art of the possible now that we have created a partnership.” 

Kyne’s point is that in an imagined post-recessionary future, with more digital audiences, Stuff could plausibly pitch more news and current affairs products in years to come, once it has proved the ability to economically deliver a video news product. This is something Boucher too is keen to hammer home. 

“The audience on ThreeNow for news is growing. The digital audience is growing,” she says. “I think what we both like is – what’s the next product after this? How do we keep evolving?”

Keep going!