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Newshub live (Image: Tina Tiller)
Newshub live (Image: Tina Tiller)

MediaFebruary 28, 2024

In cutting the news, Three has lost its realtime presence in New Zealanders’ lives

Newshub live (Image: Tina Tiller)
Newshub live (Image: Tina Tiller)

Hal Crawford was news director of Newshub from 2016 to 2020. He shares his thoughts on its closure.

It’s a testament to the Newshub team that their brand became a fixture so quickly in the NZ media landscape. They are a wonderful group of people. The generosity of spirit is reflected in their work. For me, I find it an embodiment of New Zealand: smart, open-hearted, honest.  So this news is really shit.

At the moment I am shocked – because I thought that when Discovery bought the television arm of the Mediaworks business, Newshub had found a home. This is what I had fervently hoped for – that someone would pick up the business that was always financially troubled. We worked hard to engage audiences and show that Newshub was actually profitable for the business. Ad revenue has declined steeply in the past few years and this profitability is apparently no longer the case.

To my mind news was integral to the TV product, and so I thought Newshub was safe after the sale. But what the injection of Discovery (now Warner Bros. Discovery) into NZ media shows is what happens when different thinking comes onto the scene.

Newshub’s panellists watch as an egg passes through Linda the laser kiwi’s cloaca on election night 2023

This move, like the closure of The Project before it, demonstrates that in these matters, downsizing takes place in chunks, not by increments. In order to make space to execute real strategy, businesses have to be decisive. Discovery could have reduced news costs over years, or they could shut it down altogether. They chose the latter, I think so that they would have a real chance with ThreeNow.

As I reflect, I understand. The baked-in costs for a big TV-based newsroom are huge. 3News and then Newshub were good at running tight budgets, but they were still TV budgets and the scope of the product was TV news – ie we are going to tell you everything that matters today in a certain, high-cost format. Newshub developed a strong digital arm, with big growth and a great team. But at heart it remained a TV newsroom, culturally and financially.

There are big implications for the Discovery product in NZ.

The newsroom is the outfit that convinces the viewers that the lights are on and someone is at home. The closure of Newshub is not just the end of news, it’s the end of real-time for Three. Without that regular real-time presence, they become something closer to a content database. Three will find it difficult to acknowledge real-time events – even world-changing events – because a big part of the cost they are removing is the ability to produce or even curate content in real time. Any content.

Newshub in 2016

They will have lost an important differentiator between their service and the global platforms. You are competing even more directly with Netflix and co. And it’s much harder to have a personality without a real-time presence.

The people who have made this decision understand all this. They have done it anyway, which indicates just how tough the situation is. All ad-funded news media is in the same boat. You either make it above a certain threshold and become a global brand, focus on a niche, or operate at the lowest cost level (individuals using platforms). The middle is a wasteland. People in the industry have been talking about that for a while, and now it’s become even more extreme with social media no longer directing traffic to general news.

For Warner Bros. Discovery in NZ, the future will come down to the engineers and content deal-makers. I want to acknowledge the Newshub team, and all the hard work that went into making and sustaining that newsroom and telling those stories. I’m so sorry it’s over.

Keep going!