2020 was a big year in news, and for shows with opinion, from Breakfast TV to The Project to Q&A, an often-polarising one.
Sunrise has won another year in the ratings, albeit in the context of a lift from Today and News Breakfast. Yet in an age of social media and clickbait stories, it has also seen presenters in the headlines for comments made during a 3.5hr live broadcast during a pandemic.
Craig McPherson, Seven’s Director of News & Current Affairs, is rightly pleased with the network news performance, but acknowledges new landscape.
“The beauty of the Sunrise ensemble is they’ve got firm opinions, they’re balanced in their presentation of them. It is very easy for people to pick a side -and when I say people, I’m meaning the people who like to comment on people who are on air- and for whatever reason, get all caught up in their opinion clashing with that of the person on television. That creates its own thing in the great social media domain where suddenly people have got a purpose for the day, attacking somebody that they don’t agree with,” he tells TV Tonight.
“It’s become part of what we experience. It’s never really got too out of hand for us, I don’t believe.
“Sam has her beliefs. David Koch has his beliefs”
“Sam has her beliefs. David Koch has his beliefs in certain areas. They don’t always agree but that makes for a healthy debate. We don’t like enforcing and lecturing our audience to any particular way on things but in a year that was very polarising …it’s understandable (when something said) can suddenly become a bit of an inferno out there.”
Adding a presenter’s name to an online story will add to traffic.
“Those who front those shows have, dare I say, big targets on their head and it gets way out of control at times.. just unbelievably out of control. Journos know if they chuck Sam Armytage, David Koch, they have their instant monitors and a scoreboard.
“‘There’s a photo here from three weeks ago, let’s regurgitate that and wrap this in, add that..’ and they get very clever with it all.”
“Everyone’s back next year, no changes flagged there”
He also confirms the team will return in 2021 after winning nationally and in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide & Perth.
“It’s had a tremendous year, very difficult with the hours they all put in and do and, and the product they’re able to consistently achieve. It’s a tribute to all those who work on and there’s a great team that work on it, both in front and -as importantly- behind the camera.
“Everyone’s back next year, no changes flagged there.”
Seven also won the 6pm news battle, which has been the star performer in Seven’s schedule. Seven News won nationally as well as in Adelaide & Perth.
“In a very tumultuous year for everyone was a great effort by all the teams”
“It’s a very pleasing result. We started the year in a very good spot and we finished pretty much how we started, which in a very tumultuous year for everyone was a great effort by all the teams.
“We won Adelaide and Perth. We were about 50,000 behind on the East Coast, which considering three or four years ago, we were 180,000 behind on the East Coast. So we’ve sort of maintained pretty much the 2019 difference.”
Seven plans to address the Brisbane battle with some tweaks to its Gold Coast bulletin content.
“The Gold Coast is the biggest viewing region in Queensland, where we had had a good couple of years. This year, we didn’t go as well as we did last year. So we’ve got some plans to attend to that. Essentially if you can win the Gold Coast, you win the Brisbane market.”
As he looks back on 2020, McPherson is most proud of how his news teams responded to the need for extra news due largely to bushfires and the pandemic. Unlike Nine’s current affairs brands, Seven produced under the broader Seven News brand, in many cases, were bulletins did not exist in the schedule.
“We did quite a few 7:00 programs when Coronavirus was first starting and the whole world, particularly Australia, had no clue where we were going. There were a hell of a lot of press conferences being called at any given hour from the Prime Minister’s department through to health officials. There was an obvious viewer thirst for that,” he continues.
“People worked extraordinary hours doing programming that just wasn’t factored in”
“The teams in all the markets all jumped in and worked extraordinary hours to push through. But we all did it willingly and it was very successful. There was next to no pushback from any individual. People worked extraordinary hours doing programming that just wasn’t factored in. We didn’t have an ACA, we didn’t have a 60 Minutes, we didn’t have an alternate brand to go to. So we created it from what we had, which was commendable to all the teams.”
Spotlight news specials, produced by Mark Llewellyn, emerged as flexible in subject as well as timeslots, but McPherson is optimistic about something more regular in early 2021.
“Spotlight will be first quarter, we hope to get a regular run”
“Spotlight will be first quarter, we hope to get a regular run for a period of time and that’s something that Angus (Ross, Director of Programming) and I are regularly discussing.
“Sunrise, The Latest are back again and we’re going to do more with our cross pollination with the digital. Spotlight‘s going to have some involvement in that as well. In terms of some breakout stuff, we’ll see more in a digital episodic, it doesn’t always have to sort of cut the mustard to make a broadcast number.
“I can’t underestimate the success seven news.com.au has had. The team there do an extraordinary job, to now be the number three commercial news website. It’s a photo finish between the first three -in 12 months it’s extraordinary. Number one for women and men 35 and under. It’s a really tailored, structured strategic site that targets demographics that aren’t totally aligned with the broadcasters. So it’s an interesting dynamic occurring at the moment, which is good for us moving forward.”