Today’s Herald reports an increase of 5% among viewers in the 5+ demographic for One News over the past year, giving the bulletin a cumulative nightly audience of 665,100. 3 News’ audience in the same demographic over the same period declined by 15% to 375,190 viewers. Put simply, 3 News has just over half as many viewers at One News. Setting aside the argument that TV3’s target audience is the 18 to 49 demographic, having just over half of your competitor’s audience is not a good look when you’re arguing that you’ve got the better product. And it’s an even worse look when that target audience is also falling. My personal view is that 3 News is the superior product, or at least it would be if it dealt with a situation that I’m convinced is not only keeping viewers away but driving them away – the dual newsreading/reporting role of Mike McRoberts.
For some considerable time TV3 has pitched the concept that its 6pm newsreaders not merely deliver the news but are out in the field collecting it. In other words, they are journalists and isn’t that good? But the average viewer doesn’t give a stuff whether the people reading the news are journalists or are out in the field collecting the news. They either like the look of the newsreaders or they don’t. Moreover, despite what we read on the backs of buses, Hilary Barry is rarely out in the field collecting stories. But Mike McRoberts frequently is, often wearing a flak jacket the middle of some theatre of war. Barry and McRoberts are, in my view, the best newsreading team in the country. And McRoberts is a superb foreign correspondent. The trouble is that on a significant number of nights his dual role means that he isn’t there to read the news, but is replaced, generally by Alistair Wilkinson. This is a bad arrangement for two reasons: First is the loss of continuity. Viewers like things to be predictable and familiar. They like to know that when they turn on the prime-time news bulletin of their choice, the same people will be reading the news on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday who were reading it on Monday. But TV3 doesn’t have one weeknight newsreading team, it has two: Hilary and Mike; Hilary and Alistair. And though it pains me to have to say it, because he’s a really lovely bloke, Alistair Wilkinson is a terrible newsreader.
Put more kindly, he is miscast in the role of newsreader. As a field reporter he is fine. But in the studio his reading can only be described as bizarre. There is absolutely no connection between his delivery and the sense of what he is reading. His emphases are random. The significant is unstressed, the insignificant stressed. His sentences are punctuated with no regard to their meaning. His plosive or perhaps explosive delivery is reminiscent of the late lamented Keith Holyoake. And here’s the bottom line: Alistair looks like an absolute sweetie. But when he is reading the news on 3, Judy and I switch to Simon and Wendy. We find Alistair too hard to listen to. And we may not be alone. But ultimately this is not Alistair’s problem. It is Mark Jennings’ problem and it arises directly from Mike McRoberts’ dual role as newsreader/foreign correspondent. Until that conflict is resolved, 3 News may continue to languish in the ratings. In the meantime, TV3 might consider using Simon Shepherd, a perfectly good newsreader, as McRoberts’ permanent stand-in. And wouldn’t Alistair make a wonderfully quirky and endearing reporter on Campbell Live?