Giant axe taken to Ten's news schedule
Major cuts have been made to Network Ten's news department following the axing of breakfast show Wake Up, their morning bulletin and late news editions.
It's no surprise that Channel Ten axed Wake Up on Wednesday. It cost a lot to produce, yet attracted one-twentieth the combined audience of Sunrise and Today.
But Ten's decision to scrap its early, morning and late news bulletins – and retrench 150 staff – raised a few eyebrows, despite being rumoured for days. News is still a strong performer for the embattled network, which posted an $8 million loss for the first half of the financial year and has fallen into fourth place behind the ABC.
Ten’s flagship 5pm bulletin, which survived the cuts but will suffer from losing so many staff, is one of its top-rating shows. Even the axed morning and evening bulletins do relatively well. Ten’s late news, for instance, was its ninth-best show on Tuesday night.
It was only last year that Ten rolled out its ‘‘breakfast to bedtime’’ news strategy, reinstating the bulletins it had axed the previous year. To maximise economies of scale, resources were shared across the bulletins.
But news is perennially vulnerable for one simple reason: it’s expensive. When a struggling network lacks a clear vision – a fair description of Ten – management tends to look to the newsroom for instant savings. This is exactly what Ten did just 18 months ago, sacking 100 employees, and news was again targeted on Wednesday.
Does this mean television news is vulnerable across the board? Not necessarily. The Seven and Nine networks are acutely aware of how expensive their news divisions are but as long as their advertising revenue remains healthy, they won't slay their sacred cows. Indeed, these networks expanded their 6pm bulletins to one hour recently, getting bigger audiences and bigger lead-ins to their evening reality shows and dramas.
"Even in the good years, you're never far away from some cost-cutting," says one senior network executive. The costs might be high but the pay-offs are worth it.
Another executive says news and current affairs are the cornerstones of the network – and a fiercely-contested battleground – which is why it will expand its coverage this year. The ABC also prides itself on its news coverage, though the effect of the Abbott government's budget cuts is yet to be seen.
The cuts at Ten are not symptomatic of bloated TV newsrooms (which are already very lean), nor are they a harbinger of cuts in other stations.
Rather, they reflect a lack of inspiring leadership at Ten. Glaringly absent from the announcement was any new strategic vision – just more redundancies. It's not that Ten doesn't have any great shows or passionate staff (it has plenty of each). But cuts of this magnitude are bound to affect the quality of it news. And no struggling network has ever cut its way out of a hole.
"Ten is not caught in some industry-wide malaise," says a rival executive. "This is an outcome of their own making."