New role: Sunrise presenter Melissa Doyle is moving to afternoon news. Photo: Anthony Johnson
Melissa Doyle and Matt White will host a new afternoon news bulletin on Channel Seven from next week – bumping newsreader Rebecca Maddern out of her chair.
Why would Seven replace Rebecca when she's doing so well?
"Rebecca's upset at being elbowed out," a senior Seven source told Fairfax Media, "especially since her ratings are closer to Channel Nine's than pretty much every other Channel Seven news or current affairs show.
Seven newsreader Rebecca Maddern.
"The network gave Mel this gig to placate her after it pushed her out of Sunrise. They were planning to give her a show on 7Two only and she put her foot down and said, 'No, I'm going to stay on the main channel'."
Sources insist Doyle was forced to resign from Sunrise in June in a bid to refresh the once unbeatable breakfast program. Doyle maintains the decision to leave was her own and will farewell Sunrise viewers on Friday.
Seven insiders say her new national news bulletin will launch on August 12. It is tipped to begin at 4pm, replacing the hour-long 4.30pm bulletin hosted by Maddern, and could run for as long as 90 minutes.
Rival network Nine also screens an hour-long bulletin at 4.30pm but may change its plans in response to Seven.
Yesterday, both networks launched new 7pm bulletins on their secondary channels, 7Two and Gem.
It is believed Maddern is keen to replace Samantha Armytage as co-host of Weekend Sunrise. On Monday, Armytage will move to the weekday edition of Sunrise, replacing Doyle.
However, it is a gamble for Seven executives to replace Maddern with Doyle in the afternoon news slot.
The network has lost its grip on news and current affairs and is now frequently beaten by Nine.
The gap is biggest in Sydney and Melbourne, where Seven's Sunrise, 6pm news and Today Tonight is thumped by Nine's Today, 6pm news and A Current Affair.
But Maddern's 4.30pm bulletin is an exception. Yesterday, it drew an audience of 262,000 – just 14,000 viewers behind Nine. What's more, it won in Melbourne by a margin of 11,000 viewers and also claimed victory in Perth and Adelaide.
In contrast, Seven's 6pm Melbourne bulletin was nearly 100,000 viewers behind Nine's. On some nights, the gap is almost 200,000.
"Seven's 6pm news is a disaster in Sydney and Melbourne at the moment – especially Melbourne," the source said. "Why would Seven replace Rebecca when she's doing so well, particularly in key battlegrounds like Melbourne?
Given Sunrise is on track to lose to Today in Melbourne for its sixth consecutive year – and its third in Sydney – Doyle's popularity in these markets is questionable.
Rather, she appears to be most popular in Adelaide, Perth and regional areas, where Sunrise reigns supreme.
"There's no animosity between Mel and Rebecca," the source said. "They really like each other. This just seems like a strange decision by Seven."
Seven's early evening line-up has been problematic for some time.
The troubles begin with its 5.30pm game show Deal or No Deal, which regularly loses to Nine's Million-aire Hot Seat.
While Seven's Sydney and Melbourne 6pm bulletins trail Nine's by significant margins, the gaps narrow once the Helen Kapalos-hosted Today Tonight airs at 6.30pm.
But Seven remains the No. 1 network overall and its reality juggernaut The X Factor is Australia's top-rating program.
Seven has been asked to comment on the changes to its afternoon news bulletin.