Regional broadcaster Southern Cross Austereo will launch a Canberra edition of Nine News in February as it rolls out 15 local news bulletins to its TV markets in southern NSW, country Victoria and regional Queensland.
The Canberra bulletin of Nine News is set to go head-to-head in the 6pm timeslot with WIN News – the first time in 15 years that WIN has faced direct commercial competition for local news viewers in the capital.
Produced by Nine as part of its $500 million affiliation agreement with Southern Cross Austereo, the hour-long regional bulletins will air Monday to Friday and blend local news, sport and weather reports with national and international news and sport from Nine's existing Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane bulletins.
The regional editions will be rolled out progressively from February, beginning in Canberra and then WIN's hometown market of Wollongong.
The markets to follow include Wagga Wagga and the central west of NSW (taking in Orange, Bathurst and Dubbo), Ballarat, Bendigo, Albury/Shepparton and Gippsland in Victoria as well as Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, Toowoomba and Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
WIN produces and broadcasts half-hour news programs in most of these markets but has not faced commercial competition for local news viewers in the ACT or the Illawarra since June 2001, when Prime axed its nightly bulletins in Canberra, Wollongong and Newcastle.
In what Southern Cross Austereo and Nine describe as one of the largest rollouts of news operations seen in Australia, more than 110 staff will be employed in Nine's regional news division.
While journalists, camera operators and editors based on the ground in each market will gather the news, the programs will be produced and presented from Nine's studios in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Presenters of the bulletins will be announced on Tuesday at Nine's unveiling in Sydney of its 2017 programming lineup.
Southern Cross Austereo chief executive Grant Blackley said almost 80 news staff would be recruited in 18 regional centres.
Another 30 staff in Nine's metropolitan newsrooms would work on the bulletins.
"We are committed to our local communities and this local news project is an investment in these local economies and local jobs," Mr Blackley said.
"If there is breaking news in Cairns, in Orange or in Albury, national Nine News will be on the ground to cover it and our viewers in those communities will be able to rely on Nine News to bring them the best television coverage."
Head of Nine News Regional Mike Dalton said regional viewers wouldn't care that their local Nine News bulletin was not anchored by local newsreaders.
"From Laurie Oakes in Canberra, to Nine's correspondents around the world, to our journalists on the ground in all of these towns and regions, we will be offering a seamless presentation of the day's top stories," he said.
"This is a big win for regional Australia. The Nine News brand is synonymous with bringing viewers an unrivalled news service, with a proud history going back 60 years."
The start date for each market to follow February's launch of the Canberra bulletin will be announced progressively.
Southern Cross Austereo began carrying Nine's programs and branding in July under a five-year deal that delivers Nine 50 per cent of its affiliate's gross TV advertising revenue.
Since it dropped Ten programming and switched to the higher-rating content of Nine, Southern Cross Austereo has reported TV revenue growth of 31 per cent.
WIN, the Wollongong-based broadcaster owned by Bermuda-based billionaire Bruce Gordon, now shows the lower-rating programs of Ten.
As part of the switch, WIN moved its Canberra bulletin to a 6pm start, between Ten's 5pm hour of Sydney news and The Project.
While ABC news and current affairs programs dominate ACT viewing, WIN claimed victory over its commercial rivals in October, with WIN News averaging 15,588 weeknight viewers and a commercial share of 26.3 per cent.
WIN News averaged 1900 more Canberra viewers a night than Prime's relay of Seven Nightly News and 1400 more viewers than the Peter Overton-anchored Nine News from Sydney.
But WIN recently warned that the 3000 hours of local content it produced and broadcast each year was "not a profitable exercise" and increasingly at risk without reform of Australia's media ownership laws.
As well as owning WIN, the 87-year-old Mr Gordon is the largest shareholder in both Nine and Ten, but is prevented from taking his holding above 15 per cent due to the media ownership limits.