Seven’s Today Tonight staff denied new contracts as speculation on axing returns

Helen Kapalos

Kapalos: ‘The new Naomi Robson’

A number of staff on Seven’s consumer affairs program Today Tonight have not had their contracts renewed, in a development which raises new questions about the network’s commitment to the struggling show.

The news coincides with the program’s ratings falling nine per cent compared to the same time last year.

Sources say that Seven news executives are considering dropping Today Tonight in favour of a one-hour news format in the eastern seaboard cities of Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. The move was contemplated at the beginning of the year before being dropped. However, it is now back on the agenda.

“Morale is low, in part, because they’re playing games over contracts,” said one Seven insider. “People are tipping it’s because they want to make the jump to a one hour show.”

Seven began experimenting with the one-hour news format in January and has since called upon the extended bulletin for special events with mixed results. Last week’s special one hour Royal baby coverage saw the network beaten with only 1.25m viewers tuning in across the five city metro market compared to Nine’s 1.36m.

OzTAM ratings figures for the first half of 2013 show the 6.30pm weekday timeslot has shed 100,000 viewers nationally compared with the same time in 2012 (see table below).

Seven vs Nine

(Click to enlarge) | Source: OzTAM

Multiple Seven sources have told Mumbrella’s sister title  Encore that some contracts for staffers working on the show had not been renewed as the network ponders a permanent move to a one-hour format. Seven denies these suggestions saying it is business as usual as the network works through the cycle of contract negotiations.

Encore has been told morale in the Today Tonight bunker is low with some staff losing confidence in host Helen Kapalos who is being referred to as “the second coming of Naomi Robson”. Former Today Tonight host Robson was dumped in 2007 after a series of on-air gaffes that undermined her credibility. In recent weeks Kapalos, who only took over as as host from Matt White in February after being dropped by Ten, has also experienced a series of on-air hitches.

Last week during a cross to London with outgoing Sunrise host Melissa Doyle, who was covering the birth of the Royal baby, Kapalos called the well-known host “Melanie Doyle”. The slip of the tongue was particularly bad timing given questions about whether Doyle has been demoted by Seven in moving her off Sunrise for an as-yet-undisclosed prime time project along with presenting the 4.30pm news bulletin.

A Today Tonight staffer said of Kapalos’ slip: “The curse of Naomi strikes again.” The incident followed an excruciating 90 second blunder on the night of the Labor leadership spill which saw Kapalos struggle as she attempted to segue to another item. Seven was quick to attribute the gaffe to a behind-the-scenes communications malfunction.

Days later later Seven uploaded a series of behind-the-scenes videos onto the Today Tonight Facebook page and YouTube showing Kapalos playing up to the camera and high-fiving production staff. Seven insiders liken the videos to something out of the current affairs satire Frontline with management quickly removing them from social media after they appeared on Encore’s sister publication Mumbrella.

However, Seven said the show remained competitive with Nine’s A Current Affair and was focused on the full ratings year.

On Wednesday night, ACA narrowly won the metro ratings by 1.143m to 1.112m and beat TT in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

While so far this year Nine leads Seven in the five capital city ratings by an average of 53,000 viewers in the 6pm slot, and 32,000 viewers in the 6.30pm slot, there are still 18 weeks left in on the ratings calendar.

However media buyers have told Encore that the “volatility” of Seven’s news ratings, particularly Today Tonight, is an ongoing concern.

“News is a bedrock of the evening and what we look for is consistency. Seven has certainly been hit and I think they have been surprised at how quickly the news audience has gone down,” a senior media buyer told Encore. “They haven’t talked to us about a change in format but there is a lot of volatility around Today Tonight’s ratings. It is difficult to get consistent advertising there because of the nature of the program so an extended news bulletin with a consistent audience is an obvious play for Seven.”

Another senior media buyer suggested the change of host from White to Kapalos was leading people to turn off rather than necessarily switch to ACA. “Looking at these numbers, I would assume the viewers are not switching (networks) and you have to attribute it to the change of host,” the executive said.

Media analyst Steve Allen said the network needs to do something about Today Tonight’s ratings.

“The fact of the matter is that Nine is out promoting Seven and outflanking them on stories,” said Allen. “You can say that some of the stories that go to air (on Nine) are over promoted but the reality is the public are buying into what Nine is selling.”

Allen is sceptical that a change in format alone will solve the problem. “I can’t see why moving to a one hour format would help. It might help but I don’t think it would be a silver bullet,” he said. “Clearly they are on a slide and something has happened.”

Discussions around a shift in format come as Seven faces new pressure after former Today Tonight executive producer Craig McPherson accepted a role with Nine as head of development for news and current affairs.

Seven’s iconoclastic news boss Peter Meakin stepped down at the end of last year, with his role split between public affairs boss Neil Mooney and director of news Rob Raschke.

Nic Christensen

Encore issue 25This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit for a preview of the app or click below to download.


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