Guest post: Time for Nine to start winning back viewers’ trust

In the week that Nine broadcast the ratings turkeys of Dance Your Ass Off and Australia’s Perfect Couple, former staffer Adam Paull says in this guest posting that it is time for the network to start apologising to viewers.

For decades, Channel Nine enjoyed a relationship with the Australian people that the Seven and 0/10 networks could only dream about. Nine logoWhen capital city dwelling members of the Australian public turned their televisions on, practically all of them automatically tuned it to Nine – not because they had the best shows (although more often than not, they did) but because of the trust and the affection for the brand that had built up since they first flicked the switch in 1956. Nine’s logo was one of the most recognised and trusted brands in the land.

In the mid-nineties things began to change. A pay-television platform was introduced, and although it struggled for a decade, it changed the landscape dramatically. The “ethnic” channel, SBS, changed focus and became a serious threat for eye-balls, Channel Seven and even the ABC started to get their act together, and we saw the rise of other distractions like DVDs, game consoles and of course, the Internet.

Nine’s reaction to these threats was to laugh it off. They were after all a ratings juggernaut and the feeling around management circles was that nothing could touch them. There were even “Maintain the Arrogance” stickers produced as a joke for the news division.

But the beginning of the end for Nine was when they started to get too clever for their own good. They pulled sneaky little tricks to try and manipulate ratings – tricks like running shows past their scheduled finish time, running repeats in the middle of program story arcs to pad out the season, and even advertising a brand new season of a popular show, only to swap it out with repeats at the last minute.

At the time I’m sure executives were busy congratulating themselves for running these scams, but they didn’t realise that these short term blips in ratings were causing long term damage to their brand. For the past 15 years or so, Nine has been pissing away the one big advantage that it held over its competitors – audience trust.

Unfortunately for Nine, the tricks just don’t work any more. After years of blatant lies, the audience can easily see through a Nine promo and judge new shows for what they are – turds. There are only so many times you can use phrases like “Smash Hit!” and “All New!” when you don’t mean it, and get away with it. The Nine Promo department once famously labelled one of Hollywood’s biggest ever stinkers “Ishtar” a “box office smash!” with a straight face – to this day one of voice-over stalwart Ken Sparke’s greatest performances.

The end result of two decades of shenanigans is that today, Nine has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. Maligned staff have fled to greener pastures, it is publicly ridiculed from pillar to post on a practically daily basis and the brand affection sits somewhere between that of used car salesmen and estate agents. I challenge anyone from Nine’s management to pick up a phone book, start phoning people at random and ask them what they think of Channel Nine – you’d be well into your day before you heard anything positive.

Programming has been reduced to throwing anything, and as this week has shown, I mean anything, up against the wall to see what sticks. The problem is that practically nothing is sticking, and their increasingly desperate attempts are just doing more and more damage to the brand.

In short, Nine is in a tailspin.

Can things be turned around? Anything is possible, but I’m not sure current management would be willing or even able to make just some of the decisions required. A big broom is needed, and it needs to start at the top.

With the “Under New Management” sign firmly in place, the next step is a public apology. Here is an excellent opportunity for the once mighty 60 Minutes to turn the focus in on itself and do a one hour exposé on how a broadcaster can get things so wrong. It should finish with the head of the network, whoever the unlucky sod that lands the gig is, on their knees practically grovelling an apology and promising that they will behave in future.

Just image how high that would rate!

A line is then drawn in the sand with all past transgressions consigned to history, and the network can start afresh. Only then can the trust that Nine once enjoyed begin to be rebuilt.

None of this, of course, will ever happen. Nine will continue to float rudderless floating from disaster to disaster and launching crappy show after crappy show. While they might get lucky with the odd minor success here and there, they will never be the powerhouse they once were.

And that is just sad.

Adam Paull worked for Nine in Sydney in the late 80s and early 90s. He is the manager of Pinacle Productions and has just launched the website Next Seven Days


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