Following the shuffles in network affiliations late last year, broadcasters have been reinvesting in regional news. Currently, Southern Cross Austereo takes Nine’s signal to most of regional Australia. Meanwhile, the WIN Network does the same for Ten.
The affiliation between the Prime Media Group and Seven West Media is the only one that has remained unchanged.
“It’s good for our viewers – they didn’t have to go searching for us,” said Paul Patrick, the head of content, strategy and development at Prime7, during a chat with Mediaweek. “But ultimately, if you are not producing good content, then people will go searching. The remote control isn’t rusted on one channel. There are so many choices now.”
Nine and SCA began rolling out their 15 regional news bulletins in early February 2017. So far the rollout has been completed in NSW. It is still in progress in Victoria and Queensland.
The introduction of SCA’s local news bulletins has definitely increased competition, Patrick acknowledged. This is especially the case for Prime7 in NSW.
“We like the competition,” Patrick stated boldly. “Competition sharpens everyone.
“We know that the race is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
Prime7 produces five regional news bulletins plus news updates for other markets in NSW and Victoria. The regions that receive full Prime7 news bulletins in NSW include Albury, Central West, Tamworth, North Coast and Wagga Wagga. Prime7 also produces a state bulletin in Western Australia. (See breakout for more.)
Speaking about the regional bulletins in NSW, Patrick said: “The half-hour beginning at 6pm is regional focused and we are determined to hold onto that mantel because that is an important point of difference when you are up against NBN in the northern areas and Nine in other regional markets.”
With the recent exit of former Prime7 news presenter Freya Cole, the company appointed Madelaine Collignon and Kenny Heatley to anchor the half-hour news bulletins starting at 6pm on weeknights. The Prime7 news studio is based in Canberra.
“We’re in it for the long haul. We don’t worry too much about other people’s games, because we are busy playing our own game,” Patrick said. “Over 12 months ago we started to think about how to redevelop our own news and what we want to do between 6pm and 7pm. As a result of that we came up with the plan to have a local news bulletin with two hosts and a new set so we could have a fresh and engaging conversation with our viewers.
“News bulletins don’t have to be delivered with a poker face in front of the camera, saying, ‘Here’s the news.’ People want their news presenters to have a conversation and engage with them.”
The hour starting at 6pm is broken into two sections in the areas that receive full Prime7 news bulletins in NSW. The first half-hour is committed to regional news. Meanwhile, the second half is dedicated to showcasing national stories that are relevant to regional Australia. In this bulletin, the broadcaster runs a mix of stories that are either packaged by Seven News’ metro stations or produced by the Prime7 news team based at the Parliament of NSW in Sydney.
Prime7 presenter Daniel Gibson hosts the national bulletin starting at 6:30pm. Patrick said bringing the national news with a regional focus using a Prime7 presenter gives the program more of a regional flavour.
“It is important that you don’t get caught up with what is going on in Sydney or Brisbane or Melbourne, if you are doing a regional service,” he stated. “You can absolutely get ideas on how to do things from the capital cities, but you don’t necessarily need to be thinking about the philosophies of those markets. Every market is different in terms of what they want to see on TV.”
Western Australia is also a key state for the broadcaster. GWN7, as the channel is called in WA, has been a “raging success” for the company, Patrick said.
“We have a news bulletin that garners 80% of the share on most nights of the week,” he said. “It is slightly different there because they don’t have the same kind of competitive pressures that our NSW and Victoria teams do, but it is still a very important part of our network.”
Asked what his mantra was, Patrick said: “You are only as good as your last bulletin.”
He explained: “You have to make sure that the viewers are paramount. They are the people we are here to serve.”
Prime7’s most important market
With so many products scattered all around Australia, which market is the most important for the regional broadcaster?
“That’s like asking who is your favourite child,” Patrick said. “I certainly wouldn’t want to have that conversation. I always want to have more viewers watching and that’s the main driver. You want to get more people watching your program. That’s what keeps us in business. I don’t really have a favourite. I just want to get as many viewers as I can in all our markets.”
Prime7 news offerings
The regional broadcaster produces seven half-hour news bulletins on a daily basis in Australia. This includes its five half-hour regional news bulletins in NSW, one 30-minute state news bulletin in Western Australia, plus the daily national news program presented by Daniel Gibson. In addition to this, Prime7 produces a number of news updates for regional Victoria and NSW. These are fronted by Natalie Forrest.
The regional news bulletins in NSW run from 6pm to 6:30pm. Then the national news program with Gibson takes over until 7pm.
In Western Australia, the state news bulletin, hosted by Noel Brunning, starts at 5:30pm. Then the channel carries the Seven News Perth bulletin at 6pm, followed by Today Tonight at 6:30pm.
Photo: Prime7’s news team: Daniel Gibson, Craig Moore, Kenny Heatley, Madelaine Collignon, Natalie Forrest, Guy Fenton