No show of new soap replacing Campbell Live

One less thing for current affairs show's fans to get into a lather about.

Despite media speculation to the contrary, the chances of Campbell Live being replaced by MediaWorks’ in-development soap opera are nil.

Last week a number of reports claimed that – whether the current internal review of the under siege current affairs show leads to it being axed or simply shifted to a different part of the schedule – a daily soap opera would inherit Campbell Live’s 7pm weeknight timeslot, putting it head-to-head with TV2’s ratings juggernaut Shortland Street.

Those reports have prompted a denial from MediaWorks board member/acting manager of TV & video strategy Julie Christie.

Despite having avoided answering NBR’s questions about her alleged conflict with John Campbell and the adverse impact of her overseas format spending spree on the company’s previously positive cashflow, Ms Christie did pop up in the comments section of a related NBR article to emphatically state the soap would not replace Campbell Live.

“There are not, and have never been plans to put a soap at 7pm. Believing anything in the Herald is the author's folly,” Ms Christie posted in response to a column by Brian Edwards that referred to the soap serial speculation.

Beyond Ms Christie’s insistence, there are a number of compelling reasons to believe this is indeed the case.

The soap “is in development and it’s still relatively early in the process,” according to MediaWorks spokeswoman Rachel Lorimer, which means the proposed series is still many months away from going into production.

NZ On Air soap support crucial

More importantly, a funding application for the show has yet to be considered by NZ On Air, and the financial support of that agency will be crucial to the series being financially viable for MediaWorks.

That said, it is likely MediaWorks has submitted an application to the funding agency, given the final deadline for proposals for such shows this financial year was March 27, with NZOA due to consider these applications on May 13.

However, assuming this is the case, MediaWorks’ application would be for advanced development funding, not production.

And even if that application is successful, there isn’t another funding round this calendar year in which MediaWorks would be able to apply for production support from NZOA, which means the soap wouldn’t be able to start shooting until 2016.

Given the urgency with which MediaWorks appears to be approaching its review of Campbell Live, it’s highly unlikely the company’s senior management would be willing to wait that long should the decision be made to cancel or move the current affairs show.

And, of course, there’s no certainty MediaWorks’ soap opera proposal will actually find favour with NZOA.

Although NZOA declined to comment for this story, it’s a matter of public record that the agency’s budget has been capped by the government since the start of the global financial crisis.

That means the money it has available for projects has been declining in real terms for years, increasing the already fierce competition for its finite contestable funds.

That will make it difficult for NZOA to allocate the many millions of dollars of necessary to get a five-days-a-week soap series up and running.

And it would be impossible for NZOA to support the show if MediaWorks intended to schedule it at 7pm weekdays, NBR understands.

NZOA’s remit is to essentially plug gaps in NZ broadcasting that are a product of the country’s small population and lack of economies of scale (last week’s announcement the agency would fund a 10-part TV3 investigative journalism strand called 3D Investigates is the latest example of this).

There is no such soap shortage at 7pm weekdays, a slot that has been occupied by Shortland Street on TV2 for more than two decades.

Although NZOA has not helped fund Shortland Street for many years, the agency would view financing another soap to compete with the series produced by South Pacific Pictures as duplication and therefore a misallocation of scarce resources, industry sources tell NBR.

Ex-TV3 show in new soap’s sights

NZOA would not have the same issue with putting money into a TV3 soap destined for 5.30pm weekdays, however, which is the spot in the schedule members of the NZ production industry have always assumed the show was intended for – particularly given MediaWorks had previously stated it wouldn’t be competing with Shortland Street.

That’s because TV3 has suffered an audience drop-off for its 6pm news bulletin – as well as Campbell Live – since it lost the hugely popular Aussie soap Home and Away to TVNZ in July 2013.

TV3 lost the rights to that show due to MediaWorks’ decision to use its mid-2013 receivership to trigger a clause allowing it to cancel and renegotiate contracts with content providers.

Although the tactic – reported at the time to be spearheaded by now-ex-chief executive of television Paul Maher and Ms Christie – did mean MediaWorks was able to exit some costly and ineffective output deals, it left Home and Away’s distributor free to accept a better offer from TVNZ, which now screens it at 5.30pm weekdays on TV2.

Industry sources say this loss has been a key contributor to Campbell Live’s rating decline.

Whether this will be taken into account during MediaWorks’ review of the current affairs show remains to be seen.

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