Hard News by Russell Brown

42

U: It's about the combos

I hardly ever watch TVNZ's U channel. It's not designed for me. But I'm still troubled by the news that it will be closed down and replaced with a TV2+1 catch-up channel at the end of August.

U has operated for two years on a budget more like that of a student radio station than a TV channel. TVNZ says it doesn't commission ratings as such, but this year indicated U was attracting a monthly cume of 1.5 million viewers, which is more than MTV or E! pull on Sky, and probably about where TVNZ 7 would be had the government not decided to discontinue its funding (and make room for U in the first place).

Of those four, U was the only channel expected to pay its way purely from advertising sales.

The move is problematic for another reason. Via U, TVNZ has been starting to develop not only young talent, but combinations of that talent, like the group fronting and producing the "edgier" U Late. This is something that in the past few years TV3 has found ways to do -- usually through its comedy strategy -- and TVNZ has not.

One of the reasons 7 Days prospered almost immediately for TV3 and Seven Sharp struggled to define its purpose was that the people making 7 Days, on both sides of the camera, had worked in groups for Mediaworks for years and most of those involved in Seven Sharp were expected to get to know each other in six weeks.

Seven Sharp is starting to develop talent -- we wouldn't have seen nearly as much of Jehan Casinader or Brodie Kane on Close Up -- which I think makes it basically essential that TVNZ sticks with it, and perhaps peels away some of the, um, edgier talent to design a new home for the U refugees. You'd hope.

Finally, this is a disaster for Freeview. TVNZ has now shuttered three digital channels and TV3 hasn't even got a new channel to the start line has been able to manage only C4, a music video channel kept in business with some unsual royalty arrangements. The government withdrew from the arena on the basis that the job was done. It really doesn't look that way. With Stratos unable to even secure a Freeview slot and now broadcasting with Sky's assistance as Face TV, it looks like Freeview is a hard place to deliver anything much new.

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