TVNZ v Throng

has black-listed from receiving media releases from them, because of a dispute over whether a press releases from TVNZ misled people by using “reach” instead of “average viewers”. I’ll come to the details of the issue shortly, but first want to focus on the big picture.

TVNZ is a state owned broadcaster, and has a news division which itself often reports news that others feel is unwelcome or unfair. It is vastly overkill to refuse to have an outlet on their media release list, just because you didn’t like one of their stories.

I would hope that TVNZ reporters and journalists will ask their colleagues in marketing and pr, whether they think it helps TVNZ’s brand to act in such a way, relaying on bullying and threats instead of reason.

First of all Throng, for those who don’t know it, is a website dedicated to New Zealand Television. It’s the work of a husband and wife team, who make their living from the Internet. They provide summaries, and feedback on all the major TV shows, plus general commentary on television issues. It’s the sort of site that a broadcaster should want to have a great relationship with. Sure it takes two to tango, but I know Regan and Rachel and I doubt you could find two more decent and honest people. Also as it happens Rachel got an A+ for Statistics at Auckland Uni, has lectured in Statistics and ironically helped write the materials for Stats 150 – “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics”.

On the 2nd of May they blogged about a press release from TVNZ which was putting the boot into 60 minutes ratings on TV3. Throng pointed out the stats were wrong. TVNZ agreed they made a mistake and said so. So this is not the post which caused the dispute, but I suspect is part of the reason why TVNZ is being hyper-sensitive.

A few days later Throng blogged:

Just a few days after TVNZ’s press release full of ratings blunders about TV3’s show 60 Minutes where they quote figures way lower than in reality, they’ve sent out another ratings press release which a number of people ended up being misled by.  

Using a statistical term such as “average” in that press release was ambiguous.  Many would take it to mean the most-quoted statistic of average audience, rather than what TVNZ had used and intended for people to understand: average reach. 

The two measures are very different and can lead one to very different conclusions about the popularity of a show.   

As a result, TVNZ has requested their publicity department ensure that in future all viewership figures are attributed to Nielsens and identified by their appropriate categories.

They went on to explain:

Cumulative Audience, also known as reach: 

Relates to the total number of different people within the selected demographic who tuned into the selected time period for 8 minutes or more (i.e. reached at least once by a specific schedule or advertisement). It is usually represented in thousands, but can be transferred into a percentage of the potential audience.

Average audience: 

The average number of people who tuned into the given time selected.

Now at the heart of the dispute is TVNZ is offended that Throng said their use of the “reach” was misleading. They say it is not misleading and a valid figure.

The comparison might be between a website which talks of the number of “hits” as oppossed to “page views” or even “visits”. They are all valid terms, but if you don’t label them precisely. What TVNZ said was:

In total, more than 2 million New Zealanders (all 5+) have tuned in to Go Girls this series, and on average 708,200 tune in each week (all 5+).

Now I think it is a fair criticism that people reading that could think it refers to average audience rather than average reach. It might not be deliberately misleading, but why have a lack of clarity? I think TVNZ itself has acknowledged this point by putting in place a policy where future releases will use precise descriptions such as reach or average audience.

Now it is because of that dispute, that TVNZ have decided to blacklist Throng and refuses to have them on the media release list. This is taking thin-skinned to new heights. And I think TVNZ are doing it because Throng are small and they think they can bully them. The NZ Herald often reports items very critical of TVNZ, but you don’t see TVNZ refusing to send press releases to the Herald do you?

Throng have talked to other media about the issue they face. They have been told they must remove the offending post or they will not be given co-operation again, or put on the media release list. They have approached other media about this, which resulted in a further e-mail from TVNZ which said:

I’ve had a call from the Dominion Post Regan, who have told me that you emailed them regarding our ratings figures.  You are certainly going the wrong way about getting any further cooperation from us.  I suggest you pull back from this exceptionally foolish position.

So now it is threats.

I’m amazed TVNZ is being so petty, rather than just doing the “we agree to disagree”. What really galls me is that they would not act so high handed with a more powerful organisation.

I could understand their position if Throng refused them to have their say on the site. to the contrary they run unedited all their press releases. Surely the solution is TVNZ issue a formal “right of reply” to Throng, which Throng would publish.

But really this is beating up a mountain from a molehill. The “sin” was saying that using reach instead of audience average was misleading. For this, they have instituted a boycott.

I hope that those in the news and editorial sections of TVNZ will defend freedom of the press, and ask their corporate colleagues to reconsider the damage they do to TVNZ’s brand by instituting a boycott against a site because of one critical blog post.

Throng are not asking to be given special access to anything – they just want to be put back on the press release list. The ball is in TVNZ’s court.

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