27 Mar 2016

TVNZ's new channel Duke targets the blokes

From Mediawatch, 9:08 am on 27 March 2016

Critics and commentators condemned TVNZ’s new “male-skewed” channel Duke long before it started screening this week, even though it most of its content was already on the screen.

Mediawatch looks at how TVNZ wound some viewers up by targeting the blokes. 

A screenshot from Duke's website shows a selection of the channel's shows.

A screenshot from Duke's website shows a selection of the channel's shows. Photo: TVNZ

When the free-to-air platform Freeview launched nearly 10 years ago, the old Edgar Winter Group hit 'Free Ride' was the anthem for its ads.

"The mountain is high, the valley is low; and you're confused 'bout which way to go.

"So I flew here to give you a hand, and lead you into the promised land."

The 'promised land' of Freeview was digital TV with more channels to choose from - all available without having to pay (once you'd forked out for a set-top receiver box and maybe a new aerial, of course).

The major TV broadcasters were given slots for extra channels and TVNZ got $80 million for two new ad-free channels, which ended up being TVNZ 6 (family viewing and local drama) and TVNZ 7 (factual shows and news).

TVNZ also launched a sport channel and Maori TV fired up a second channel in Te Reo. Mediaworks never really came to the party though, only using its spare channels for delayed broadcasts of its main ones, TV3 and Four.  

Extra channels into reverse

But, in 2009, TVNZ canned Sports Extra - and TVNZ 6 and 7 had both vanished by 2012, when the government funding ran out. TVNZ then launched U, a commercial channel targeting 18-24 year-olds with programmes like this:

When U folded after two years, TVNZ offered nothing unique on Freeview except delayed broadcasts of TV1 and 2.

The local dramas, documentaries and ad-free children’s programming from TVNZ 6 and 7 reappeared on channels TVNZ made exclusively for Sky TV and its paying customers: Kidzone and Heartland. Other new channels such as Sommet Sports and Stratos struggled on for a while, and then vanished from Freeview as well in 2013 and 2014.

So much for the promised land.

Duke emerges

Late last year, the dormant channel 13 on Freeview sprang to life again, screening replays of games from the 1987 Rugby World Cup. AFL Aussie Rules highlights and US basketball and German football then appeared on what TVNZ called a pop-up channel. In January, TVNZ announced a full channel would take its place this month offering comedy, drama, documentaries, movies and sport.

Were the media pundits pleased? Not after TVNZ boss Kevin Kenrick said it would be a "male-skewed" channel, but he didn't want people to get the wrong idea:

"It is not as if there is a security guard saying ‘show us your gender’ before we let you in. We think it will have broad appeal and we will leave it up to the viewers to decide if they will watch it."

But critical condemnation came in as soon as TVNZ announced the name Duke in last month, and released a testosterone-heavy trailer.

TVNZ's man channel makes me want to puke” was the New Zealand Herald's headline, quoting its own columnist Lizzie Marvelly reacting on Twitter:

Over at Fairfax Media, journalist and columnist Aimee Cronin called it “sexist and silly and taking us back to the 1950s” and, on Stuff.co.nz, long-standing TV critic Jane Bowron said "it all feels very neanderthal”.

On RNZ's website, critic Greg Dixon called TVNZ "the flabby old man” of broadcasting and said the new channel was a combination of the "traditional media in crisis and market research", which was not likely to hook men who had tuned out from TVNZ.

But while the critics seemed to hate the very idea of the channel, much of what is actually screening on it now is not new to TVNZ.

American comedies such as Brooklyn 999 and British fantasy drama Beowulf have screened on TV2 already and have been on TVNZ On Demand for some time. Likewise the Aussie rules, the NBL basketball and German soccer highlights - all of them were already on the pre-Duke pop-up channel on Freeview.

As Edgar Winter went on to sing in 'Free Ride':

"All over the country, I'm seeing the same; Nobody's winning, at this kind of game."

Why did TVNZ create a channel which alienates much of the potential audience?

If Duke excludes or ignores women, it's because they’re actually super-served by the main free-to-air TV channels, according to TVNZ.

"Perhaps the idea wasn't communicated as well as it could have been," TVNZ head of Television Jeff Latch told Stuff.co.nz.

"But when you look at all of the big networks, they're all female-focused, female-skewed. This one swings the other way”.

When Mr Latch briefed media industry people at an Auckland breakfast, he reinforced that point.

The presentation slides say males are “harder to reach and they attract higher CPM (cost per thousand viewers)”. The implication: An on-air and online channel for them stands a better chance.

But it’s also about clients and content makers' needs. The slides say sport content is looking for a home on free-to-air TV and the rights-holders want a larger audience for it.  

Other bloke-flavoured content on the market

It remains to be seen if enough of the hard-to-reach bloke viewers will tune in to Duke, but it’s not the only niche content out there for them.

Maori TV, for instance, has the hilarious physical challenge show Game of Bros, which also appeals to women.  

Action from the Maori TV's physical game show 'game of Bros'

Action from Maori TV game show 'Game of Bros' Photo: screenshot

Blokes who like big strong machines, meanwhile, can watch things being crushed on the Hydraulic Press Channel - on YouTube.