WBD to cut news & programming at Three in NZ

James Gibbons

Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) has revealed plans to overhaul its free-to-air business in New Zealand by cutting its news activities and curtailing local programming, with 200 jobs set to be cut.

The US outfit operates channels including Three and ThreeNow in New Zealand, as well as its Newshub brand, but said it is looking at “a proposed remodelling and restructure” of its channel operations in the country.

The proposal includes the closure of all Newshub’s multiplatform news operations and output, while new local programming would only be in collaboration with local funding bodies and other partners.

Around 200 jobs are set to be at risk as a result of the move, with a formal decision to be confirmed in April.

The move is part of an attempt by WBD to shift its operations in NZ to a “digitally led business”, with streamer ThreeNow at the centre “supported by free-to-air linear channels.”

WBD said it wanted ThreeNow and Three’s shows to feature local programming “in conjunction with funding partners”, with acquisitions across drama, comedy, sport, reality and factual. The network currently carries shows ranging from a local version of Dancing With The Stars, to The Block NZ and Black Coast Vanishings.

Titles from WBD’s library, including shows from Bravo, Eden, Rush and HGTV, would continue in their current form with the same content slate, it added.

James Gibbons, president of Asia Pacific at WBD, blamed the decision on “a combination of negative events in New Zealand and globally,” adding that “the impacts of the economic downturn have been severe, and the bounce back has not materialised as expected.”

He continued: “Advertising revenue in New Zealand has disappeared far more quickly than our ability to manage this reduction, and to drive the business to profitability.

“Everyone can see that the media sector, here in New Zealand, and around the world is facing some very tough circumstances. While Warner Bros. Discovery is a large global media company, each business is managed on its ability to sustain itself within the market it operates in. Subsidising losses for ongoing years indefinitely is not sustainable.”

Glen Kyne, SVP & head of networks at WBD ANZ, said: “Everybody who works for Warner Bros. Discovery ANZ has done everything we could have asked. This proposal is not a reflection of these efforts.

“Every time we think we’ve landed on stable footing, something comes along and makes it unstable again, forcing us to look at ways of further reducing costs. We’ve now reached a stage where any further reduction in costs means proposing major changes.

“If implemented, the proposal would be a significant change to our New Zealand operations. Warner Bros. Discovery would be committed to retaining a local presence, albeit with a much smaller operating model and lower cost base.

“Free-to-air and news are expensive businesses to run. Put simply, the economic headwinds means the returns are not there. These proposed changes will be hard if they are implemented, but we think they are necessary, which is why we have commenced consultation.”

All other Warner Bros. Discovery ANZ operations are not part of the consultation. Unaffected areas include theatrical production and distribution, content licensing, affiliate partnerships for pay TV channels, and production business, WBITVP NZ.

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