TVNZ’s Ralston exits as ratings slip

Chief exec Ellis announces new lineup

AUCKLAND — Bill Ralston, the outspoken news and current affairs boss at Television New Zealand, has resigned amid a rapid slide in ratings for the 6 p.m. news hour on TV One.

The shoot-from-the-lip TV interviewer and political satirist turned TV broadcast exec resigned Friday, ending three years with TVNZ and its webs TV One and TV2.

Also Friday, TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis announced a new lineup that excludes the news operation from the top-tier management of the Kiwi pubcaster.

Ralston and TVNZ both declined to comment. But local tabloid press that reported Ralston’s spirited dismissals of rivals will lament his departure.

Typical was when he told media that were he the CEO of underdog rival channel Prime TV, he would douse himself with gasoline, light a match and jump off a high-rise building.

Exit has been widely foreshadowed, as TVNZ under its new board and CEO restructures to cope with cuts to advertising revenue due to the wider decline on TV One.

Opinions are mixed. Even Ralston critics acknowledge TV One’s older-oriented brand hampered him.

Programmers never provided a strong ratings lead-in show at 5:30 to deliver an audience to the One News bulletin.

Ralston’s departure is the final nail in the coffin of the controversial era of Ellis’ predecessor, Ian Fraser.

Fraser hired Ralston to halt the outflow of young urban viewers.

But the ratings decline has become steeper over the past three years and shows no sign of improving.

Once unrivaled as top channel One News in its target demographic of viewers 25-54, the new year saw CanWest Global Communications-controlled TV3 and its 6 p.m. newscast regularly beating One.

Ralston was the last remaining lieutenant of Fraser, who ankled in October 2005 alleging political interference.

Commissioning director Tony Holden left in mid-January and programming general manager Annemarie Duff at the end of last year.

Also ankling in 2006 were chief executive Stephen Smith, TV programmer Liz Fraser, marketing director Sue Brewster and head of communications Avon Adams.

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