John Campbell thanks his fans

The future of broadcaster John Campbell's current affairs show is under threat.

The future of broadcaster John Campbell's current affairs show is under threat.

Television broadcaster John Campbell has taken a brief moment to thank the mass of support he's received since Mediaworks confirmed it was reviewing Campbell Live. 

The current affairs show recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, but on Thursday entertainment Mediaworks said it was looking to review the programme after its ratings appeared to have fallen far below rival's Seven Sharp. 

With a thick wad of messages tucked under his arm, Campbell said on his Friday night show that he'd been inundated with messages of support and was overwhelmed with online petitions that had reached tens of thousands of signatures. 

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He thanked everybody on behalf of the whole Campbell Live team, he said. 

He kept surprisingly mum after his first show since the news broke, but on Friday tweeted he "had a few words for you lovely folks".

Media commentators have dismissed suggestions politics are behind Campbell Live's review as "conspiracy theories", saying the decision reflects cold commercial reality.

Ratings for the 7pm current affairs stalwart have been in steady decline, and this week TV3 owner Mediaworks confirmed the prime-time show was under review.

Social media campaigns to keep presenter Campbell on screens have gone into overdrive, with an Action Station petition already gathering more than 36,000 online signatures.

Regan Cunliffe, the director of television ratings website throng.co.nz, said it was understandable people might leap to conclusions about the political affiliations of Mediaworks boss Mark Weldon and director Julie Christie.

"[But] I just think that's a bit of a conspiracy theory, to be honest," he said.

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"The reality is TV3 are a commercial network. If they're not getting the audiences they need, and they can see a way they can get more bang for their buck out of that primetime slot, it'd be irresponsible of them for their investors to ignore that."

Cunliffe said Campbell Live had lost 32 per of its audience in two years, and was now being dominated by rival TVNZ current affairs show Seven Sharp after having initially stood its ground.

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Media commentator and former TVNZ news boss Bill Ralston agreed it was likely to be a calculated commercial decision, even if board members or the chief executive were not fans of Campbell personally.

"To suggest that it's anything further than just individual's own instincts about him, I think is quite wrong," he said.

"Any suggestion that I've seen on Twitter, for example, that somehow the evil Government machinations are responsible for this is purely social media madness."

Ralston said general ratings numbers might not tell the whole story, as advertisers were more interested in certain demographics such as 18-44 year olds, and Aucklanders.

He said sponsors would typically contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, which Mediaworks would lose if it could not transfer Mazda's allegiance to another show.

Campbell's left-leaning style of advocacy journalism could have contributed to the show's downfall, as it was "anathema" to many right-wing people, Ralston said.

However, he said it was a shame that there might no longer be a primetime platform for newsmakers to receive a proper grilling.

"If Campbell Live goes, we really do see the end of the old style of current affairs shows."

Cunliffe said there was nothing wrong with the show's more serious content, and it was possible it could work better in a different timeslot.

"John's a fantastic journalist. His style of advocacy journalism is certainly something we need in New Zealand," he said.

"The trouble is, when you've been sitting in traffic for an hour and you get home, do you really want to be watching that?"

NZ On Air said Campbell Live had never received any funding, or applied for funding.

However, the agency has agreed to pay $567,000 for 10 half-hour investigative items at 3D Investigates, a subset of the TV3 show previously known as 3rd Degree.

Mediaworks spokesperson Rachel Lorimer did not directly respond to questions on 3D's future, but said the majority of its funding was provided by Mediaworks.

She would not say whether other shows could be cut, reiterating that the Campbell Live decision was "part of an on-going broad review".

Cunliffe said it was possible Campbell could take on a role with 3D, but was more likely to exit altogether if relations with the network had soured.

Campbell could even defect to rival broadcaster TVNZ, Cunliffe said: "Stranger things have happened."

Ralston guessed Campbell's current pay packet to be in the vicinity of $350,000 to $500,000, which would be a small fraction of the advertising revenue earned.

 - Stuff

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