In early May, TV Nova presented a new studio for its online news, now it is planning changes in its main TV news programme.

TV Nova’s main news programme, Televizní noviny, underwent a change in content in the last six years. Now, additional big changes are prepared, focusing namely on the news “design” this time. Nova has already dismantled its recent studio from where Televizní noviny is broadcast and plans a new design for its flagship news programme. “We are completely changing the graphics and jingles, our news presenters will be dressed differently,” says Kamil Houska, News and Journalism Director of TV Nova, announcing some changes being prepared.

You took responsibility for TV Nova’s news management in winter 2018, until that time you had been in the management together with Martin Švehlák. You had started adjusting the design of Televizní noviny before the staff change. What was the core of the change?

Yes, we started making thematic changes in Televizní noviny five, six years ago. We wanted to have more relevant news items and let people know that we will keep them informed of all substantial issues. We started a slow process of our news transformation with the aim to remove prejudice connected to Nova’s beginnings. We show less car accidents and crime issues and, on the contrary, we have introduced more political and serious topics. We know from experience that people want information and we seek to provide it in an understandable form. Televizní noviny is a programme for a wide range of viewers and thus should be understandable for people of different educational, age and professional backgrounds.

Despite of that, I have a feeling that your news coverage is still associated with Nova’s beginnings and the opinion that the news on Nova means car crashes is embedded...

It is true that we are facing it all the time, predominantly with media experts rather than viewers. When the Biden-Putin summit was held last week, it was one of the key events for us and we dedicated several reports to the event within one evening. We had our crew in Geneva and monitored the summit all day on the internet and in all our programmes. This is no longer Nova that is only interested in accidents and crashes. Another thing is that we want to have the package of news we select most diverse, which includes showing crime reports, information about accidents or some “light” shots sometimes. We are reproached for this in general but we cannot broadcast 42 minutes of serious topics only. If I return to the transformation, the proportion of topics we cover in Televizní noviny has changed completely over the last six years. When I started my professional career in Nova 18 years ago as a political reporter, there were just two of us and each of us provided at most one shot per day. At that time, we had just two political and economic contributions in the news. Today, they account for half of the news. The change is really huge and is attributable not only to our changes but also to the changes in society. The predictions that people will not be interested in information have not been confirmed.  A year ago, we started changing our morning show Snídaně s Novou and everyone was telling us that as soon as we start inviting politicians to Snídaně and discuss serious topics, the show will suffer from the change. But we can see that our figures are better when we offer a mix of entertainment, which is expected from us, plus interviews with ministers or other politicians on the current affairs. The form of providing information is key. We want to provide it in a more entertaining and understandable form.

What is the entertaining form based on?

First of all, our coverage should be understandable and should include an entertaining element in addition to the serious message. But this does not mean that we have to laugh when watching the news, the term “entertaining” is not precise, the news should bring some light topics from backstage or focus on an interesting but not necessarily substantial detail that is part of an event’s background. In our opinion, this is also part of everyday affairs as are opinions of common people, not just experts and politicians.

Can you say how the steps in adjusting the programme content were reflected in the share of Televizní noviny’s viewer ratings

When we started changing the news six years ago, the shares were declining year-on-year, I have to admit. But this did not apply just to our news. Two years ago, the trend started turning for the better and then there was covid that supported interest in the news. It is difficult to say what exactly caused the declining trend - whether it was because we had changed the structure of the news or because new websites emerged and competition was thus growing. I personally think that the gradual change in our news had no direct impact on viewership. The changes were very small and gradual and in my opinion, they did not effected ratings directly.

This spring, you informed several times that Televizní noviny exceeded 40% in TV ratings, which is a big share and it is not likely to be kept continuously. What share is optimal for you to be achieved by Televizní noviny?

I am not naive and do not expect that our share will exceed 40% 365 days a year but our goal is a rating ranging around this level. I consider 38-39% to be success, but we would not like to fall below 35%. The trend is also important. Even in the period when the news has a lower viewership - for example during the Ice Hockey World Championship - it is important to keep figures stronger than we had during sports broadcasts in previous years. 

At the beginning of May, you expanded online news on your website to include a live stream TN Live. How does this live stream effect the selection of topics for Televizní noviny aired in the evening? Are you working with the assumption of what events viewers noticed during the day or is it irrelevant to you?

In making the final structure of the evening programme we have to take into consideration that most viewers come across the basic information during the day. Our task is to show a complete summary of what happened that day and show viewers what is worth paying attention to. The internet is the appropriate medium whenever anything happens. The evening TV news allows us to show the whole picture of events and provide their context. The evening programme does not reinvent the wheel but puts global events into the context and selects what is important.

The selection of your news headlines in Televizní noviny with which you draw viewers’ attention to three major news items often does not match the order in which the news is shown in the programme. What is the reason?

It relates to what I have already mentioned. We seek to provide the news as a big mix. When we tried and ordered the news to provide local political news first and then foreign news followed by crime news we discovered that if viewers are not interested in something from the menu they have no reason to watch the news. But on the contrary, if the topics take turns it is better for the flow and it makes the news more interesting. At least this is the feedback we get from our viewers. If there are two political events announced in the news headlines we do not keep their order in the programme. Another thing is that when selecting the key headlines, we always want to have one local and one foreign event and something of interest to add. 

Televizní noviny starts at 7.30 pm, it is the last of the major news programmes shown in the evening. Is the order of contributions in Televizní noviny affected by the order of the news in Události on ČT and Hlavní zprávy on Prima?

Several years ago, we tried to analyse the approach to information and news openers in Česká televize and Prima. We tested alternatives, going against the tide. Our news opener was not the most important event of the day at that time, we selected our original piece of news. Then we tried to show just the most important events and as a result we had the same news at the beginning as our competitors. These experiments resulted in the finding that our ratings are not impacted by our selecting the same news openers as Česká televize or Prima. Today, we select teasers of which we are convinced that they are the most important although we know that competitive programmes may put similar emphasis on them. In addition, we know that some of our viewers combine our news with ČT or Prima and they are interested in how we approach an event and what interesting information we add.  

Do you know from research what your viewers expect from Televizní noviny?

We make continuous research and monitor responses we get directly from viewers. We really deal with them and take them into consideration. I cannot reveal everything but I can give you an example. When we made a survey of what the Czechs were interested in in foreign news we found out that they wanted to know what was going on in the US, Russia, UK, Germany or Austria.

Who is a typical viewer of Televizní noviny?

The research shows that typical viewers are middle-aged adults, from the provinces, smaller cities and towns. On the other hand, many young viewers were writing to us during the covid time - I mean people about 18 years old - to tell us what they liked and disliked in our news. It is not true that we are not able to address younger groups, we even seek to adjust our news to them to have the largest possible reach and address people aged 20 as well as 60 with the same success.

Last autumn, when PPF acquired CME TV stations, the issue of the new owner’s possible influence over the news content was discussed. Was there any impact?

Having a clear conscience, I can say that not at all. We address technical issues with the new owner’s representatives, such as investments in a new studio, but content is not impacted by the new owner. We are not told what to broadcast or what not to broadcast. Discussions with the owner’s representatives are very professional, we talk about investments, budget but not about content.

You have mentioned investments in the new studio you are preparing. What innovations can we expect?

We are preparing a substantial change in the news and reporting to occur within weeks. We have already dismantled the recent studio and broadcast from a temporary one. We are building a new studio with completely new technological equipment. The design of the new studio is delivered by a famous foreign architect. We completely change the graphics, jingles, we will dress our presenters differently. TV news will be visually entirely different and the same applies to the internet. It will be considerably upgraded.

Will the new design of the news impact what we have mentioned at the beginning, i.e. your selection of content?

The changes relate to the cover, the news concept remains the same. We assess based on reactions that the concept is successful. I believe that through this change we will move to the 21st century. We are not changing just a single screen or a jingle, we are changing everything.

Are you going to change the composition of the presenter’s teams?

We do not expect to change presenters. We reduced the team to have two couples to host Televizní noviny – Lucie Borhyová and Rey Koranteng, and Kristina Kloubková and Martin Pouva. In general, we want any programme to have as few hosts as possible to make them the faces of the shows that are easy to remember. In the West, it is usual that the news are hosted by two couples, and sometimes there is even a single couple. If someone falls ill or is on holiday we have a number of presenters that may substitute them but the stable two couples for the evening news are the two I have mentioned. We build on them. The TV news broadcast in the afternoon and at noon continues to be hosted by Petra Svoboda, Renáta Czadernová and Veronika Petruchová.

Is there any plan for nightly news?

We are not planning that. We used to broadcast nightly news but we cannot see much space here. It did not prove successful. On the contrary, we want to boost the daily news, especially on the website through TN Live. We can see more sense in doing this than in having nightly news.

Despite of expanding the continuous online news, you are not willing to launch a TV news channel. Is it still true?

Yes, it is. We are not going in this direction.

Although you have funds to do so...

It is not a matter of funds, we have a range of opportunities for live items, we have regional editors. It is not a problem to make the news but if we want to have a news channel, we would have to increase our staff. We think that a news channel makes no sense at the moment. We are investing in online news and the new design of our TV news.

What is the future of TV news? We can see that TV and digital blend, can it be a threat for TV news?

At the beginning I mentioned that a TV summary is still important for viewers to be well informed. In TV broadcasting, our viewers know that there are fixed times when they get a summary - at 12 pm, 5 pm and 7.30 pm. Czech viewers are conservative in a positive sense and these fixed times are important for them. There is a continuous flow of new items on the internet. That is why I think digital and TV news may complement well and I am not worried that digital would ruin the TV news. It reminds me of previous concerns and ideas that the internet will dislodge printed newspapers. It did not happen. People keep reading newspapers, magazines and books.