On Monday former Today show newsreader Sylvia Jeffreys kicked off her new job hosting a news broadcast called 9 News Watch on Facebook.
The 8pm bulletin started with Jeffreys doing a walk and talk, then covered off the first person to end their life under Victoria’s assisted dying laws, an El Paso vigil, and an attempted Brazilian prison break.
The sound was slightly out of sync and some camera work wobbly, but Jeffreys was as reassuringly polished as ever – so much so that her career move drew questions.
“She’s better than a Facebook show. I don’t get it. Why aren’t they utilising her more?” Sydney radio host Jackie ‘O’ Henderson said on Tuesday.
Keyboard snipers said the only step down for Jeffreys from here would be a podcast.
But media analysts say that Sylvia’s new gig, which is at the vanguard of a fresh news initiative from all commercial networks this week, is the opposite of a backward move.
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It’s arrived! 9 News Watch launches at 8pm (eastern time) today on Facebook watch. It’s a daily news bulletin made for you. “Like” any of our @9news Facebook pages, including @acurrentaffair9 & @thetodayshow, to have your say, share your stories and stay up-to-date. Join me weeknights from 8pm – exclusively on Facebook Watch. #9NewsWatch
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It comes seven months after the 33-year-old was axed from Today, in a shakeup in which her husband Peter Stefanovic and brother-in-law Karl Stefanovic also lost plum Nine jobs.
“It’s probably a step forward for her. She’s a bit stylish and glamorous and you can be sure her manager is suggesting these things, or at least being consulted,” Fusion Strategy’s Steve Allen told The New Daily.
“She’s a carefully managed product. I think she’s excellent.”
Steve Molk, viewer advocate for TV Blackbox, said the 9 News Watch gig “really allows Sylvia to shine” and is a golden opportunity.
“It’s a great chance for her to get back in front of people’s eyeballs and remind them just how amazing a journalist and host she is,” Mr Molk told The New Daily.
“As far as it being a sidestep, I don’t know. Our news services have to look at the digital future and how they engage in it.
“I can’t see this being forever for Sylvia, but it’s definitely her own project and I look forward to seeing how Nine can innovate in that space.”
Jeffrey’s bulletin was one of a slew of premium and custom news content from broadcasters including Nine, Seven, 10, SBS and Sky News that became available on Facebook Watch on August 5.
Funding for the project is provided by the social media platform in a partnership aiming to creating exclusive news video for its online audience.
The global behemoth promised publisher partners will have full editorial control over the content, with Campbell Brown, vice president of global news partnerships at Facebook praising local newsrooms’ “innovative” video journalism.
Jeffreys’ show was joined by Seven’s 5pm offering called The Latest on Facebook Watch hosted by the network’s news anchor Michael Usher.
The bulletin’s premiere edition went for bolder headlines than Nine (“United States of Bloodshed”) but similar content, with Usher declaring viewers would see the “stories Australia is talking about today”.
BRAND NEW EPISODE: 29 dead in 13 hours of madness, Smith silences the boos and dad’s brazen prison break, disguised as daughter.Welcome to The Latest on Facebook Watch, where we take a look at the big headlines Australia is talking about today.#TheLatest #7NEWS
Posted by 7NEWS Australia on Monday, August 5, 2019
Ten’s partnership with Facebook will see it extend national and state bulletins with “original content” onto Facebook Watch, according to Ross Dagan, the network’s director of news content.
SBS and Sky News will also partner with Facebook.
But it was Jeffreys’ return to the studio that garnered most attention on social media, with 9 News Watch drawing more than 134,000 views in its first 16 hours. Seven’s show was seen 100,000 times in 19 hours.
Asked by The New Daily if it is satisfied with audience numbers, Nine wouldn’t be drawn.
But 9 News Watch “has clearly engaged users right from the get go,” said Alexander Needs, the network’s partnership and strategy director of news and current affairs.
“We’ll continue to test and experiment with how audiences can engage with Nine News in new and innovative ways. Watch this space.”
While Mr Molk judged Jeffreys as “ace”, he said Nine “dropped the ball” in the format and timing of 9 News Watch.
“Instead of a horizontal normal TV show that Nine is using, Seven went for vertical video. So if you look at your phone it fills the whole thing.
“And Seven’s show dropped late afternoon while Sylvia was on at 8. By then, 90 per cent of people have come home, done their news watching and moved on.”