The Nine Network, conceding the need to rebuild its 6pm news bulletin if it is to have any hope of dethroning Seven's ratings supremacy, has dumped the newsreader Mark Ferguson in favour of the 60 Minutes journalist Peter Overton.
Last night it began trumpeting the journalistic background of its new frontman, who claims ownership of the anchor desk at Channel Nine tonight, with Mark Ferguson remaining as reader of the weekend news.
The promotional shots featuring footage of Overton in some of the world's hot spots is a clear attempt to distinguish him from Seven's frontman, Ian Ross, also a former Nine news reader.
Media analysts yesterday gave the network cause for optimism, saying Overton was likely to be well received and respected.
"For Nine to start to get a bit of traction of Seven, this is where they've got to make the inroads," said an analyst at PHD, Barry O'Brien.
"They've given Mark Ferguson the opportunity. It hasn't quite worked out. So I suppose in 2009 you've got to try things. Overton's got appeal, [but] television is always a roll of the dice."
Another media analyst, Greg Tingle, agreed that Overton's appeal would help Nine. He predicted an initial boost as curious viewers tuned in. He believed that community work done by Overton and his wife, Jessica Rowe, would extend the appeal.
"I would definitely expect the ratings to boost up, and I think the Australian public is ready for the change," Mr Tingle said.
The move was a "calculated risk", he said of the station that once seemed unassailable in the ratings. "Because, let's face it, Channel Nine can't afford too many more stuff-ups."
Nine Network executives yesterday stressed Overton's journalistic credentials. "[Overton] is the undeniable choice for us," said the director of news and current affairs at Channel Nine, John Westacott.
For the past eight years Overton has been a presenter on 60 Minutes, where he has reported from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Indonesia and as anchor of the September 11 coverage in 2001. He will continue to file stories for the network's flagship current affairs program.
The change in personnel is directed at Channel Seven, where Ian Ross has consistently won the 6pm competition for viewers. "As commercial television always is, we're locked in a very demanding fight for ratings," Mr Westacott said.
"The combination of Peter Overton and Mark Ferguson gives us the best crack at rebuilding our 6 o'clock news." (Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)