Mediaweek Round Up: Prime Media, Rupert Murdoch, Cricket + more

• Streaming wars, online journos, public interest journalism, Christian Porter, Packer & Sons, Screen Music Awards and Bruce McWilliam

Business of Media

Seven merger ‘a matter of survival’ for Prime Media

Prime chairman John Hartigan has urged the regional broadcaster’s shareholders to vote in favour of a merger with Seven West Media as a matter of survival for both the company and journalism outside metropolitan cities, reports The AFR’s Max Mason.

Last month, Seven made a move on Prime with an all-scrip merger proposal which was unanimously recommended by Prime’s board.

“The common theme is, as much as I loathe to use the descriptor, this is survival for us,” Hartigan said.

“You’ve seen the collapse of regional newspapers, you’ve seen the beginning of the collapse of broadcast television under the current model.

“The aggregation model was set up in the mid-1980s by the Hawke government. It has not satisfied the demands of the local marketplace and it hasn’t for years and years.”

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Rupert Murdoch says ‘no climate change deniers’ around News Corp

News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch has said “there are no climate change deniers around I can assure you” after he was asked at the corporation’s AGM why his company gives them “so much airtime” in Australia, reports The Guardian.

Murdoch was speaking in New York on Wednesday when he received a question from a proxy for Australian activist shareholder Stephen Mayne.

Murdoch was asked about the company’s “stance on climate change”.

The questioner asked: “What do you believe is the global role of News Corp in the geopolitical climate? If you do believe in climate change, Mr Mayne is interested to hear why News Corp gives climate deniers like Andrew Bolt and Terry McCrann so much airtime in Australia?”

Murdoch responded with a promotion of his company’s corporate carbon reduction goals, saying “we have reduced our global carbon footprint by 25% six years ahead of schedule”.

Murdoch then added: “There are no climate change deniers around I can assure you.”

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CEO forecasts “Circular Firing Squad” after streaming wars

Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei on Thursday warned that Hollywood’s escalating and costly streaming wars will eventually undermine the pay TV industry, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

“OTT will drain linear TV first, but OTT players will drain each other in a circular firing squad, in our judgment,” Maffei told his company’s investor day gathering of analysts. The investor presentations included Liberty Media chairman John Malone touting the increasing profitability of TV sports content.

“Sport rights still have an enormous amount of market power, like all live entertainment. It’s unique, exclusive, timely and can still attract large audiences,” Malone argued.

As he discussed the current streaming wars involving Hollywood and Silicon Valley, Maffei pointed to mounting challenges for the scripted video space, including a glut of original content and competitors chasing “illusory global growth.”

“Our focus now is a more attractive space, where we are spending our time and dollars: audio,” Maffei added as he pointed to more favorable economics for production and distribution of content than in linear TV or video streaming.

Maffei argued consumers are spending more time listening to audio content, as opposed to an increasingly crowded and competitive video space, and there was an upside for Liberty Media from investing in the audio space.

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News Brands

Online journos ‘second-class no longer’ after Fair Work win

Journalists at online publications including Daily Mail Australia will win access to penalty rates and overtime under a landmark decision that found their minimum conditions were “significantly inferior” to print journalists, reports The Australian’s Ewin Hannan.

The Fair Work Commission ruled digital media workers should no longer be denied access to the Journalists Published Media Award and were entitled to the same rights and protections as those at print publications, including newspapers with digital arms.

The full bench decision followed a successful claim by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, which was opposed, to varying degrees, by Daily Mail Australia, Nine Entertainment and Rural Press.

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Fels calls for tax incentives to back public interest journalism

Newly-appointed chairman of the Public Interest Journalism Initiative (PIJI) Allan Fels says regional media is in a burning platform crisis and the government needs to move fast or risk its disappearance, reports The AFR’s Max Mason.

Fels, who became chairman of PIJI last week, unveiled new research to back the organisation’s proposal for tax incentives for public interest journalism.

“In the regional and rural areas, there are a very large number of newspapers which have been shut down and I would guess more will do so,” Fels, a former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman told The Australian Financial Review.

“If no action is taken soon a really important contributor to Australian regional and rural society will disappear.”

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ABC ‘asked Christian Porter to take control of media rule’

Attorney-General Christian Porter has hit out at ABC chair Ita Buttrose for criticising his control over the prosecution of journalists – saying he took the step because the ABC asked him to, report The Australian’s Nicola Berkovic and Chris Merritt.

Under a direction issued by Porter on September 19, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions can no longer prosecute journalists under certain sections of Australia’s secrecy laws without his formal approval.

He told The Australian that one of the “very real considerations” he took into account when making the direction was that the ABC had requested it in a formal submission to a parliamentary committee inquiry into press freedom.

“Obviously I got heavily criticised for that in just about every media outlet in Australia, no heavier criticism than from Ita Buttrose as chair of the ABC,” he said. “One – not the only – but one of the very real considerations that I took into account as to whether or not to issue that section 8(1) direction … was that the ABC asked for it.”

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Entertainment

Theatre: Packer & Sons – ‘entirely believable, yet one dimensional’

Packer & Sons at Belvoir is an exploration of intergenerational power; how it is built, nurtured and passed – or wrested — from father to son, comments Mark Day in The Australian.

The play is built around the Sydney media family of Packers and it is, for a stage play where hyperbole, licence and extremes are the norm, surprisingly accurate. Yes, it is true Robert Clyde Packer found 10 bob (a dollar) and put it on a horse at 12-1 to win enough to get him a ticket from Hobart to Sydney; yes, his son Frank took a huge gamble in launching the Australian Women’s Weekly; yes, his son Kerry jettisoned print for a stellar career in television; and yes, it is true that his son James deserted TV for the less savoury world of casinos.

You can’t condense a century of Packers into 2½ hours of stage play without losing a few bits – there’s no room for sex, mistresses, marriage breakdowns or misogyny and no reference to the family’s fabled philanthropic work. Writer Tommy Murphy has distilled the generational struggles of the male Packers in an entirely believable way.

Yet, apart from a few moments, this portrayal is one dimensional.

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Television

Screen Music Awards winner wants ‘skip intro’ button banned

The rise of streaming services may have gifted screen composers with a welcome new avenue of risk-friendly work, but they’ve also introduced a new dreaded nemesis: the ‘skip intro’ button, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Robert Moran.

“Oh, I think it should be banned and outlawed!” laughs veteran composer Antony Partos, who, on Wednesday night claimed the Screen Music award for best television theme for his work on Stan series Bloom.

“Look it’s up to people’s discretion. If they want to skip a theme, they’re welcome to move on to the rest of the content,” he adds diplomatically.

“I just remember watching Mad Men and I just had to listen to that theme every time. There was so much in the layering and the production of that particular piece of music that every time I listened to it I’d hear it in a fresh light. So I would encourage people to listen to the theme if possible, even if it does drive them crazy.”

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Sports Media

TV dealmaker Bruce McWilliam faces umpire in tennis trial

Bruce McWilliam, commercial director at Kerry Stokes’s Seven West Media, appeared in the Federal Court in Melbourne on Thursday as the star witness in a case where the corporate regulator seems to be trying to just about end the corporate career of another business heavy-hitter, Harold Mitchell, reports The Australian’s John Stensholt.

Mitchell and McWilliam go way back as power­brokers in Australia’s media industry for several decades, but the pair kept it low-key, exchanging a nod, a wink and a small smile before and after McWilliam’s witness box appearance.

McWilliam angrily denied Mitchell and Seven had colluded to deliver Australian Open broadcast rights to the network in 2013, though the rights never went to open tender and other networks were keen.

“He (Mitchell) should get the order of negotiation (award) because, seriously, they got everything they wanted and it was a great deal for them,” McWilliam said, reminding the court that Seven had lifted its price and agreed to let tennis produce its own broadcast, a concession he had personally disagreed with as it would “be like a minibar” and Seven would be charged for every TV cable it used.

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All-star cast at the Gabba as commentary caravan hits the road

There are so many former players in the various commentary boxes at the Gabba you can literally trip over numerous Australian captains in the coffee line, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Chris Barrett and Phil Lutton.

More telecasts and broadcasts of Test cricket mean a growing need for on-air talent. There are new faces and old but crucially, there’s plenty of them, enough in fact to compile two 12-strong squads of former Test players captained by Allan Border and Ian Chappell.

We’ll make a final decision on the XIs once we’ve put the key in the playing surface but we can confirm the top orders are formidable and adaptable and both attacks boast a few bonafide superstars. Let’s call them our Test One Twos.

Squad One: Chris Rogers (ABC), Michael Slater (Seven), Ramiz Raja (ABC), Allan Border (Fox, captain), Mel Jones (SEN), Darren Lehmann (Macquarie), Adam Gilchrist (Fox), Shane Warne (Fox), Jason Gillespie (ABC), Damien Fleming (Seven), Glenn McGrath (Macquarie), Carl Rackemann (Macquarie).

Squad Two: Michael Vaughan (Fox), Mark Taylor (Macquarie), Ian Chappell (Macquarie, captain), Ricky Ponting (Seven), Simon Katich (SEN), Michael Hussey (Fox), Mitchell Johnson (ABC), Wasim Akram (Fox), Brett Lee (Fox), Kerry O’Keefe (Fox), Trent Copeland (Seven), Brendon McCullum (SEN).

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