Mediaweek Roundup: ABC Funding, Disney, ITV, K League on Optus + more

• Rodrigo Duterte, The New York Times, Mark Allen, Stan, Debi Enker, NRL TV deal and Rugby Australia

Business of Media

Minister: Report on ABC funding cuts ‘surprising, deeply regrettable’

A forensic look at activist group Get Up’s report on ABC budget cuts that was rapidly endorsed by pre­senters has been condemned for containing glaring inaccuracies, reports News Corp’s Matthew Benns.

The report by Get Up and left wing think tank Per Capita claimed the ABC had lost $783 million in funding to its budget since the coalition came to power in 2014.

But the report contained major errors including claims Aunty had lost $148.8 million in funding for a contract to broadcast internationally that was axed six years ago.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said: “It is deeply regrettable when factually inaccurate claims are made about ABC funding.

“To claim the ABC has been ‘defunded’ is at odds with the facts,” he said. “The numbers show that ABC funding in 2019-20 is higher than in 2013-14 and will be higher again in 2021-22.”

The report claimed the ABC budget was $879 million – failing to mention the $183.7 million transmission funding that takes it to its actual budget of $1062.3 million. That will increase to $1070.8 million in 2021-22.

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Coronavirus exposes a weakness in Disney’s business plan

Walt Disney said the coronavirus pandemic took a $US1.4 billion bite out of its earnings, as the company detailed how the global economic fallout would affect every part of its entertainment business for the foreseeable future, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The pandemic has caused practically every part of that machine to grind to a halt. The close co-ordination that made for lucrative use of characters and storylines across different parts of the company has now led to a domino-like cascade of problems throughout its divisions.

The division that includes the Disney+ streaming service posted revenue of $4.1 billion in a quarter that registered a significant boost in subscribers.

But Disney is still spending heavily on production and marketing the service, and consolidation of its Hulu holding led to an operating loss at the division of $US812 million. Disney controls Hulu following its $US71.3 billion acquisition of the entertainment assets of 21st Century Fox.

Disney+ has been a rare bright spot for the company since the pandemic led to stay-at-home orders around the world. The streaming service had 54.5 million subscribers as of Monday, Disney finance chief Christine McCarthy said, up from 33.5 million on March 28.

Like its parks division, Disney’s media networks segment, which includes ESPN, will likely take a big hit in the fiscal third quarter as major sports leagues stay on the sidelines. Some ESPN efforts to engage sports fans in alternative ways appear to be paying off. A popular Michael Jordan documentary has set viewership records, executives said, and a remotely hosted National Football League draft was watched by more than 55 million viewers over three days.

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ITV reveals scale of Covid-19 impact due to advertising losses

ITV has revealed the scale of the impact of coronavirus as advertising slumped 42% in April, forcing the broadcaster to take measures including furloughing 800 staff, reports The Guardian.

The slump, prompted by advertisers holding back or pulling campaigns during the lockdown, is less than the 50%-plus decline that City analysts feared. In early March, ITV optimistically predicted a 10% fall in ad revenues for April.

Still, the better-than-expected figures delivered on Wednesday gave rise to a more than 5% increase in ITV’s share price in early trading.

The broadcaster said it had furloughed about 15% of its UK workforce, mostly at ITV Studios, which makes shows including Coronation Street and Emmerdale, after TV and film production was shut down nationwide in mid-March.

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News Brands

Rodrigo Duterte pulls plug on his strongest critic in The Philippines

The Philippines’ largest broadcast network has been forced off air after parliament refused to renew its franchise licence in a move rights groups have warned would have a chilling effect on the nation’s media, reports The Australian’s Amanda Hodge.

ABS-CBN shut down on Tuesday night after its 25-year licence expired, despite officials having previously given assurances that the network of television, radio and internet broadcasting channels would be allowed to continue operating.

The 66-year-old media conglomerate, which President Rodrigo Duterte has regularly accused of favouring the political opposition, urged the government-controlled lower house to reconsider its decision at a time when Filipinos desperately need reliable news sources.

It is the second time the network has been shut by hostile government forces after dictator Ferdinand Marcos ordered troops into its Manila headquarters on September 22, 1972, to seize the facilities, hours after ­declaring martial law.

It was not until Marcos’s overthrow in 1986 that the Lopez family, which still owns the media conglomerate, was handed back the keys to the network.

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The New York Times tops 6m subscribers as ad revenue plummets

In the first three months of the year, The New York Times Company added more digital subscribers than it had gained during any quarter since it started charging readers for online content in 2011, reports the US publisher.

But that increase was driven by widespread interest in news of the coronavirus pandemic, which has ravaged the US economy and cut deeply into The Times’s advertising revenue.

By the end of a dramatic quarter, Times employees had grown accustomed to working remotely, and readers were flocking to the newspaper’s website, drawn by articles on the coronavirus and its effects that were offered at no charge.

Many of those readers bought subscriptions. The company reported on Wednesday that it had netted 587,000 new digital subscriptions during the quarter. The majority – 468,000 – were for the core news product, and the remaining 119,000 were for other digital products, including apps like Cooking and Crossword.

At the end of March, The Times had more than five million digital subscribers, a high. Of those, there were 3.9 million subscriptions for news and 1.1 million for apps. The total number of subscriptions, including those to the print newspaper, stood at 5,841,000. Overall subscription revenue rose 5.4 percent during the three-month period, to $285.4 million. Total revenue rose 1 percent, to $443.6 million.

Overall ad revenue fell more than 15 percent, to $106.1 million, in the quarter. Digital ad revenue declined 7.9 percent, while print ad revenue had a drop of 20.9 percent.

Over all, adjusted operating profit for the quarter was $44.3 million, a decline from the $52.4 million the company made during the equivalent period last year.

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Radio

Melbourne radio presenter given all clear in cancer battle

Popular radio presenter Mark Allen has ticked off a significant milestone in his 15-month cancer battle, reports News Corp’s Scott Gullan.

For the second time the former golfer has been given the all clear after scans revealed the latest tumour in his lung – which was discovered in October – had now disappeared.

Earlier last year Allen was told he’d overcome stage four cancer after getting a quarter of his lung and more than two-thirds of his rectum removed.

But three months later a new tumour was found in his “good lung” which required immediate surgery.

On Tuesday Allen had a full body scan – his second since he’d finished treatment for the latest issue – and was told the cancer had disappeared.

“It’s unbelievable,” Allen said. “From when I first got diagnosed and found a tumour in my rectum, then three days later they found another one in my lung.

Allen and his long-time on air radio partner, former Melbourne star David Schwarz, have moved to 3AW after the closure of the Macquarie Sport network last year.

The former SEN drive hosts are now on air every Saturday between 5pm-7pm for ‘The Twilight Zone’.

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Television

The story of Catherine the Great, but not as you’ve seen it before

It takes enormous courage in the historical drama genre to declare that your work plays fast and loose with the facts. Most such period epics are obsessed with getting it right, or hiding the cracks where they have parted ways with the history books, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Michael Idato.

The Great, Australian screenwriter Tony McNamara‘s hilarious take on the life of Russian sovereign Catherine the Great, does none of that. Instead it wears the badge of “historically inaccurate” with some pride, McNamara says.

The Great stars Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, and Nicholas Hoult as Peter III, her husband and, ultimately, the man she overthrew to claim power for herself. As with McNamara’s film The Rage in Placid Lake, which was based on his play The Cafe Latte Kid, The Great is based on another of McNamara’s stage works, a play of the same name mounted by the Sydney Theatre Company in 2008.

The Great premieres on Stan on May 16.

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Debi Enker: Middle-aged actresses no longer on TV’s edges

They are formidable. They are fierce. Sometimes they’re murderous, and often they’re mothers. And they’re not young: no fresh-faced teens, perplexed millennials or dewy newlyweds in this bunch. These women, on shows such as Killing Eve, Ozark and The Good Fight, have seen some life. They have the scars, physical and emotional, to prove it. And they can do some damage.

Once upon a time, the range of roles available to middle-aged women on TV was limited. They might be cast as wise-cracking secretaries, devoted wives, nosy neighbours or meddling mothers-in-law. When actresses hit 40, romantic leads were out, action heroines were unthinkable and the future seemed to hold a screen life consigned to the margins.

Not any more. A new and exciting breed of female characters has emerged.

[Read more]

Sports Media

ARL Commission boss Peter V’landys confident of NRL TV deal

ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys has revealed rugby league’s revised broadcast deal will be finalised in the next fortnight – clearing the final hurdle for the NRL’s Project Apollo launch on May 28, reports News Corp’s Peter Badel.

While the RLPA has reached a player-pay resolution, the premiership cannot start until the NRL, Channel 9 and Fox Sports shake hands on a revised TV rights deal that considers the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the value of this year’s 20-round season.

The Courier-Mail reveals broadcast talks have reached an advanced stage, with V’landys moving to scupper talk of a feud with Channel 9, insisting the free-to-air giant will not walk away from rugby league.

Asked if the broadcasting deal will be done within the next two weeks, V’landys said: “Yes. Absolutely. It will be resolved before May 28.

“I won’t be talking figures through the media, but I am confident with our position and what we have put forward to the broadcasters.

“I am not concerned about Hugh Marks’ or Channel 9’s statements. Look, Hugh has a clearly defined strategy (saving money for Channel 9) and he is implementing it, which I understand.

“We have had some good conversations and I will have more good conversations with Hugh moving forward.”

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Optus seals domestic deal for Korean league days before kick-off

Optus Sport has secured domestic broadcast rights to the K League, ensuring Australians will be able to watch one of the first football competitions in the world to return amid the coronavirus pandemic, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Vince Rugari.

The South Korean top flight begins on Friday night, with Optus moving quickly to secure a deal to show two live games a week on the telco’s sports streaming platform – making it the only Australian broadcaster with live football.

The first match involves two Socceroos, Adam Taggart and Terry Antonis, whose Suwon Samsung Bluewings outfit face reigning champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at 8pm (AEST).

“I know I’m not the only one who’s been staring longingly out the window waiting for live sport to return, so to bring the K League to viewers in such a friendly time zone from this weekend is something we’re really excited about,” said Richard Bayliss, Optus director of sport.

While the pandemic has caused huge financial issues for most broadcasters, it has barely put a dent in Optus’ viewership. The telco reported just a 0.5 per cent retraction to 820,000 activated subscriptions between the start of March and the end of April.

The agreement continues the expansion of Optus’ suite of football offerings, headlined by the English Premier League. It is the telco’s second move into the Asian football market, having also acquired the rights for Japan’s J.League this year – which, like the K League, has a distinctly Australian flavour due to the presence of coaches Ange Postecoglou (Yokohama F. Marinos) and Peter Cklamovski (Shimizu S-Pulse).

Friday night’s match will also be shown free on YouTube and Twitter worldwide as part of a one-off promotion by the K League.

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Former television exec to take over as Rugby Australia’s next chairman

Former Network Ten boss Hamish McLennan looms as Rugby Australia’s next chairman, while former ARU chief operating officer Rob Clarke will step in as interim chief executive amid farcical boardroom bickering that has seen the resignation of new director Peter Wiggs, reports News Corp’s Jamie Pandaram.

RA confirmed on Wednesday morning that Wiggs had resigned just two days after he’d been endorsed as the next chairman, and only 37 days after he’d been appointed to the board.

Wiggs tendered his resignation after fellow board members and executive chairman Paul McLean refused to allow him to immediately appoint Australian Olympic Committee boss Matt Carroll as RA chief executive, to replace the departed Raelene Castle.

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