Mediaweek Roundup: Coronavirus update, Seven, Today + more

James Warburton

• 10, ABc, Foxtel, SAS: Who Dares Wins, and Ray Hadley

Business of Media

Creative industry faces ‘catastrophic’ COVID-19 shutdown

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher will meet with arts and culture leaders on Tuesday to formulate a government response to the “catastrophe” faced by musicians, actors and film-makers after mass gatherings were banned, reports AFR’s Max Mason.

With the government’s recommendation against gatherings of more than 500 people set to come into affect on Monday, many live performers and the countless staff who work around them during the show and at venues face an undefined time without pay.

Fletcher will hold an industry roundtable on Tuesday to hear what the creative sector needs during the pandemic and outline what is available through the government’s stimulus package announced last week.

“The creative and cultural sector is understandably concerned about COVID-19 and wants to be confident that government is fully informed of the near-term impacts on the sector,” Fletcher said.

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Hollywood Could Take $20 Billion Hit From Coronavirus Impact

Taking wide-release tentpoles off the schedule doesn’t come cheap, nor does shuttering production on hundreds of scripted and unscripted TV series — and what happens to the unemployed workers? Reports the Hollywood Reporter’s Tatiana Siegel.

As it stands now, the global box office has already taken a coronavirus hit of at least $7 billion. If the remainder of March, April and May are included, lost revenue would climb another $10 billion, making a total loss of approximately $17 billion. And if the crisis continues beyond May, all bets are off.

But taking wide-release films off the schedule also doesn’t come cheap. MGM pushed the upcoming James Bond  No Time to Die to November, a move that will likely cost $30 million to $50 million considering that ad buys are made in advance and make-goods are not a given as several studios are in the same boat, having pulled ads at the last minute. A Quiet Place II’s abrupt cancellation eight days before release will cost Paramount some $30 million (unlike with Mulan, A Quiet Place II director John Krasinski and the producers were involved in the decision-making process to hold off on releasing the film until the global pandemic has subsided).

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Seven’s deadly sins

As the Australian share market shed nearly $230 billion caused by coronavirus panic leaking into global markets last week, Kerry Stokes’ media empire fell to record lows. Worth more than $3 billion in 2011, Seven West Media’s market capitalisation finished Friday at $199.9 million, reports AFR’s Max Mason.

The story of Seven over the past decade is one of pride, missed opportunities, failure to diversify and to use its traditional media assets to grow new digital assets such as real estate businesses REA Group and Domain. On top of that add a run of poor prime-time programming, bad luck, and the crashing waves of change in media landing it in an unenviable position.

James Warburton, who returned to Seven to become CEO in August, now has the tricky task of turning the business around.

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Ryan Stokes returns favour and counsels father Kerry on matter of the heart

To sell or not to sell. It’s the dilemma on which Channel 7’s major shareholder Kerry Stokes and his son Ryan can’t quite see eye-to-eye, according to television industry insiders, reports News Corp’s Annette Sharp.

Last week, as Seven’s share price sunk to a new historic low of 11c, from inside Seven came word that Ryan has — and not for the first time — put a compelling case to his father to sell Seven.

As Ryan sees it, Seven West Media is weighing heavily on the Seven Group — an embarrassment, you might call it.

But Kerry, who turns 80 in September, is reluctant to sell.

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James Warburton’s quest for redemption at Seven

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age spoke to more than 20 current and former colleagues of James Warburton for this story. Many spoke on the condition of anonymity. Most agreed that Warburton is frank and his ability to get directly to the point can unsettle people, but his confidence and commitment to the decisions he makes are also admired, reports the SMH’s Zoe Samios and Jennifer Duke.

It’s this varied experience and personality that make Warburton an unusual TV boss. It’s also why he is possibly the only executive with the skillset to pull off an unlikely Seven turnaround.

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10 reverses downward spiral to achieve impressive ratings growth

By 2017, 10 had fallen into receivership before being acquired by multinational media conglomerate CBS. Now, it’s enjoying its best ratings in years reports the SMH’s Michael Lallo.

In the first four weeks of the 2020 ratings season, compared to the same period last year, 10’s share of the metropolitan commercial TV audience climbed 4.3 per cent to 24.2 per cent, with Seven on 35.5 per cent (down 2.8) and Nine – the owner of this masthead – on 40.2 per cent (down 1.5). 10’s share of the under-50 demographic is up 6.9 per cent and it’s the only commercial network to grow its 6pm to 10.30pm audience in real terms, jumping 15 per cent to an average of 529,000 city viewers.

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Entertainment

Coronavirus fears drive TV binge

Amid fears about the coronavirus spreading, wary Australians are nesting at home and binge-watching TV shows, movies and sport, reports News Corp’s Lilly Vitorovich.

Pay-TV and streaming company Foxtel and streaming service Stan have seen an increase in customer demand and viewing in recent weeks that is set to accelerate following the cancellation of major sporting and marquee calendar events.

The Australian Grand Prix was cancelled at the last minute on Friday, leaving a hole in Network 10’s program schedule, and Australia’s three-match One Day International cricket series against New Zealand was axed after the first match was played at an empty stadium.

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Eurovision 2020 faces rescheduling or postponement due to coronavirus

Planning for the 2020 Eurovision song contest has been thrown into disarray with new restrictions on public movements imposed in the Netherlands due to coronavirus, reports News Corp’s Chris Griffith.

The Netherlands has joined France, Spain and Italy in imposing new restrictions on the movement of people. In the case of The Netherlands it has reportedly banned public gatherings larger than 100 people and banned inward flights from China, Hong Kong, Italy, Iran and South Korea.

The decision to prohibit large gatherings has thrown planning for Eurovision in the Dutch city of Rotterdam into jeopardy. The European Broadcasting Union in a statement says a decision has not been taken yet on whether to cancel the song contest which is scheduled for May.

“With two months to go until the three live shows on 12, 14 and 16 May, and a rapidly changing situation both in the Netherlands and the countries of the participating broadcasters, it is still too early to make any final decisions,” says the EBU.

“We are working closely with Dutch Host Broadcasters NPO, NOS and AVROTROS and the City of Rotterdam to explore different potential scenarios for the Eurovision Song Contest 2020.”

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Radio

Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck close in on breakfast dominance

With a combined 60-odd years of radio broadcasting experience between them, Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck share a mantra when unforeseen disasters – take this week’s unending confusion over coronavirus, for example – play havoc with their best laid on-air plans, reports the SMH’s Robert Moran.

“It’s only radio, you know?” says Harmer, 64. “I was on-air during 9/11; sometimes it all goes out the window. Whatever happens, you’ll still get something on the radio. It might be terrible, it might be banal, it might be risible, whatever – but something will happen. You’ve got to be a bit of a stress-eater in this job.”

Just over two years into their morning partnership on ABC Sydney, those veteran chops are proving essential. In Tuesday’s first radio ratings of the year, the pair’s breakfast show grabbed an audience share of 11.8 per cent in the all-important 5.30am-9am timeslot, higher than Kiis FM’s Kyle and Jackie O, and their highest-ever ratings since they debuted as a duo in January 2018.

“We had a season of the worst bushfires in history, we had floods on the back of that, and now we have coronavirus. Those ratings are vindication that when people want to find information they trust, they come to the ABC,” says Buck, 47. “I’d like to say they purely come for our wonderful personalities, but…”

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Television

US coronavirus shutdown: the hit list

Hollywood, New York and Atlanta TV shutdowns due to coronavirus represent the biggest halt to production since the 2007 Writers’ Strike, reports TV Tonight.

CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, The CW, FX, HBO, AMC, Netflix, TBS, Bravo, Apple TV and Disney are amongst those all ceasing production.

This will have a major impact on Australian scheduling, most noticeably for Foxtel, Netflix, Stan, 10, Seven and Nine.

See full list here

Network 10 alert to virus dangers facing staff and contestants

As the coronavirus spreads around the world, ViacomCBS’s newly promoted local content boss Beverley McGarvey is reviewing filming plans for Network 10’s shows, particularly adventure reality game show The Amazing Race Australia which sees contestants travel to different countries.

McGarvey, who has been 10’s chief content officer for nearly four years, said 10 would make a decision about The Amazing Race “as late as possible”, as more information about the coronavirus came to hand.

In the past, The Amazing Race has taken contestants to Cambodia, New Zealand, Argentina, Portugal and Russia as part of the competition to win a cash prize of $250,000.

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No live audiences for Q&A, The Project as TV hopes to avoid worst

The local film and television industry is scrambling to adjust to the impact of coronavirus as the Screen Producers Association warns “hundreds of millions of dollars” of work could be lost, reports the SMH’s Karl Quinn.

Two big-budget international productions have already been forced into temporary shutdowns following coronavirus scares – Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic, starring Tom Hanks, on the Gold Coast, and the Marvel superhero flick, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, in Sydney – and now Australian networks and producers are bracing for disruption and trying to head it off by changing the way they do business.

Staff at Network 10 were directed on Friday to work from home, and a number of shows typically filmed in front of live studio audiences – including The Project, Dancing With the Stars, Studio Ten and the planned Australian Survivor: Reunion special – will now be filmed behind closed doors.

“These are unprecedented times for the broadcast industry,” a network spokesman said on Sunday. “We are regularly reviewing our practices with the health, safety and well-being of our staff, crew and talent top of mind.”

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Karl Stefanovic signs with Chris Hemsworth’s management

He is Australia’s self-styled god of morning TV but could Karl Stefanovic now be aiming for loftier heights? Reports News Corp’s Amy Harris.

The newly resurrected host of Today has been the subject of rumours this week that he has inked a deal with a new management company with close ties to the company that manages Aussie megastar Chris Hemsworth.

A week after Sunday Confidential revealed Stefanovic has parted ways with his long-time manager Sharon Finnigan, it’s believed the soon-to-be-dad-again has agreed to terms with Melbourne-based agent Mark Morrissey.

Morrissey, who counts Hemsworth, Luke Bracey and Michael Caton amongst his stable, was tapped by Stefanovic to ‘collaborate’ on some upcoming shows and productions.

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Today show weatherman Tim Davies has to self-isolate for two weeks

Today  weatherman Tim Davies will be missing from the Channel 9 breakfast show for the next two weeks due to self-isolation, reports News Corp’s Andrew Bucklow.

Davies was on his way home to Australia after a holiday in Austria when Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Sunday afternoon that all passengers arriving in Australia have to self-isolate for 14 days in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The Channel 9 presenter posted a photo of himself on Instagram from a plane at Dubai International Airport with the caption: “So, I’m on one of the first international flights to land in Australia tomorrow where everyone on-board will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

“This is the right move by our government. Passengers don’t seem angry, panicked or confused by this move.

“My @thetodayshow family has been fantastic & I’ll be back on air after a bit of a ‘longer than expected’ break.”

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Richard Wilkins tests positive for coronavirus, Channel 9 confirms

Richard Wilkins has confirmed he has tested positive for coronavirus and has been self-isolating at home since Thursday, reports News Corp’s Andrew Bucklow.

The confirmation comes after Wilkins came in close contact with Rita Wilson, who has tested positive for coronavirus, in Sydney last week when she appeared on Today Extra.

Wilkins also met with Wilson, who is currently in isolation at Gold Coast University Hospital with husband Tom Hanks, during her show at the Sydney Opera House last weekend.

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ViacomCBS signs distribution deal with Foxtel

Foxtel has signed a new distribution deal with entertainment giant ViacomCBS that will allow the News-Corp controlled pay TV company to air children’s brand Nickelodeon on its upcoming streaming service, reports the SMH’s Zoe Samios.

Sources close to the deal confirmed the extension, which means programs such as Spongebob SquarePants, Nick, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn and Paw Patrol could appear on Foxtel’s new entertainment streaming service known as Project Ares. Nickelodeon and Nick Junior already run on Foxtel’s set top box and Foxtel Now.

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Jackson Warne set to make TV debut

Jackson Warne, the son of cricket legend Shane Warne, is set to be part of a gruelling new TV show putting celebrity participants to the test. And he’s not the only familiar face taking part, reports News Corp’s Jackie Epstein.

Jackson Warne is set to make his TV debut in a new Channel 7 show called SAS: Who Dares Wins.

An ultimate test of physical ability, we hear the gruelling show is to be filmed in New Zealand soon — dependent on the coronavirus crisis.

Others to compete are former ironwoman Candice Warner, wife of Aussie batsman David Warner; former cricket bowler Mitchell Johnson; Olympian Jana Pittman and swimmer Shayna Jack, who is fighting to clear her name after a failed drug test.

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Sport

Seven West Media to be refunded if Olympics gets cancelled

Australia’s Olympics broadcaster Seven West Media will be repaid the cost of the Tokyo 2020 broadcasting rights deal should the event be cancelled as a result of the coronavirus, reports SMH’s Zoe Samios.

Television sources familiar with the commercial arrangement between the broadcaster and the International Olympic Committee said Seven would receive a refund on the money it has paid for the rights to broadcast the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as concerns grow that the global COVID-19 outbreak could cause the event to be cancelled altogether.

Seven, which also owns West Australian Newspapers and Pacific Magazines, has been preparing for a year without the Olympics, but sources close to the network say they are still monitoring the situation. Cancellation of the tournament could be beneficial to the company as it tries to pay down a multi-million dollar debt pile.

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Coronavirus puts sports TV rights deals in turmoil

Sports broadcasters and administrators are scrambling to check the fine print of sports rights contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars amid the threat of top football codes and the Olympics being suspended or cancelled, reports News Corp’s Leo Shanahan.

Sports administrators and broadcasters are desperately trying to broker alternatives to season cancellations, with suspension rather than cancellation unlikely to trigger demands for repayment by broadcasters.

Both Seven and Fox Sports (majority-owned by News Corp, publisher of The Australian) are preparing for a suspension of the AFL season for up to a month that could see ­finals played deep into October to honour a $2.5bn broadcasting deal. It is understood the AFL and broadcasters are looking at the possibility of playing more than one game a week when games do commence in an effort to make up the shortfall.

The coronavirus-induced cancellation could not have come at a worse time for Rugby Australia which is currently trying to attract bidders for a new broadcast deal after turning down a deal from Fox Sports to renew its $57m-a-year contract.

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‘Catastrophic’: NRL cash reserves would dry up in three months without games

The NRL would exhaust its cash reserves within three months if the competition was suspended, it emerged on Sunday, as Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys warned of the “catastrophic” danger the coronavirus spread posed to the code, reports the SMH’s Chris Barrett.

While the season will continue this week behind closed doors, V’landys admitted he could not expect broadcasters Nine and Foxtel to pay their monthly instalments from the $1.8 billion television deal that props up the game if matches had to be called off.

The NRL on Sunday moved to support clubs by opening up its distress fund and providing each of the 16 teams $425,000 immediately. The clubs stand to lose a combined $5 million per round in lost match-day revenue, including from ticket sales, merchandise and memberships, and league officials also estimate it would cost the game $20m in forfeited earnings for each match of the State of Origin series if it was played without crowds.

However, those losses are dwarfed by the financial freefall the code would be propelled into should the competition be forced into a shutdown by a positive COVID-19 test to a player or other person connected to a team, or by another factor related to the pandemic.

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NRL to launch discussions with ESPN to take advantage of global sport suspensions

With LeBron James and co. in shutdown mode across the US, the NRL will launch “Operation make rugby league great again” in a bold move that could see the game exposed to millions of new viewers around the world during the coronavirus pandemic, reports the SMH’s Michael Chammas.

This column can reveal that the NRL will on Monday open discussions with global sports media powerhouse ESPN about the potential of broadcasting games into the US and around the world after the sport declared it will continue the competition behind closed doors from next weekend.

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Optus Sport to refund, suspend accounts after EPL delay

Telecommunications giant Optus is preparing to refund or suspend accounts free of charge for all customers who pay for its sports streaming service as football leagues across Europe postpone seasons because of the coronavirus pandemic, reports AFR’s Max Mason.

Optus has 825,000 subscribers to its Optus Sport service. The majority of them get Optus Sport for free, but there is a segment of customers from other telco providers who pay $14.99 a month for the service, and they can ask for a refund or suspend their accounts for as long as the English Premier League is postponed.

“We will always do the right thing by customers and we are closely monitoring events. Currently, it hasn’t been decided if games will be cancelled outright or re-scheduled to a future date. If they are rescheduled we will show these,” Optus head of TV and content Corin Dimopoulos said.

“Once we have a clearer indication of the plans from the Premier League, FA, UEFA and the J-League, we will be in a better position to provide our customers with a range of options so they can choose the one that works best for them.”

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10 takes $5m hit from Australian Grand Prix loss

The cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix is likely to blow a $5m hole in the budget of Network 10, capping off a horror week for the broadcaster that has seen staff sent home because of coronavirus fears and the resignation of its CEO, Paul Anderson, reports News Corp’s Leo Shanahan.

The cancellation of the grand prix in Melbourne comes as broadcasters struggle with a changing timetable of cancelled and postponed sporting rights ­affecting hundreds of millions of dollars in sports rights.

It is understood 10 had about $5m in advertising tied up in the grand prix with major broadcast partners such as Kia, and the broadcaster will now struggle to make revenue targets for the quarter in an already tough media environment.

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Seven’s ‘Protect Bruce McAvaney’ plan in coronavirus crisis

Locking down Bruce McAvaney in a sterilised room to call footy games off a TV monitor. This is a previously unimaginable crisis scenario that suddenly became very real over at Seven last week, reports News Corp’s Nick Tabakoff.

Seven, like the ABC, was last week war-gaming coronavirus emergency plans. It has already made fist bumps and elbow taps standard company policy.

Now protecting McAvaney, 66, for decades Seven’s legendary network sports anchor, has become a top priority, given he is managing a non-life threatening form of leukaemia and his health has to be carefully managed. So with AFL games now to be played before empty stadiums, McAvaney and fellow commentators may call matches from the safety of a sterilised room at the Seven Broadcast Centre, based at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium.

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Channel 9 dumps Ray Hadley from 2020 NRL season coverage

Broadcaster Ray Hadley has been benched by Channel 9 and told his services are not required in 2020 — despite being under contract to call the footy, reports News Corp’s Buzz Rothfield.

The 2GB morning host had been a regular back-up caller to veteran Ray Warren for several years, often covering Friday night out-of-town games for the free-to-air network.

One of the country’s most experienced sports broadcasters, Hadley is a household name in rugby league from covering the game for over four decades on radio and TV.

Instead, Channel 9 is using Rabbits Warren and Matt Thompson — the commentator dubbed “the invisible man” after it was revealed by his Nine colleague Neil Breen that there is an edict at Channel 9 not to show Thompson’s head on television.

Nine will also use little known Brisbane-based caller Peter Psaltis for NRL games out of Queensland, instead of Hadley.

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