Mediaweek Roundup: Google, AAP, HBO, The Block, MasterChef + more

• Paul Fletcher, Mark Di Stefano, ABC, Nine, Fox Sports, NRL, Caroline Wilson and A-League

Business of Media

Google fires back as ACCC code of conduct talks ramp up

Google has dismissed claims it has not worked constructively with Australian news organisations and rejected calls for it to directly pay publishers, as the search giant looks to safeguard its business from a major regulatory overhaul, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios.

Melanie Silva, Google Australia’s managing director, on Sunday claimed in a blog post that the tech giant struggles to make money from news content as she attempted to break down “misconceptions” on the firm’s relationships with publishers.

Silva said that news content had “significant social value”, but that Google did not make money from organic search results or news that appears in the ‘News’ tab. She said publishers benefit by appearing in Google search results.

“In the offline print world, publishers have long paid retailers, news stands and kiosks to distribute their newspapers and magazines – acknowledging the value of acquiring audiences to a publisher’s content and the advertising publishers sell alongside it,” Silva said.

“In contrast, Google Search sends readers from Australia and all over the world to the publishers’ sites for free – helping them to generate advertising revenues from those audiences and convert them into paying subscribers. Everyone benefits from this exchange. While news content has significant social value, it is often difficult to make money from.”

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AAP’s fate in balance as talks go on about sale of different brands

The fate of Australian Associated Press is set to go down to the wire, with sale talks expected to continue for several more weeks, reports The Australian’s Lilly Vitorovich.

Two months after AAP’s shareholders called time on the 85-year-old media company, which consists of a national newswire and press release distribution business Medianet, AAP’s board is locked in talks with potential buyers. AAP chairman Campbell Reid said on Sunday that the board has “entered into detailed discussions with a number of parties that have expressed interest in AAP and Medianet”. “These discussions are confidential and are expected to take several weeks,” said Reid, who is also a senior News Corp executive.

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The AFR’s Max Mason reports:

The AAP board met over the weekend to discuss proposals which were put forward by Friday’s 5pm deadline.

“You should also be aware that even after the board has met, it could still be some time before any announcement is made, depending on the assessment of the bids,” AAP chief executive Bruce Davidson said in a staff email on Friday afternoon.

On March 3, AAP announced it would close its doors after 85 years in operation, affecting 180 editorial staff and a total of 500 individual staff members and 100 contractors across its business.

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Fletcher and the film and TV industry move to fix insurance block

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has ordered his department to look into the issue of Australian film and television productions being unable to get insurance cover amid the COVID-19 crisis, reports The AFR’s Max Mason.

The move is to help get projects back up and running again as prominent producers ask the government to step in as the insurer of last resort.

Jason Burrows, chief executive of Jungle Entertainment, producers of No Activity and Mr Inbetween, said production companies weren’t big enough to cover a total shutdown financially themselves and insuring cast and crew was a major issue that needed to be resolved before the sector could get back to work.

Chris Oliver-Taylor, chief executive of FremantleMedia Australia, producer of Neighbours and Picnic at Hanging Rock, said the government was listening and taking the industy’s concerns on board.

“If you can’t insure and show, you can’t make it, so what do we do?”

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HBO seeks streaming option in next Australian content deal

The parent company of premium US television network HBO wants flexibility in its next content deal with local media companies that would allow it to launch its own streaming service in Australia, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios.

News Corp-controlled Foxtel and Nine Entertainment’s Stan are both vying to secure an output deal with HBO, which is owned by WarnerMedia, a subsidiary of telecom giant AT&T. While a deal is viewed as critical for both companies, industry sources told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that no formal bids had been made.

Television sources previously said that HBO has given Foxtel and Stan until early May to formalise bids for its content.

Sources said it is likely ViacomCBS will pull its Showtime and Nickelodeon brands from Stan and Foxtel once the contracts expire and pull them into its local streaming service 10 All Access.

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News Brands

Aussie journo quits The FT after controversy over Zoom hacking claims

Australian journalist Mark Di Stefano made his only comment via Twitter on Friday after being accused of reporting on a Zoom meeting of staff from the UK publisher of The Independent and Evening Standard:

“Hi, letting everyone know today was my last day at the FT. This afternoon I offered my resignation. Thank you everyone who has given support. I’m now going to take some time away and log off x” said Di Stefano.

The statement was met by sympathetic comments from friends and former colleagues, many of whom said they expected Di Stefano to bounce back after some time off following this setback. Others were more critical, including this comment from entertainment reporter Peter Ford:

“Hope you learn from this. You’ve orchestrated campaigns against many people, including myself, in the past. You’ve encouraged pile-ons and a cancel culture against anyone you consider ‘conservative leaning’. Despite this I hope in time you bounce back as you’re clearly not a fool.”

The Guardian’s Mark Sweeney reported:

Di Stefano’s actions were in breach of the FT’s code of conduct, which states: “The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by … intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails. Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge … can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.”

“Last week, the FT received a complaint from the Independent that a reporter had joined a staff conference call without authorisation,” an FT spokeswoman said. “Access details had been shared with him. The journalist in question has now resigned from the company.

“The FT wishes to apologise to the Independent and the Evening Standard, which subsequently informed the FT that the same reporter had accessed a meeting it had held.”

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PM’s office makes complaint after ABC’s COVIDSafe app attack

The office of Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made an official written complaint to the ABC over some of its reporting on the ­government’s much-discussed COVIDSafe app, reports The Australian’s Nick Tabakoff.

A formal letter, with “COMPLAINT” written in block letters in its subject line in case anyone missed it, has been emailed by ScoMo’s senior media adviser Nick Creevey to ABC news supremo Gaven Morris. The email objects to reporting by ABC investigative journalist Dylan Welch online and on TV about the app, on April 24.

Among the claims made by Creevey was that Welch’s reporting online and on ABC news bulletins about COVIDSafe that day was “unnecessarily alarmist”.

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Television

‘May the Fourth be with us’: The Block restarts, with added precautions

Forty days after it was shut down, production on The Block will resume today, May 4, amid a suite of new precautions that executive producer Julian Cress believes will keep cast, crew, tradies and the general public safe, reports The Age’s Karl Quinn.

“My job is to mitigate risk, and I feel comfortable we have done that to a degree that I think we can start up again with minimal risks to anybody on our site,” says Cress, who believes he can deliver the 16th season of the show to broadcaster Nine on schedule.

That’s in large part because the building of the extensions of the five properties in the Melbourne bayside suburb of Brighton has been able to continue throughout the filming shutdown. Under nationwide COVID-19 guidelines, construction is deemed an essential activity.

Cress says there’s no trickery in The Block having carried on building while contestants were sent back to their homes around Australia on March 25.

“It is a construction site. There’s no question about that,” he says. “There was no legal impediment to us continuing to build. In fact, if we’d wanted to, we could have continued to film. I just felt at that time that the risk was too great. But on balance, looking at the situation currently, that risk is very low.”

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‘No point in sanitising your past’: Melissa Leong praised by viewers

When Melissa Leong was appointed a judge on MasterChef, she chose not to delete her earlier criticisms of the program on Twitter, reports The Age’s Michael Lallo.

“There’s no point in sanitising your past,” says the 38-year-old food writer and TV presenter. “I believe everybody deserves to evolve and change their perspectives. To be human is an ongoing process.”

Leong’s remarks were hardly incendiary – she joked about former contestants falling back on their plan B jobs – but they proved irresistible to the tabloids. Given the upheaval surrounding Network 10’s hit cooking competition last year, this is no surprise.

In July, 10 pulled the plug on judges Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris. Network sources blamed their ‘unreasonable’ pay rise demands while the trio denied this, insisting they only wanted more freedom to work on other projects. Some observers predicted their absence would trigger a ratings rout; instead, Leong and fellow judges Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen have given the show its biggest audience in years.

Leong in particular has drawn much praise on social media. “Melissa represents something you don’t see too much on TV today: a woman who enjoys food and isn’t scared to eat it,” wrote one Twitter user. Others applauded her extensive knowledge, “razzle dazzle” earrings and warm rapport with contestants, all of whom appeared in previous seasons of MasterChef.

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Sports Media

Nine wants NRL’s digital arm as part of revised NRL broadcast deal

Nine Entertainment Co has expressed interest in taking over the NRL’s digital arm as part of cost-cutting measures in a revised broadcast deal, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Michael Chammas.

Sources close to the negotiations say Nine’s proposal for an extended deal until the end of 2025 includes the code’s digital arm, led by NRL.com, which the free-to-air network believes currently runs in direct competition with its two broadcast partners.

Nine, which is the publisher of this masthead, has proposed it takes over the NRL’s profitable digital network, which was recently valued at $50m and costs about $15m a year to run, including $10m to provide clubs with digital services.

Nine and Foxtel have been at loggerheads with the NRL for three years, arguing that their rights investments have been used to prop up a digital division that would in the future be pitted against them in a battle over broadcast deals.

The proposal nullifies the potential competition, but also gives Nine access to the NRL’s 1.6 million account holders and the largest social media footprint (5 million people) of any sport in the country.

It believes it can operate the websites and apps of the 16 clubs, the two states and the governing body under a more cost-efficient model, while also providing content through its Wide World of Sports production empire.

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‘Pay what we ask’: V’landys sends message to NRL broadcasters

ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys has rejected the argument that the NRL will be a less valuable product to broadcasters without crowds, saying he hopes the game’s two television partners “see reason and pay what we ask” for the rest of the season, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Chris Barrett.

While the competition draws closer to a May 28 resumption with the New Zealand Warriors flying into Tamworth on Sunday night and players to resume training on Tuesday, the game is yet to strike agreement with Nine and Foxtel.

As former ARLC chairman John Grant urged the governing body not to part with its digital arm, telling the Herald it could be a $2 billion asset for the game, V’landys strongly disputed the notion that matches would carry less value for television without crowds, as the broadcasters have argued in attempting to drive down the price for this season.

A Nine spokesperson said on Sunday night the rest of the season being a diminished product was at the core of discussions with the NRL. Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany could not be contacted.

While Nine has targeted an acquisition of the game’s digital department as part of a proposal for an extended deal, V’landys said the NRL wanted to retain resources in that space while working more closely with broadcasters, rather than in competition with them.

“We will always have our own digital,” he said.

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Sports face combined $200m broadcast hit from FTA & Foxtel

Sports are set to miss out on at least $200m from broadcasters even if respective competitions resume later this year, as networks push to wind back highly priced broadcast fees, arguing the content will be inferior without crowds in grandstands, reports The Australian’s John Stensholt.

The free-to-air broadcasters and Foxtel have told the executives of the big sports such as AFL and NRL, as well as motor racing, soccer and rugby union, that they should not expect to receive broadcast fees this year simply calculated by subtracting the number of matches to be missed this year from a usual season’s contract.

In a best-case scenario, the NRL is likely to receive at least $80m less from Nine Entertainment and Fox Sports this year compared to the $320m it received in broadcast revenue in 2019.

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FTA home of auto sport could put the brakes on Supercars

Network 10 is believed to be preparing to walk away from being the free-to-air broadcaster of V8 Supercars when the current contract runs out this season as Australian media companies weigh up the value of sports rights amid the COVID-19 crisis, reports The AFR’s Max Mason.

Sources told The Australian Financial Review that Supercars was a loss-making endeavour for 10 and the ViacomCBS-owned network was no longer prepared to invest in the sport.

“Supercars’ discussions with 10 are focused on racing again as soon as possible and then the shape of this year’s championship,” a Supercars spokeswoman said.

The current six-year record $241 million deal between Ten and Foxtel, signed in 2013, began in 2015 and finishes at the end of the 2020 season. It was brokered by the then Supercars chief executive James Warburton, who is now Seven West Media CEO and has a stake in the Archer Capital-owned racing body.

It is believed Seven was looking at potentially making a bid to become Supercars’ free-to-air broadcaster again, having telecast the motorsport from 1963 to 1993, and from 2007 to 2014.

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Club owners optimistic about Fox Sports’ A-League appetite

A-League club owners are hopeful the competition’s long-term relationship with Fox Sports can be salvaged, with arrangements for the resumption of the season set to progress this week, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Vince Rugari.

As revealed by the Herald, Football Federation Australia has belatedly received the near $12 million quarterly payment from Fox that was due last month after tense discussions led by chief executive James Johnson.

The money enables planning for the final rounds of the A-League season to move ahead, with FFA and the clubs waiting on Friday’s national cabinet meeting before finalising the specifics of when, where and how matches will be played.

Perth Glory chairman Tony Sage said his fellow club owners were “very happy” that Fox had paid FFA and was optimistic that the three seasons left on the A-League’s broadcast deal would be honoured.

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Caro: Difficult women in industry don’t tend to survive…difficult men do

Footy Classified’s Caroline Wilson has a string of media accolades and awards having broken through several barriers ever since she was appointed Chief Football Writer at The Age at the end of 1998, reports TV Tonight.

‘Caro’ as she affectionately nicknamed, has never shirked from having an opinion or speaking her mind and such frankness has famously come at a price. But she remains optimistic there are signs of improvement in what has traditionally been a tight boys’ club.

“People are going to attack me because I may have strong opinions and sometimes I deserve pushback. But I notice it changing already in the younger blokes who work in the industry – journos, commentators, producer – are so different to the older ones. I see already times are changing,” she tells TV Tonight.

“I do think the industry is still tough on women. I don’t know why so many of the people laid off at Fox Footy, for example, have been women. I think ‘difficult women’ in the industry don’t tend to survive, ‘difficult men’ do. That is something that needs to change. But in the end I hope people will be able to look at my example and see how much it’s changed, not how bad it is.”

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