Mediaweek Roundup: Google Showcase, Nine CEO update, 10’s Pilot Week + more

media code google

• Media Code update, Foxtel and Telstra dump sale talk, 10’s new COO, New ThinkNewsBrands GM, possible flaw in defamation reforms, Gay Alcorn quits tiwtter, Stan Grant v Peter FitzSimons, Jacinta Price, The Chase, Erin Molan, Tim Worner and Kid Laroi

Media Code

Google scrambles to strike media deals following Morrison, Frydenberg talks

The federal government has signalled it may consider amendments to its digital media code if Google can convince large media companies to sign up to its own news product, sparking a rush of last ditch negotiations between the search giant and publishers, reports SMH’s Zoe Samios.

Google, which has threatened to turn off its search engine in Australia, approached several major publishers with revised offers for its ‘News Showcase’ product last week following high stakes talks between Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and its global chief executive Sundar Pichai. But the offers, which arrived as late as Friday, contained explicit provisions allowing Google to terminate any deals it strikes if the government’s proposed digital media regulation is not revised.

Google and Australian media companies are engaged in a major standoff over the news media bargaining code, which is designed to force Google and Facebook and pay media companies to display links to their news stories. The News Showcase product has been central in Google’s strategy to seek revisions to the code, and would allow it to pay media companies for news content without being forced to pay for links.

The search advertising giant launched its News Showcase product locally last week with participation from Crikey, The Saturday Paper, The Conversation and Australian Community Media, which publishes a raft of regional titles including the Newcastle Herald, in an attempt to show the government how the product worked.

Multiple sources familiar with Google’s discussions that can’t speak publicly for confidentiality reasons, said the search giant approached multiple major outlets with offers for content following Pichai’s meeting with Morrison. Google has been speaking to a range of publishers such as News Corp, the ABC, Guardian Australia, Daily Mail Australia, and Nine Entertainment Co, which owns this masthead.

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Rod Sims’ big tech fixation blinds him to Murdoch’s monopoly

It’s understandable that Rod Sims worries about emergent digital monopolies. They are huge. But the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman’s fixation on new media monopolies has blinded him to existing ones – especially Rupert Murdoch’s 70 per cent stranglehold on print readership, writes Kevin Rudd for AFR.

As Sims recently told The Australian Financial Review, Murdoch isn’t such a “big, bad guy”. After all, he says, News Corp’s global market capitalisation is just a fraction that of Google or Facebook.

This same attitude guided Sims to green-light Murdoch’s cementing of his undisputed domination in Queensland in 2016 through the acquisition of APN Australian Regional Media’s 12 daily newspapers, 60 community titles and 30 websites.

Murdoch already owned the Brisbane Courier-Mail, Gold Coast Bulletin, Townsville Bulletin and Cairns Post, plus local papers and The Australian. What was Sims’ rationale? Readers were “increasingly reading online sources of news, where there are alternatives”.

Sims’ decision – apart from demonstrating his weak grasp of the nexus between professional local newsrooms and quality local news – had disastrous consequences. Only one of the APN dailies, the Toowoomba Chronicle, has survived.

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‘Perfect solution’: Pressure ramps up on Google, Facebook

Google faces mounting international pressure to deal fairly with the news media after a coalition of Canadian newspapers said the Morrison government’s proposed regulations were a “perfect solution”, reports AFR‘s Miranda Ward.

Canadian newspapers blanked out their front pages last week to demonstrate what a world without news would look like in a campaign reminiscent of the Australian media’s recent ‘Your Right to Know’ campaign.

“Imagine if the news wasn’t there,” a message on the blank front page reads. “Google and Facebook use their monopoly power to pocket 80 per cent of online advertising revenues. These corporate giants benefit from the news content produced by Canadian journalist and publishers – without paying for it.”

News Media Canada, an industry body representing Canada’s leading newspapers, has urged its parliament to regulate the digital giants, saying Australia’s approach was the “perfect solution for Canada”.

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Big tech’s job spree reveals ‘imbalance’ in media industry

Tech superpower Google and other dominant digital utilities went on a hiring spree over the past 12 months, defying the pandemic lay-offs that saw news media outlets continuing to slash their workforces, reports News Corp’s Tom Dusevic.

Prospering during COVID-19 restrictions, the titans of web search, digital advertising and internet service provision increased headcounts by 6.4 per cent as Australians increasingly relied on online tools to work, learn and shop from home.

But even as news audiences increase, publishing and broadcasting divisions have shed journalists, production crew and advertising sales people, amid accelerating structural change due to technological disruption and imbalances of market power.

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Business of Media

Nine’s board narrows search for CEO as two insiders firm

It’s a three-horse race for the top job at Nine Entertainment, between company executives Chris Janz and Mike Sneesby, and outsider Carl Fennessy, amid ongoing ructions within the Peter Costello-led board, reports News Corp’s Lilly Vitorovich.

Nearly three months since Nine chief executive Hugh Marks stunned staff and investors with his bombshell departure following the public revelation of his ­romance with a junior Nine executive, his successor is still widely expected to be one of his two senior lieutenants.

However, Fennessy is also firming as a possibility, seen as a solid candidate by some given his experience running production company Endemol Shine Australia for more than a decade.

He has a similar background to Marks, who was chief executive officer of Southern Star Group prior to joining Nine.

Initially seen as a potential “compromise” candidate — should the Nine board be split 3-3 between Janz and Sneesby — Fennessy has impressed during his interview presentations, and he is now under serious consideration for the role, The Australian has been told.

It’s understood the trio were among the “final round” of candidates presented to the Nine board last week, along with former ViacomCBS chief executive David Lynn.

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Tim Worner an inside tip for Sky Channel role

Well, look just who might re-emerge with a media role if Tabcorp gets carved up. Someone who has never owned a decent horse (just kidding) and has spent roughly the past 18 months watching horse racing all day. None other than Tim ­Worner, reports News Corp’s Melissa Yeo.

There are whispers going around that Worner, who was instrumental in setting up the Racing.com joint venture between Seven and Racing Victoria a few years ago, is looking for his next challenge and has sniffed an opportunity with Sky Channel.

Sky is owned by Tabcorp and the theory goes that if Tabcorp’s wagering division gets carved out as part of some corporate M&A activity, with London’s Entain already been outed by this newspaper this week as a suitor, then Worner could emerge as either Sky’s new boss or there in some sort of executive role should it be hived off.

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News Corp, Telstra dampen Foxtel deal talk

The chief executives of Foxtel’s two shareholders have both dismissed speculation about corporate deals involving the pay TV platform despite fielding an unsolicited approach for the business last year, reports SMH‘s Zoe Samios.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age revealed last year that a “blank cheque” vehicle led by US cable television industry veteran Leo Hindery approached Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and Telstra with a US$2 billion investment proposal. But the offer was rejected.

Hindery’s special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), Trine Acquisition Corp, was on the hunt for an Australian media investment, according to sources who could not speak publicly for confidentiality reasons. But Foxtel was the only company to receive an offer, the sources said.

As recently as 2019, both Telstra and Foxtel had openly discussed the possibility of floating the pay TV company on the ASX. Telstra was widely expected to sell down its stake into any sharemarket listing, but the plans were shelved when Foxtel’s performance deteriorated.

Now amid surprising signs of a recovery, both Telstra and News Corp say they are committed to the business. “[The SPAC deal was unsuitable] because we’re very happy with our investment in Foxtel and it will always continue to be the case for all of the reasons that we highlighted,” Telstra CEO Andy Penn told this masthead. “It continues to amuse me a little bit why people don’t see that.”

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ViacomCBS focused on digital growth with 10play

The joint bosses of ViacomCBS, which owns Network 10, are focused on growing its video streaming business but didn’t rule out more cost cutting in the year ahead, reports AFR’s Miranda Ward.

Jarrod Villani, a former Korda Mentha restructuring expert, said it would take up to two years for the “enormous efficiencies” of the merger of Viacom and CBS to flow through to 10 here.

He would not be drawn on whether these efficiencies would translate into redundancies, saying his focus was more on infrastructure, technology and finance systems efficiencies.

Network 10 culled a number of its news presenters, including Tim Bailey and Kerri-Anne Kennerley, in August as the free-to-air broadcaster prepared to centralise in Sydney and Melbourne the presentation of its news bulletins from across Australia.

Villani, who started as chief operating officer last Monday, leads the business with Beverley McGarvey, who is chief content officer. Their appointments followed the departure of 10 CEO Paul Anderson in June last year. In addition to 10, the company operates MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr and Comedy Central.

He said the merger created “enormous efficiencies in the operating model of 10 which is of great benefit and that will take another 12 to 24 months to implement here in Australia and indeed globally, because we’re all going through it together. Obviously, the parent company itself only merged 14 months ago.”

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‘Hunger games’: Bungled budget cuts, staff exodus take toll on ABC

Nearly eight months ago, ABC managing director David Anderson appeared on a news bulletin to raise his concerns about the financial pressure the national broadcaster was under and explain his decision to axe more than 200 jobs, Zoe Samios.

“This is a terrible day but we will … recover from this eventually,” Anderson said on June 24.

Anderson had just unveiled his five year plan for the ABC, a strategy that involved reducing episodes of high-profile shows Australian Story and Foreign Correspondent as well as the removal of the 81-year-old flagship 7.45am radio news bulletin, which featured the 18-second version of orchestral tune Majestic Fanfare. It also included the 229 job cuts which he said was directly related to a three-year $84 million index freeze enforced by the federal government.

The job-cut-to-cost-cut strategy implemented over and over again by the ABC over the past five years has been spoken about and criticised widely. It has also raised questions about whether the public broadcaster can continue to fulfil its role with less staff.

But when looking closely at the figures two other trends emerge – the ABC has hired almost as many people as it has made redundant, and there are more people that have resigned from the organisation during the past five years than those forced to leave.

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Print is a growth channel, says new industry chief

The new chief lobbyist for the newspaper industry is unfazed by the fight with digital giants Google and Facebook, reports AFR‘s Miranda Ward.

Vanessa Lyons, a former chief marketing officer with 20 years experience, has been appointed general manager of industry body ThinkNewsBrands and is enthused by the opportunity to advocate for news, saying it is the most trusted media channel.

“It’s such an extremely effective advertising channel, it delivers such brand business impact daily and quickly … the opportunity is to have people reassess their perceptions and realise it’s an effective business-generating channel for advertisers,” she said.

Commenting on the ongoing tussle between digital giants and news media over the proposed news media bargaining code,  Lyons said the body was focused on advocating for transparent, fair and equitable news distribution.

“The proposed laws that force tech giants to pay for the news content they use, from our perspective, are so critical to the survival of Australian journalism and news media in Australia,” she said.

Lyons will head up ThinkNewsBrands, representing print publishers, and will work with Venessa Hunt, the head of ThinkPremiumDigital, representing digital media businesses. The two bodies are funded by News Corp, Foxtel, Foxtel Media, Seven West Media, Network Ten and Nine, the owner of The Australian Financial Review.

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Federal Court flaw in defamation reforms

National defamation reforms could be undermined by forum-shopping plaintiffs who think they stand a better chance in the Federal Court because they can dodge juries, according to a report on the reforms in The Australian Law Journal, reports AFR’s Michael Pelly and Max Mason.

The journal’s Current Issues section, edited by Justice Francois Kunc of the NSW Supreme Court, also warns that “restrictive judicial attitudes” could thwart the “liberalising intent” of the new laws.

Other sceptics include former Law Council of Australia president Arthur Moses, SC, who said a basic problem would remain – that the law starts from a presumption that what a publication has said was false.

Moses also said it was vital to have the same procedures in Federal and state courts: “The last thing we need is inconsistency as to how to approach matters.”

Defamation law reform has again come into focus after recent cases involving investment venture capitalist Elaine Stead and Chinese-Australian businessman Chau Chak Wing.

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News Media

Age editor Gay Alcorn ditches Twitter after death threats over coronavirus story

Age editor Gay Alcorn has stormed off Twitter after the newspaper received “death threats” over a feature about an infected quarantine worker’s visit to a kebab shop, Kmart and Bunnings, reports News Corp’s Nick Tabakoff

The Melbourne newspaper’s story traced every after-hours footstep of the COVID-positive hotel worker through Spencer Street institution Kebab Kingz (even publishing its “4.5 star” reviews on Google) and other locations.

But after Alcorn tweeted the story on Thursday, along with a tongue-in-cheek message about the worker’s “busy” social schedule, Twitter erupted in fury and abuse.

Some of the milder tweets accused The Age of “snobbery” and of blaming the worker for the outbreak. ABC News Breakfast host Michael Rowland asked: “What are you trying to get at with this story?”

After other much less printable messages, Alcorn — in two late-night tweets the same day — had had enough, announcing her break-up with Twitter: “(I) am out of here.”

Alcorn tells Diary her Twitter exit was not an overreaction, but came after the author of the controversial story, Tom Cowie, received death threats.

“People don’t have to like an article,” she says. “They can say it was awful or lacked nuance or could have been done better. But the frenzied and increasingly enraged Twitter reaction was totally disproportionate, ending with vile private messages threatening violence against a reporter — threats we take seriously.”

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True crime as Stan Grant hits out at Peter FitzSimons

A nine-month old feud between two of the biggest egos in national journalism reignited spectacularly last week when Stan Grant executed a revenge attack on Peter FitzSimons, reports SMH’s Samantha Hutchinson and Stephen Brook.

Previously warm relations between the pair have been up and down since their opinion page fisticuffs last year over FitzSimons’ book on Captain James Cook. Grant took to this paper’s opinion pages to label some parts of the book as “ludicrous”.

Fast forward to last week when Grant contributed a chapter to The Australian’s progressive murder mystery novel (progressive in its publication schedule, obviously not in its politics), an attempt by the boring broadsheet to liven up the silly season.

Grant set his chapter at “Fitzy and Lisa’s Australia Day barbecue at their grand house overlooking Sydney Harbour” – the home of The Sydney Morning Herald columnist and his wife, The Project presenter Lisa Wilkinson.

“What a woke leftie love-in that was: journos, actors, writers, a couple of ex-Wallabies (well it was the north shore), a few washed up politicians, even a couple of Liberals (small l of course) and a former managing director of the ABC for good measure.

“Everyone there voted yes for same-sex marriage — the year ­before last, they’d all tearily ­applauded their first gay married couple guests — they hated the Catholic Church and had cried when Kevin Rudd said sorry.”

Grant’s takedown appeared without the decency of a warning. The pair didn’t speak in the aftermath but did exchange angry texts. Both sounded nonplussed when CBD called.

“It’s fiction, it’s satire. Have a laugh. I mock myself as much as anyone else in it,” Grant said, before hastening off the phone.

“I will leave it for others to judge,” FitzSimons said before hastening off the phone.

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Jacinta Price sues ABC for ‘racist’ defamation

Jacinta Price is suing the ABC for defamation over comments on local radio by Aboriginal groups in northern NSW that had accused the conservative Indigenous politician of trying to spread “racist vitriol” and “hate speech”, reports News Corp’s Kieran Gair.

Price, deputy mayor of Alice Springs and a Warlpiri/Celtic woman, is suing the ABC over a report that delved into an effort by nine local Aboriginal organisations to convince Coffs Harbour City Council to cancel her Mind the Gap speaking tour.

The radio report, broadcast on ABC Coffs Coast in September 2019, put the spotlight on freedom of speech by drawing national attention to the conservative politician’s staunch opposition to the idea that Australia Day should be moved to another date.

In an amended statement of claim filed in December, Price says the ABC defamed her in multiple ways, including by conveying the meaning that she “spreads racist vitriol” and intended to use her “right-wing politics” to “divide” the Aboriginal community

 Price also claims the report conveyed the meaning that she “encourages the type of attitude” that once enabled atrocities against Aboriginal people, after she labelled the rejection of her Mind the Gap talk by Coffs Harbour Aboriginal community groups as “backward”.

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Radio

Financial strain forced 2GB to dump Erin Molan

The real reason why Channel 9 star Erin Molan joined 2DayFM on breakfast radio can now be revealed … she was actually dumped from the 2GB Continuous Call Team because of financial pressure around COVID, reports News Corp’s Buzz Rothfield.

When her three-year contract was nearing completion towards the end of last season, network executives told Molan’s adviser, celebrity accountant Anthony Bell, in writing there was no money for a new deal.

Bell and Molan declined to comment when contacted by The Sunday Telegraph, yet the story has been confirmed from a 2GB insider

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Entertainment

The Kid Laroi: Rising Sydney rap star becomes youngest to hit top spot on ARIA charts

Waterloo teen Kid Laroi has made history as the youngest Australian solo artist to top the ARIA album chart, reports News Corp’s Jonathon Moran.

Laroi’s release F*CK LOVE (SAVAGE) has knocked Harrison Craig’s 2013 debut, More Than A Dream, off his post. He was 18 at the time of his number one.

“Wow, this is insane,” Laroi said. “Number one in my own country means more to me than anything in the world. Thank you to everyone who has supported me and been with me through all of this. I love you all and I can’t wait to see you all again soon.”

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Television

Andrew O’Keefe: Top contenders to replace The Chase game show host

Former The Price Is Right host Larry Emdur is the current favourite to replace Andrew O‘Keefe as host of The Chase, reports Annette Sharp.

The veteran game show host, now co-anchor of Seven‘s The Morning Show with Kylie Gillies, is known to have been on the lookout for a new challenge at Seven for years.

While Emdur may have hoped that opportunity would be a tonight show, he is now said to be at the top of a shortlist of contenders currently under contract to Seven who could slide in to replace O‘Keefe and solve a critical casting dilemma for the network and co-producer ITV Studios Australia.

The second top contender for the job is Sunrise weatherman Sam Mac, who was rumoured to have been in talks with Nine to jump ship last November (Nine denied) but is said to have remained at Seven after being persuaded by network bosses that a bigger presenting role would soon be in the offing.

Meanwhile Grant Denyer is now off contract at 10 after I‘m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here wound up last week, Denyer placing as runner-up

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Pilot Week still unlikely for 2021

10’s Pilot Week is unlikely to return in 2021, reports TV Tonight.

10’s Director of Programming Daniel Monaghan tells TV Tonight, “We haven’t ruled out yet but it’s a hard year for it.

“We’d really like to return to Pilot Week this year, but given the difficulties with production at the moment.”

Pilot Week was due in 2020 until the pandemic threw those plans out. It was previously staged in 2018 and 2019 with shows such as Taboo, Trial by Kyle, Kinne Tonight and Drunk History.

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