Mediaweek Roundup: News Corp, Guy Sebastian, A-League, AFL + more

• Jock Blair and Neighbours

News Corp transition to digital

Michael Miller: ‘News won’t let regions down in its digital push’

Let me be clear from the outset: News Corp is not turning its back on Australia’s regions and communities, writes News Corp Australasia executive chairman in The Australian.

Nothing could be further from the truth: we remain their greatest advocate – they are what makes our country great.

I grew up in regional Australia in the upper Hunter Valley. My first love of media was fuelled by reading avidly The Muswellbrook Chronicle and the local sports results and about the community events that brought the town together.

I quickly learned the importance of local media to their communities as often their only source of what was happening around them, local sport, councils, crimes, schools and news, who was getting engaged, married and sadly who had died, and how economic changes were affecting their towns. The pages reflected the prosperity and problems we all directly felt.

Later, during my time as chief executive of APN News & Media – the former publisher of many of News’s regional titles – I travelled regularly through regional Australia and was inspired by my colleagues’ commitment to serving their local communities, often with their own unique set of issues.

The impact of the tech platforms has been a slow burner creeping up on our communities. However, as I warned in April, we are passing through a tipping point where the pain they’re causing is very visible and real.

[Read more]

See also: News Corp’s Michael Miller talks to Mediaweek’s James Manning about staff departures and the transition to digital

‘The Cat’ refused to play and scratched Murdoch’s plan A

Rupert Murdoch had a plan A to stop the cash burn from News Corp Australia’s 100 regional and suburban print newspapers. His name was Antony Catalano – the man who a year ago bought a suite of Nine Entertainment’s regional titles for $125 million, reports Elizabeth Knight in The Sydney Morning Herald.

But two weeks ago ‘the Cat’, as he is known in media circles, turned tail on negotiations with Murdoch’s News Corp to acquire these assets.

So this week News was forced to dust off Plan B – to cease printing the vast majority of these regional and community titles and retain them as digital-only products.

The restructure announced on Thursday by local chairman Michael Miller will come with a significant one-off cost as News will be responsible for tens of millions in redundancy payments resulting from the removal of between 600 and 1000 staff.

The negotiations between News Corp and Catalano came down to the price – that is, the price News was prepared to pay Catalano to take the business. Catalano wasn’t about to take on these liabilities without a sufficiently sweet deal. Despite the breakdown in negotiations, the two parties are said to have been only $10 million apart. Plan A came close.

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‘From typesetter to tea lady’: end of a Murdoch newspaper era in Sydney

News Corp’s decision to stop printing the Parramatta Advertiser means the end of a publication where media baron Rupert Murdoch once honed his editing skills on the subbing desk, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Helen Pitt.

The Advertiser has been online only since April – its last print editions were between 28 and 36 pages. The one remaining reporter and editor (who works across a range of NewsLocal titles) await news of their fate on Friday.

“It’s a sad day for community newspapers,” says former Advertiser editor John Bilic. “But it was inevitable really, our printed product had become so thin.”

From its imposing headquarters on Macquarie Street, Parramatta, the Advertiser’s former publisher the Cumberland Newspaper Group has a history in colonial NSW as rich as the fruit-growing soil it was built on.

Started in 1843, The Parramatta Chronicle and Cumberland General Advertiser, was Australia’s first community newspaper title, started just two years after the Sydney Herald (now The Sydney Morning Herald), making it the state’s second-oldest publication.

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Nationals MPs blast News Corp regional closures ‘absolute disgrace’

A string of upset Nationals MPs serving electorates affected by the News Corp closures, including Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, have expressed disappointment with three urging the company to reconsider the move and one describing it as an “absolute disgrace”, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios and Fergus Hunter.

Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack, a former regional newspaper editor, said he wanted News Corp to deliver on its promise to keep providing local news online.

“Some century-old mastheads are ceasing to print and for those regional Australians who like to read a printed edition of their local paper this is particularly disappointing,” he said.

Nationals MP Ken O’Dowd – whose regional Queensland electorate of Flynn takes in six News Corp publications that will go digital only or close – said the announcement was a “major blow” and called for more support to sustain local journalism.

“Six papers being knocked on the head, going from hard copies to digital and that’s a blow because some of our people in regional areas, they haven’t got internet services like they do in the cities,” he said.

He said the government should step in with more industry support on top of the $50 million public interest newsgathering fund announced earlier this year.

[Read more]

Business of Media

Guy Sebastian’s estranged former agent seeks AVO against singer

The messy and public stoush between Guy Sebastian and his former agent has just become uglier with Titus Day applying for an AVO against the singer in court on Thursday, reports News Corp’s Briana Domjen.

Day also said he has more to say after claiming “I have nothing to lose anymore”.

Police sources have confirmed Day contacted them this week but no further action has been taken.

Day said he had filed an ­application at Waverley Local Court for a Provisional Apprehensive Violence Order against Sebastian.

The matter is listed for mention on June 11.

The pair are set to battle it out in court later this month, with Sebastian alleging that he is owed $200,000 over alleged breach of contract, as well as performance and other fees.

Meanwhile, Day said he is owed $800,000 by The Voice star.

The relationship between the pair, whose families used to holiday together, came to an end in November 2017 after a 12-year working relationship.

[Read more]


Tributes from colleagues for pioneering TV producer Jock Blair

Seminal writer/producer Jock Blair who produced classic Australian dramas Homicide and The Sullivans has died, reports TV Tonight.

He began as a personal assistant to Graham Kennedy at GTV9, including writing occasional gags for the TV king, to scripting for Homicide, Division 4 and The Box. Hector Crawford made him a producer on Homicide, but writing took its toll and he decided to invite writers to assist in plotting each story.

Blair conceived and produced mega-hit The Sullivans and co-created Bluey, Skyways, and produced The Bluestone Boys, The Shiralee, Sara Dane, Golden Fiddles, Shadows of the Heart, Under Capricorn, Snowy River: The McGregor Saga, Grim Pickings, Paradise Beach, Tribe, The Violent Earth plus the films Robbery Under Arms and Playing Beatie Bow.

In addition to Crawford Productions he worked with the South Australian Film Corporation and PFTC/Screen Queensland, where he became the longest-serving staff member.

Producer Roger Simpson told TV Tonight, “We were both in our twenties in 1972 when Jock and I co-wrote The Rape of Lennie Walker – a two hour ‘special’ episode of Division 4. How’s that for a trusting producer? Hector Crawford was a true pioneer who luxuriated in risk – and gave Jock and me our starts. Nearly 50 years on, the only thing that stopped Jock writing was that ultimate critic who scripts our final notice. Jock leaves a mountain of credits and enduring friendships and loved every moment on this wild bucking bull they call the industry. Rest well my friend. With all my love to Joy and Molly. You will be remembered”.

Rick Maier, head of drama and executive production at 10 said, “You could hear Jock way before you ever saw him. It was the loudest most infectious laugh in television. An incredible influence on so many writers, directors and producers. A huge loss.”

[Read more]

Ex-Home And Away star joins Neighbours cast for six-episode stint

Johnny Ruffo says he has checked off the Australian soap quinella after joining Neighbours for a guest appearance, reports News Corp’s Jackie Epstein.

The actor and singer was a regular on Home And Away for more than three years and has now filmed a short stint on Ramsay St.

“I was down in Melbourne around March and it was great,” Ruffo said.

“It’s very fast moving. I thought Home And Away was quick but Neighbours was so much quicker. You can’t mess around, they were such professionals. I really enjoyed it.

“It’s just Australian royalty, those two shows. It was such an incredible experience and now I’m fortunate to have been on both shows.”

Ruffo will appear in scenes from June 8, for a six-episode guest appearance, playing the role of Owen who first appears as a prison guard, but then it emerges he is an accomplice for Andrea, played by Madeleine West.

[Read more]

Sports Media

A-League 2020: Players ready but TV deal with Fox Sports delays plans

The A-League’s hopes of finishing the season have reached an impasse with Fox Sports still awaiting the broadcaster’s green light before activating a plan for 32 games in 36 days, reports News Corp’s Tom Smithies.

One of the remaining obstacles to a restart was largely cleared on Thursday after the substance of a pay deal with the players’ association was agreed, guaranteeing all existing contracts will continue for an extra three months from the end of this week to allow for the playing of the final rounds and the finals.

Though the pay deal needed final ratification by the players themselves late on Thursday, with each playing group in the A-League being briefed on its content by PFA executives, several sources close to it expected that to come imminently.

With the clubs also ready to resume operations ahead of a planned July 18 kick off – with a mini-pre-season beginning early next month – FFA has made clear it only needs the approval of Fox Sports to set wheels in motion.

But with Fox Sports understood to be negotiating across a range of sports about the resumption of seasons suspended in the eye of the coronavirus storm, it’s believed the broadcaster is trying to avoid a bunching up of content in the coming weeks.

Complicating matters is an offer understood to have been made by Fox to FFA to renegotiate the value of the remaining three years of its broadcast deal beyond this season, currently worth $57 million a year in cash and contra-value.

[Read more]

TV bosses urge AFL not to continue with shorter quarters beyond 2020

Broadcasters have told the AFL they want game lengths to remain the same, reports News Corp’s Michael Warner.

The AFL has slashed quarters from 20 minutes to 16 minutes plus time-on this year, but Channel 7 and Foxtel are opposed to making it a permanent move.

Network negotiators want 20-minute quarters plus time-on enshrined in new TV rights deals.

Three-hour match productions, featuring quarters of about 28 or 29 minutes, are considered ideal to protect advertising revenue and maintain viewer interest.

A push by the league to reduce the halftime break from 20 minutes to 15 minutes has support.

But talks over a reworked TV deal for this season and a proposed two-year extension with Seven and Foxtel have stalled.

The AFL stands to lose about $150 million in TV rights cash this year as a result of shortened game time and five fewer matches because of the coronavirus crisis.

The revised payment by broadcast partners in 2020 will be crucial in determining cash distributions to the 18 clubs, the extent of industry staffing culls and a new wages deal with the game’s 850 players.

The AFL pockets an average of $417 million-a-year in TV rights as part of the bumper six-year, $2.5 billion deal with Channel 7, Foxtel and Telstra that expires at the end of 2022.

A new deal for 2020 is expected to be 50-75 per cent of the original agreement.

[Read more]

David Penberthy: Why the 2020 AFL season can’t be revived

Some time ago, I sat down and calculated how much of my year was devoted to watching football, comments News Corp’s David Penberthy.

Not counting school footy, which I coached after a fashion and which took up about five hours a week, the rough estimate was that by attending seven or eight SANFL games a year and almost every Crows home game, and watching every Crows away game on TV, as well as most Port games and a couple of interstate matches, I was spending about 250-300 hours – or up to 12 days a year – watching professional football.

There’s an awful lot you can do with that kind of time. My last overseas holiday didn’t last that long.

I have pretty much zero interest or care in the resumption of the AFL this year. The season feels totally meaningless. Round one was one of the most miserable things I have ever seen.

Even with my team playing surprisingly good footy at the start of that game, only to lose narrowly on account of going to sleep for a while, there was nothing remotely thrilling about the match.

Round one proved that footy is nothing without the fans. And there is every chance that, when round two starts, aside from the novelty of having a Showdown, many of us will tune in for a few minutes and go – oh yeah, that’s right, this is actually crap.

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