Mediaweek Roundup: Fox, Ita Buttrose, Ben Fordham, Eurovision + more

• Murdochs, Film Victoria, Hit103.5 Cairns, NRL, Mel Jones, and AFL

Business of Media

Fox reports first quarter fiscal 2020 revenues of US$2.67b

Fox Corporation this week reported financial results for the three months ended September 30, 2019. Fox is the company that operates former Twenty-First Century Fox assets including Fox News Media, Fox Entertainment, Fox Sports, Fox Television stations and sports cable networks.

The company reported total quarterly revenues of US$2.67 billion, a 5% increase from the $2.54 billion of revenues in the prior year quarter. The increase in revenues included affiliate revenue growth of 4%, driven by a 14% increase at the Television segment, partially offset by a 2% decline in advertising revenues. The company also reported a 65% increase in other revenues, reflecting growth at both the Television and Cable Network Programming segments and higher revenues associated with the operations of the Fox Studios Lot for third parties.

Commenting on the results, Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Lachlan Murdoch said:

“Fox Corporation’s first full fiscal year is off to a solid start. The company delivered strong financial results in the quarter and we are making tremendous progress on the operational goals and strategic initiatives that we outlined at our Investor Day in May. As just one example, we’ve seen our programming investments in the Fox Network deliver ratings growth, including The Masked Singer, WWE Friday Night Smackdown, Thursday Night Football and the NFL on Fox. At the same time, we have successfully renewed distribution agreements with many of our largest partners that reflect the strength of our brands. This progress gives us further confidence in the company’s differentiated strategy and our ability to deliver long-term value for our shareholders.”

Murdochs agree to cap on Fox Corporation voting power

The Murdoch family has for the first time agreed to a cap on their voting power in the new Fox Corporation, reports The AFR’s Max Mason.

The restriction applies even if they acquire more shares in the company above the set level in order to help facilitate a multibillion-dollar share buyback and encourage liquidity in voting stock.

The Murdoch Family Trust agreed on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT) to have its voting rights in Fox Corp limited to 44 per cent in perpetuity or until the Murdochs sell out of the company, which is unlikely.

If the Murdochs were to acquire more than 44 per cent of voting stock, Fox Corp would still reduce the family’s voting power to 44 per cent.

The Trust currently owns 38.4 per cent of Fox’s Class B shares, which hold voting rights. As part of the deal, the Murdochs cannot buy more than 1.75 per cent of Fox Corp in any rolling 12-month period.

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Film Victoria announces record production year for screen industry

Film Victoria has reported annual production expenditure surpassing $250 million for the first time.

In 2018/19 Film Victoria’s investment in 70 screen projects generated $251 million for the Victorian economy, trending up over the last five years by 45%, and created 8,347 employment opportunities.

This result represents a return on investment of $12.90 for every dollar Film Victoria committed to the production of 19 feature films, 23 digital games, and 28 television, online and virtual reality projects last financial year.

High-end television drama continues to be a strength with $191 million generated by local projects, including Bloom, Wentworth Season 8, Hungry Ghosts and My Life is Murder, and season 4 of US TV hit Preacher, the largest television production to film in Victoria in more than a decade. 

Children’s television also remains strong, with highlights including Little J & Big Cuz and Mustangs FC, which was nominated for an International Emmy Kids Award.

The Dry and True History of the Kelly Gang were two Film Victoria-supported narrative features filming extensively in regional Victoria.

In documentary filmmaking, last year saw an increase in support for projects made for the big screen, including social impact films 2040 and The Australian Dream.

Victoria’s digital games industry continues to grow its reputation as one of the world’s top game production destinations. In 2018/19, investment by Film Victoria in games projects, including Dead Static Drive, Wayward Strand and the global sensation Untitled Goose Game, generated more than $3.9 million for Victoria.

News Brands

Ita Buttrose pulls ABC’s Q&A show over ‘call to violence’

The ABC is investigating whether its Q&A program breached editorial standards by allowing panellists to apparently advocate violence, arson and extrajudicial killings, reports The Australian’s Matthew Denholm.

After a flood of complaints about Monday’s program, ABC managing director David Anderson on Thursday conceded “elements” may have been “offensive”.

Q&A has always sought to tackle difficult issues and present challenging and thought-provoking content,” Anderson said.

“However, I can understand why some viewers found elements of this episode confronting or offensive.

“We have received audience complaints about the program, are assessing the concerns raised and will investigate whether the program met the ABC’s editorial standards.”

ABC chairwoman Ita Buttrose backed Anderson’s decision to investigate the program, saying it would be removed from all ABC platforms.

“I agree with David’s statement, which I’ve discussed with him,” Buttrose told The Australian. “We can’t do much more than issue the statement that we have, and we won’t be repeating the program. The plan is to take it off.”

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Radio

Ben Fordham off-air for the rest of 2019 as he shares personal news

2GB’s Ben Fordham has made the difficult decision to wrap up his radio show for the year in order to spend more time with his father.

Ben shared the personal news on his show on Thursday, telling his listeners he’s decided to take the rest of the year off due to his dad’s deteriorating health.

John Fordham has been fighting a battle with throat cancer for some years now, and the devastating disease recently returned.

Ben says he’s so happy his father could be alongside him when he won Best Talk Presenter at the Australian Commercial Radio Awards last month, and now it’s time to put work aside to spend more time with him.

“I’ve spent the day with him today and I’ve actually made the decision late yesterday that I’ll be wrapping up the radio show either at the end of today or tomorrow and that’ll be it for the year.

“I want to spend the rest of the year with him.”

Hit103.5 Cairns turns 25 with world’s biggest game of Wheel of Fortune

This week marked a milestone for Hit103.5 Cairns with the station celebrating its 25th birthday. Since first launching on the airwaves back in 1994 as Hot FM, the station renamed under the Hit Network brand to Hit103.5 in 2016.

Celebrating the past 25 years, Hit103.5’s breakfast team Carly & Seamus broadcast live from Cairns Esplanade in front of the Reef Eye. Visitors were treated free breakfast provided by McDonald’s and coffee and cake thanks to Jackley’s Bakehouse.

The station celebrates its launch in 1994

The station celebrates its launch in 1994

Hit103.5 turned the Reef Eye into the world’s biggest game of Wheel of Fortune. Listeners had the chance to spin the wheel and win a range of different prizes throughout the morning.

SCA Cairns general manager Richard King said: “Hit103.5 is proud to be celebrating 25 fantastic years in Cairns. For a quarter of a decade now we have connected with the people of Cairns, providing entertainment, laughs and music. We have formed long standing relationships with local businesses and supported events, festivals and charity fundraisers.

“We would like to thank our loyal listeners for tuning in and helping to make Hit103.5 the station it is today. We have had a huge amount of fun, and we can’t wait for the next 25 years to be just as good.”

Television

SBS reveals first artists for Eurovision – Australia Decides 2020

SBS and production partner Blink TV have announced the first two artists to compete in Eurovision –Australia Decides in February 2020.

Hosted on the Gold Coast and broadcast live and exclusively on SBS, two of the country’s greatest female vocalists – Aussie icon Vanessa Amorosi and powerhouse entertainer Casey Donovan – will perform an original song for their chance to represent the country at the Eurovision Song Contest 2020 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Vanessa Amorosi

Vanessa Amorosi

Amorosi has released four critically acclaimed studio albums, received 16 ARIA and APRA nominations, and released a new album this week, marking two decades since the release of her seminal dance anthem Absolutely Everybody.

Vanessa Amorosi said: “I am so incredibly excited to be part of Eurovision – Australia Decides 2020. I am a proud Aussie and to have the opportunity to sing one of my songs on a huge international stage representing Australia would be unforgettable. I look forward to Australia hearing my song and working alongside friends and fellow musicians on this journey. It’s going to be very special. Listen to my new album Back to Love, released today, and see if you can guess which song it is…”

Donovan became the youngest ever winner of Australian Idol in 2004. Over the last 13 years, she’s made her mark not only as a musician, but also on stage, screen, and as a presenter and writer. She is a multi-award winner, including an ARIA No #1 Award for Listen with Your Heart and Deadly Awards for Best Album, Best Single and Most Promising New Talent. She is currently starring in the musical Chicago.

Casey Donovan

Casey Donovan said: “I’m so excited to be a part of Eurovision – Australia Decides after opening the show this year and seeing the amazing talent. When I was asked I thought, what an amazing thing to be a part of! It doesn’t matter what happens for me, Proud is such an incredible song written by the talented Justine Eltakchi and I’m proud to sing it. I can’t wait to share the stage with some of Australia’s most talented singers. And I mean Vanessa Amorosi…she’s my idol! I love her!”

SBS commissioning editor for entertainment Josh Martin said: “This is the first taste of what is going to be a very special weekend of Australian music! We are delighted that a song submitted to the SBS song portal has found its way to Casey Donovan –one of the greatest voices in the country. Songwriter Justine Eltakchi has a brilliant story and we can’t wait for fans to hear their collaboration when it’s released – it’s really exciting.”

Creative director of Eurovision – Australia Decides Paul Clarke said: “Casey and Vanessa are two of the most respected voices in the country, and we welcome Vanessa home from her years in America. We can’t wait to hear her bring that brilliant voice to the Eurovision – Australia Decides stage on the Gold Coast. We have more exciting artists and songs to announce.”

The live TV final will be broadcast on Saturday 8 February, 7.30pm AEST live and exclusive on SBS.

Sports Media

$1b valuation of NRL digital arm shows early sale would be foolish

An audit of the NRL’s controversial digital investment has confirmed the prediction of the ARLC’s inaugural chairman, John Grant, that the asset could be worth one billion dollars and, therefore, it would be foolish to sell it prematurely, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Roy Masters.

Incoming chair Peter V’landys is a renowned cost-cutter and fears he would roll back the NRL’s digital department, or even sell it to a commercial partner, gained traction at his first press conference when he said, “We’re not going into the space of our media partners”.

However, in a seemingly contradictory comment, V’landys also indicated the ARLC would consider in-house production of NRL games, therefore putting it in competition with media partners, News Corporation, Nine and Telstra.

The audit, which was commissioned to validate a $10m entry in the NRL balance sheet, established that its digital business could double in value in the next two years to just under one billion dollars, based on revenue from a number of sources – direct advertising, sponsorship, sales and broadcast.

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‘Don’t want to know’: CA director Mel Jones to juggle media, board roles

Former international star Mel Jones concedes it will be “tricky” juggling her widespread media commitments with her new role as a Cricket Australia board member, a position she wants to use in improving relations between the governing body and the players union, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Andrew Wu.

Appointed this week to be one of nine directors, Jones follows in the footsteps of former captain Mark Taylor, who served for 13 years on the board while performing commentary duties – in his case with Channel Nine.

To avoid a conflict of interest, Taylor used to leave the room when issues relating to broadcast rights were to be discussed. Taylor was on the board when CA cut ties with long-time rights holder Nine to partner with Seven and Fox Sports on a six-year $1.2 billion deal.

Jones’s media roles have expanded rapidly in recent years. A member of the Fox and SEN radio commentary teams for the home summer, Jones has featured prominently on the Twenty20 circuit with gigs at the Indian Premier League, the Pakistan Super League and Caribbean Premier League. She was also part of this year’s Ashes coverage on Nine, publisher of the Herald, alongside Taylor.

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Ex-cricket, AFL and radio executive lands North Melbourne CEO job

North Melbourne will soon announce that Ben Amarfio, a former senior executive at Cricket Australia, is the club’s new chief executive, reports The Age’s Jake Niall.

Amarfio has won the position and is expected to begin at the helm of the Kangaroos in the coming weeks. He replaces Carl Dilena, who was a victim of the sweeping changes by chairman Ben Buckley‘s board that have seen the CEO, head of football and senior coach replaced within a matter of months, with the Kangaroos also seeking a new list manager.

Amarfio was the head of broadcasting, commercial operations and digital at Cricket Australia for several years, having previously worked at the AFL in the broadcast area, alongside Buckley, when the North chairman was a senior figure in the Andrew Demetriou regime.

Amarfio worked at Cricket Australia from 2012 until late 2018 and was clearly a casualty of the change of CEOs, when James Sutherland stepped down and was replaced by Kevin Roberts.

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Amarfio is also former broadcasting and digital media manager for the AFL and for six years was Melbourne general manager for Southern Cross Austereo.

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