Mediaweek Roundup: NRL and Nine, Seven, AAP, Condé Nast + more

Hugh Marks

• Tech giants, HT&E, News Corp, New York Times, and Lonely Planet

Business of Media

Comms Minster Paul Fletcher confident tech giants will pay publishers

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher says a decision by France’s competition regulator to order Google to negotiate with publishers for their content is the right one, and says he’s confident the tech giants will pay publishers in Australia, report The Australian’s David Swan and Leo Shanahan.

“The fact that the French competition regulator is going through a similar process just tends to underline the importance, from a competition perspective, that the digital platforms properly pay for content that’s been generated by media companies that costs money to produce,” Fletcher said.

“As the ACCC said in their final report, the social media platforms are unavoidable commercial partners for the big media businesses, and there needs to be a way for there to be fair payment.”

News Corp executive Michael Miller and more recently ACCC chairman Rod Sims say they’re sceptical the tech giants have been acting in good faith during ongoing negotiations with publishers, and Fletcher said it was the government’s expectation that the tech giants would play ball.

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Clock ticking for Seven West Media to pay down debt

Time is fast running out for James Warburton and his lieutenants to put out the raging fires at the Kerry Stokes-controlled media business Seven West Media, reports The Australian’s Lilly Vitorovich.

Warburton, who was brought in by the Australian billionaire last August to rebuild the television broadcaster and publisher, has to cut the group’s $541m debt pile swiftly or it risks being at the mercy of its lenders.

Seven is understood to be in regular contact with its banks, keeping them up to date with its cost-cutting plans during the extremely difficult trading environment as advertising revenue tanks.

Seven is understood to have eight banks: Australia’s four majors, two in China and one each in Singapore and in Japan. One saving grace of the current crisis is that nobody has an appetite to take control of the network.

Some bankers expect that Seven’s lenders may move soon to offload their debt to other parties. The new debt owners may then look to call in the loans of Seven, or restructure the group through a debt-for-equity swap.

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Pain for radio off the dial, says CEO in bid for government aid

The owner of KIIS and Pure Gold radio stations has urged the Morrison government to consider urgent financial and regulatory assistance for the commercial radio industry during the coronavirus crisis, which has knocked out the economy and advertising spending, reports The Australian’s Lilly Vitorovich.

HT&E chief executive Ciaran Davis also said the company had registered its interest in applying for the federal government’s $130bn JobKeeper scheme via the Australian Taxation Office to help keep its 500-plus full- and part-time staff on the books.

“Given the speed at which the economy is being impacted and the corresponding decrease in advertising on radio, we’ve asked that the government consider urgent relief in two forms – financial and regulatory – to enable commercial radio broad­casters to continue to effectively serve their local communities,” Davis told The Australian.

Davis said the protection of jobs for its staff had been a “key priority for the HT&E board and there had been no redundancies to date”. However, that is under ongoing review.

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AAP to progress talks with potential buyers, delays bidding process

Australian Associated Press has received one expression of interest from a prospective buyer and will progress talks to assess whether there is a chance of saving the business, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios.

Chief executive Bruce Davidson said in a note to staff on Thursday evening that a single proposal to buy the business had been submitted and that he was waiting on a second proposal later that evening.

“To say we live in uncertain times would be an understatement, and at AAP we continue to live under the twin clouds of coronavirus and a lack of certainty about our future,” Davidson said.

“AAP does not wish to delay a decision on these approaches any longer than necessary, but given the Easter timing we will allow some additional time before moving to the next stage.

Davidson said video conferences with two parties has occurred this week, during which information about the business had been provided. A third party has asked for further talks with adviser TMT Partners next week, which the company has agreed to. The deadline for bids, which was April 9, has now been pushed back. After an assessment by TMT Partners, the AAP Board will meet on Thursday to assess all prospective buyers.

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News Brands

Four Corners preparing two-part special on News Corporation

Former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes is out of retirement to put together a Four Corners special, “or maybe even two” in Holmes’ words, on “the past and future of News Corp”, reports The Australian’s Leo Shanahan.

Holmes is going around propositioning past and present News Corp editors, journos and employees to go on or off the record. No doubt he’ll get the bunch of disgruntled former reporters, editors and prime ministers who blame the company for all their life’s problems.

Despite the biggest global public health crisis in a century, the ABC’s flagship current affairs show will take time to pursue News Corp in a two-part special.

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Two Australian correspondents profiled in The New York Times

Two Australian foreign correspondents have been profiled in a New York Times feature about the journalists tasked with explaining America to the world.

In this tumultuous period of U.S. politics, there are perhaps more international journalists in Washington, D.C., than ever before.

MATTHEW KNOTT, 32
Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Australia

Reporting from New York and Washington, D.C., since 2017; first foreign posting.

After the election in 2016, there was a general feeling among journalists that we had “lost touch with real people,” as some of us would say. I was very struck by that. I felt I needed to do whatever I could to come to America because, as a journalist, you run toward the turmoil. Before I left, I was told that all foreign correspondents become paranoid within the first year of a posting because they worry that people back home don’t understand, or even read, their work. I tried to fight that, but I can see how that happens: relevance deprivation syndrome. You go from being inside the beast, or affecting things from within your own country, to interpreting events from the outside.

JAMES GLENDAY, 34
ABC News, Australia

Reporting from Washington, D.C., since 2018; previously posted in London (2016-18).

After the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, Australia introduced sweeping, strict gun-control laws, so every time there’s a mass shooting in America, there’s a lot of interest back home. When I report on attacks in the U.S., my Twitter feed blows up with Australians asking, “Are they going to do anything? Is anything going to change?”

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Publishing

Pay cuts at Condé Nast, the glossy publisher of Vogue and Vanity Fair

Condé Nast, the most glittering of all magazine publishers, is the latest media casualty of the coronavirus pandemic, reports The New York Times.

Roger J. Lynch, the chief executive of the company behind Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, sent a memo on Monday to 6,000 employees around the world to inform them of an austerity plan that includes pay cuts, furloughs and possible layoffs.

“It’s very likely our advertising clients, consumers, and therefore our company, will be operating under significant financial pressure for some time,” Lynch said in the note. “As a result, we’ll need to go beyond the initial cost-savings measures we put in place to protect our business for the long term.”

Those earning $100,000 or more – approximately just under half the company – will have their salaries reduced by 10 to 20 percent for five months, starting in May, the memo said. Executives in the senior management team, including Anna Wintour, the artistic director and Condé Nast’s best-known figurehead, will have their pay cut by 20 percent.

[Read more]

Lonely Planet losing Melbourne office and closing travel magazine

Travel publisher Lonely Planet has announced it will close most of its operations in Melbourne and London as the company deals with the impacts of coronavirus on its sales, reports ABC’s Elise Kinsella.

Lonely Planet will stop publishing its magazine and new ‘inspirational’ travel titles for the foreseeable future

The company says it will keep publishing guidebooks and phrasebooks.

Lonely Planet says a sales drop linked to the coronavirus crisis is behind the changes

The company said it had made the “difficult decision to reduce its publishing operations for the foreseeable future”.

But it said it would not commission any new “inspirational” titles and would stop publishing the Lonely Planet magazine.

Lonely Planet was founded in 1973 when Australian couple Tony and Maureen Wheeler published their first guidebook, Across Asia on the Cheap.

The company became a favourite of many travellers, with its guidebooks pored over in hostels and bars around the world.

Wheeler, who no longer has any official role with the company, told the ABC he was “shocked” by Lonely Planet’s announcement.

The company is now owned by NC2 Media, a company based in Nashville, Tennessee in the United States.

[Read more]

Sports Media: Nine v NRL

Nine attacks NRL management as parties prep season return

Both Nine and Foxtel have TV rights deals with the NRL and both want a price break given what is happening to the 2020 football season. And both are having their cases debated in media channels owned by both groups.

The NRL feud ramped up late last week with a statement from a Nine spokesperson critical of the way the NRL is being run.

Nine reported on the statement and the fall out on Friday with photos of Nine CEO Hugh Marks on the front and back pages of The SMH.

Here’s a summary of some of the sniper fire over the weekend.

NRL has mismanaged game for years, says Nine in stunning broadside

Chris Barrett in The Sydney Morning Herald:

Rugby league’s long-time broadcast partner Channel Nine has launched a stunning takedown of the NRL, seething about being left out of the planning for the restart of the competition and accusing the governing body of years of mismanagement and wastefulness.

But with the game’s administrators preparing to announce the shape and timing of a resumed season, Nine has delivered an extraordinary shot at League Central on Thursday.

“At Nine we had hoped to work with the NRL on a solution to the issues facing rugby league in 2020, brought on so starkly by COVID-19,” said a spokesperson for Nine.

“But this health crisis in our community has highlighted the mismanagement of the code over many years. Nine has invested hundreds of millions in this game over decades and we now find they have profoundly wasted those funds with very little to fall back on to support the clubs, the players and supporters. In the past the NRL have had problems and we’ve bailed them out many times including a $50m loan to support clubs when the last contract was signed.

“It would now appear that much of that has been squandered by a bloated head office completely ignoring the needs of the clubs, players and supporters.

“We now find ourselves with a contract that is unfulfilled by the code. We hoped we could talk though a long-term plan.”

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Nine’s brutal attack on the NRL a mere diversion from the main game

Roy Masters in The Sydney Morning Herald:

Sports broadcasters were succumbing to a virus well before the arrival of COVID-19, a virus not as deadly as the pandemic that has shut down leagues around the world and decimated advertising but an earlier debilitating disease, nonetheless.

The sickness attacking sport was cost-accelerating, unsustainable debt, mainly for media rights of the football codes and cricket. All this came at a time the revenue streams of the free-to-air and pay-TV broadcasters were under siege from streaming services such as Netflix.

So, when the NRL’s long-time FTA broadcast partner, Channel Nine, delivered a scathing attack on the code on Thursday, it was paradoxically both unprecedented and unsurprising.

It’s all about cost. Nine doesn’t want to pay full freight for a disrupted season with falling viewership.

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Nine Network ‘exploiting’ coronavirus crisis to bully NRL

Brent Read in The Australian:

One NRL club chair, speaking on the condition of anonymity, on Friday responded with an attack of his own aimed at Nine.

“At the end of the day they are seeking to exploit a public health crisis for the commercial benefit of a massive co-operation and they are bullying a not-for-profit sports organisation that employs thousands upon thousands of people,’’ the chair said.

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Nine set to make play for exclusive matches, end of Foxtel simulcasts?

Nine’s Danny Weidler in The Sun-Herald:

The days of rugby league matches being broadcast simultaneously on free-to-air and pay TV are under threat. That’s what I read into the scathing review of the NRL by Nine during the week.

Exclusivity of games is the key to ratings. I have not been told Nine has that as an objective but, reading between the lines of the statement, I see that Nine wants a change of terms as part of a long-term commitment to the game.

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Nine attack was right on the money, and the game needed to hear it

Nine’s Phil Gould in The Sun-Herald:

The statement made by Nine regarding the NRL this week, clearly approved by chief executive Hugh Marks, was timely and appropriate. I believe it will prove to be hugely significant.

On behalf of Nine, he needed to say it. The NRL needed to hear it. The rest of the media world needed to hear it. Rugby league fans needed to hear it, too.

It was blunt, honest and accurate.

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Channel 9 won’t get away with NRL ploy: 7 & 10 ready to step in

News Corp’s Phil Rothfield:

It was as predictable as the Easter bunny arriving that Sydney woke on Sunday to a Gus Gould rant defending his employers, the Nine Network.

“Nine’s attack was right on the money and the game needed to hear it,” the Nine newspaper columnist said in defence of his Nine television station under the banner of Independent Always.

How absurd.

The whole catchcry of corona­virus, on its own TV network, is that “we’re in this together”.

Then to use the global health epidemic as a business practice to try to cripple a sporting organisation is just disgraceful.

Channel 9 will not get away with it.

If Nine can’t support the code in these difficult times, it should walk away.

Let Channel 7 or Channel 10 come on board. The bosses of both networks have reached out to NRL powerbrokers in recent days to express their interest. Stay tuned.

[Read more]

What Nine wants out of crisis meeting with NRL

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Michael Chammas:

The general view of Nine’s attack on the NRL was that it was as calculated as it was brutal. But after weeks of waiting for the NRL to show its hand, Nine has now forced it.

Nine will want answers on a few key items. The first is an indication as to what Peter V’landys intends to do about the NRL’s “bloated head office”.

Nine believes it is entitled to an opinion due to the money it puts into the game. And its opinion is that the game should not rush into a May 28 return just to cash in a pay cheque, but instead use the time to rejuvenate the game with fresh ideas for the long-term benefit of the code and its clubs.

That has been viewed as simply an attempt to get out of the current deal. But Nine does not want out altogether – the network actually wants to extend its deal, just for a different amount than what it’s paying.

Nine wants to sit down with Fox Sports and discuss the current agreement. It wants to revisit the simulcast arrangement and find a solution that works for both parties. It wants a better season structure as part of a long-term deal.

[Read more]

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