Mediaweek Roundup: NRL broadcast deal, ACM, Bauer Media sale + more

• Daniel Johns, Nine, News Corp, 60 Minutes, Frank Crook, Vogue Australia, Ray Hadley, Pete Evans, Lawyer X, The Block and I’m a Celebrity

Sports Media

NRL set for massive payday in historic Foxtel, Nine broadcast deal

The cash-strapped NRL is just days away from securing a stunning new TV broadcast deal worth up to $2.3 billion, the richest in Australia’s sporting history, reports News Corp’s Phil Rothfield and Peter Badel.

Channel 9 and Fox Sports are on the verge of agreeing to a lucrative seven-year contract that will lift rugby league from a financial scrapheap, safeguard the game’s long-term viability and guarantee the survival of all 16 clubs.

Independent commission chairman Peter V’landys is hoping to reach an agreement in principal by Friday for the remaining three years of the current contract plus a four-season extension until 2027.

It would be the most lucrative broadcast deal in the history of Australian sport, averaging out at almost $330 million a season – a remarkable outcome given the long-term global financial uncertainty over the COVID-19 crisis.

The new TV contract will allow the NRL to establish a seven-year strategic plan, including grassroots development, long-term investments, possible expansion and a stadium policy for Sydney’s nine clubs.

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The Sydney Morning Herald’s Michael Chammas and Chris Barrett report:

The NRL is considering a proposal from Nine Entertainment Co for a long-term extension to its television deal with the free-to-air network, which wants to cap its annual rights fee for the sport at about $90m to $100m.

According to sources with knowledge of the negotiations, it is expected that while Foxtel, majority owned by News Corp, may be close to signing a long-term extension, Nine won’t commit beyond the three years that remain in its existing deal unless League Central agrees to its offer for a reduced long-term arrangement.

Sources say Nine, the owners of this masthead, wants to cap its annual rights fees for the sport at $90m to $100m. Nine is this year paying $115m for NRL rights, a figure that will rise to $120m next year and $125m in 2022.

Sources said an extension with Foxtel would not grant the subscription television outlet prized simulcast rights to State of Origin and the NRL grand final.

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Business of Media

ACM’s Antony Catalano in talks to buy News Corp’s regional papers

Discussions between Antony Catalano and News Corp Australia, which is led locally by Australasia chairman Michael Miller, have been underway for some time, dating back to when the former Fairfax Media executive bought ACM, which includes titles such as the Newcastle Herald and The Canberra Times, from Nine for $125 million, which completed at the end of June 2019.

However, as the coronavirus health crisis escalated in Australia, News Corp began a strategic review of its regional and community newspaper portfolio, which global chief executive Robert Thomson revealed on Friday was “well advanced”.

ACM executives Nick Chan, Robert Whitehead and PwC Australia are believed to be advising Catalano, law firm Allens is advising News Corp, while Arnold Bloch Leibler is in ACM’s corner.

Chan, a former Bauer Media chief executive and Seven West Media executive, and Whitehead, a former senior Fairfax executive, joined ACM in December to work with its chief executive Allen Williams on the publisher’s strategy and transformation.

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Leo Shanahan reports in The Australian:

ACM and News Corp will continue talks on Monday with a possible deal as early as this week.

One point of contention is over what titles would be included in a potential deal.

News Corp’s portfolio of regional and community news­papers consists of more than 100 mastheads, including dominant titles such as the Geelong Advertiser, Gold Cost Bulletin, The Weekly Times and the NT News.

It is understood that News Corp will want to hold on to some key titles, with the NT News not being part of the sale discussions.

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Private equity sale still an option for Bauer Media to exit Australia

Bauer Media Australia has resumed talks with private equity as the troubled German-owned publisher looks for a way to end a difficult seven years in the local market, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios.

Private equity firm Mercury Capital had been looking to buy the Australian and New Zealand operations but the discussions fell apart in January when Bauer’s acquisition of Seven’s Pacific Magazines was delayed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Bauer has since shut its New Zealand division and has bought Pacific, publisher of New Idea, WHO and Better Homes and Gardens.

Multiple industry sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the publisher has now re-commenced discussions about a sale to private equity, with Mercury the likely buyer. Sources previously told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that a bid from Mercury, run by venture capitalist Clark Perkins, was dependent on the success of the deal between Bauer and Seven’s Pacific Magazines.

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News Brands

Daniel Johns receives six-figure settlement from News Corp

Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns has received almost half a million dollars in a settlement with News Corp, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Andrew Hornery.

Johns received $170,000 in addition to having his legal costs of up to $300,000 covered by the media company, which also published an extraordinary apology to the musician last Sunday.

Johns, who declined to comment further this week, sued News Corp over an article published in The Sunday Telegraph in August last year that claimed he had been at a Sydney brothel. Johns described the story as “simply untrue” and “hurtful, humiliating, and damaging to me and my family”.

The Kastle’s owner, known as Mistress Scarlett, backed Johns and publicly refuted The Sunday Telegraph report, taking to Twitter to denounce the story which ran on the paper’s front page and featured photos taken of Johns within the vicinity of the establishment.

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Nine resorts to legal sniping in attacks on News Corp journos

Nine Entertainment is attempting to reveal the sources of journalists at rival news publications, taking legal action to obtain communications between former SAS soldier Ben Roberts-Smith and The Australian, reports The Australian’s Lachlan Moffet Gray.

Nine mastheads The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age also ran a series of articles last week publicly speculating on the sources behind The Daily Telegraph’s national political editor Sharri Markson’s exclusive story on a multi-government dossier outlining China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Last month, Herald journalists also published articles speculating on The Daily Telegraph’s source for its exclusive story that forced NSW minister Don Harwin to quit over revelations he breached COVID-19 restrictions by visiting his beach house.

Sydney Morning Herald investigative reporter Kate McClymont has questioned whether Malcolm Turnbull’s book publisher, Hardie Grant, would pursue how The Australian’s national ­affairs editor, Simon Benson, obtained key information from the book before Nine was able to publish an official extract. “Will they pursue the pirated copy that fell into the hands of News Corp?” McClymont asked on Twitter.

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Nine’s Darren Wick: 60 Minutes to remain in the schedule

Is 60 Minutes about to become the highest-profile TV casualty of COVID-19? Asks The Australian’s Nick Tabakoff.

It has certainly been the hot rumour around the corridors of Nine in recent weeks, amid heavy cost-cutting throughout the embattled TV sector.

Nine’s head of news and current affairs, Darren Wick, is ending the speculation once and for all, telling Tabakoff that Nine is committed to 60 Minutes for “the next 40 years”.

“The future of 60 Minutes has never been in question. It’s one of our strongest and longest-running brands and a program we are immensely proud of,” Wick said.

“It’s been telling amazing stories for 40 years, and we’re looking to it telling even better stories for the next 40 years.”

Wick concedes he has made cuts at 60 Minutes and beyond, without specifying numbers. “Yes, we’ve had to make some difficult decisions at all news and current affairs programs. But I don’t think they’re an island in the media on that.”

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Tributes flow after death of veteran journalist Frank Crook

Tributes from friends and former colleagues have poured in for veteran journalist and broadcaster Frank Crook who died from a heart attack aged 81, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Sarah Keoghan.

Crook was well-respected within the media industry as a former TV Week editor, radio host and cricket writer. He died in St Vincent’s Hospital.

Crook was a former 2GB weekend mid-dawns host, with the radio company reporting the news on Saturday night.

ABC journalist Michael Rowland described him as a wonderful bloke who was wickedly funny.

“I was lucky to work with him on 2BL Drive. RIP,” he wrote on social media.

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Former newspaper editor and broadcaster Mark Day posted on social media:

Vale Frank Crook, writer, raconteur, jazzman, cricket lover, radio personality and the curmudgeon’s curmudgeon. He had lunch with his son Ben yesterday then had a heart attack at Circular Quay on his way home. He made it, against the odds, to 81. A great mate.

Publishing

Vogue Australia stands alone after Bauer Media suspends titles

During lockdown, the editorial director of Vogue Australia spends her time in Zoom meetings with some of the fashion title’s biggest names, but in her local market, Edwina McCann’s iconic brand stands alone, reports The Australian’s Imogen Reid.

Having led the luxury masthead since 2012, McCann has successfully driven the value and trust of Vogue Australia through the development of diversified streams of revenue – something she thinks has been the point of difference between her and her competitors.

“We’ve developed a very diverse set of revenue streams through a strong digital channel, social channel and a VIP subscriber channel, which has done exceptionally well through the COVID-19 lockdown in terms of gaining new subscribers,” she said. “The fact we’ve aligned with the pay-and-stay strategy of users is quite different to any other traditional magazine brand in our marketplace.”

McCann’s comments follow Bauer Media’s decision last week to fold seven of its fashion, lifestyle and celebrity titles, just days after acquiring Seven West Media’s Pacific Magazines.

[Read more]

Radio

Ray Hadley apology to ScoMo as PM returns to 2GB morning show

The bromance between Ray Hadley and Scott Morrison is back on, three years after Hadley ended it because of ScoMo’s on-air dalliance with the ABC, reports The Australian’s Nick Tabakoff.

Back then, 2GB’s morning ratings leader made headlines when he told his audience: “The love ­affair, or the bromance that has been written about, is over.”

Hadley has confirmed: “It was about him appearing on the ABC, when he was unavailable for our morning chat.” Hadley declared at the time: “The regular chat with the treasurer is now abandoned,” dubbing him “boring” and “full of platitudes”.

But three years – and a pandemic – can change things. In an interview on Wednesday, Hadley told Morrison: “A few years ago I had a blue with you and it was the subject of much publicity. I want to apologise … I think you have handled yourself with class, dignity and distinction and a level of energy I’ve rarely seen.”

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Television

Lawyer X: Simon Overland blasts Nine ‘haggling over $4k for cops’

Simon Overland has accused Nine of “haggling” over a $4000 charity payment to the families of four dead police officers during a legal dispute over his portrayal in the network’s drama Informer 3838, reports The Australian’s Damon Johnston.

Victoria’s former top cop fired off a legal complaint to the network last week, describing his depiction in its series on “Lawyer X” Nicola Gobbo – watched by close to a million viewers – as a slur on his reputation and character.

In a remarkably quick surrender, just 10 days after receiving the complaint, Nine and Screentime signed a deed of settlement on Thursday.

In the two-part drama based on the life of Melbourne’s gang-war lawyer, Overland’s character, played by Ian Bliss, is shown having multiple meetings and telephone conversations with the secret police informer.

But the five interactions between the Overland and Gobbo characters were a sensationalist invention and ignored evidence in the Lawyer X royal commission that the former chief commissioner and the double-dealing barrister never met or spoke.

To settle the legal dispute and head off a potentially expensive defamation case, Nine and Screentime agreed to insert a billboard at the conclusion of the show that makes it clear to viewers that scenes showing the Overland and Gobbo characters were fictional.

The billboard will also clearly state Overland’s position that he was unaware Gobbo was informing on her clients, including Tony Mokbel and Rob Karam.

Nine declined to comment on Friday. But it’s believed the network offered Overland two settlements: A $10,000 donation and no billboard correcting the record, or a $6000 donation and a billboard.

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Axed: Pete’s off the menu as Seven sharpens MKR knife

Four years ago, bright-eyed Pete Evans and his French-accented sidekick Manu Feildel were the kings of Australian commercial television, sitting atop the throne of the $50 million My Kitchen Rules advertising cash cow that was the envy of TV land, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Private Sydney columnist Andrew Hornery.

Oh, how times have changed. On Friday morning, Evans parted ways with the once-glorious franchise, and the $800,000 pay cheque that came with it.

“It’s television, no one knows if they’ve got a job next week let alone next year … but you just have to look at the ratings this year to see something has to change … I’d probably get three new judges,” fellow MKR star Colin Fassnidge joked on Friday as PS informed him of the news his “good mate” Evans was gone.

“We’re all good mates, me, Manu and Pete, despite what you might read. I was playing pool with him in Malabar just the other day, his Sydney place is just up the road from me,” the outspoken Irishman said.

At its peak, media buyers estimate MKR was responsible for around $50 million worth of advertising a year to Seven, money which underwrote the fat pay cheques the stars were earning, and underpinned the additional hundreds of thousands of dollars Feildel and Evans have earned in various product endorsements, from chicken stock to cookbooks.

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How The Block is continuing during COVID-19 crisis

The Block has put in place a raft of strict health and safety conditions to ensure its restarted production can continue without further delay during the COVID-19 crisis, reports News Corp’s Fiona Byrne.

Contestants and crew returned to the construction site in the up-market Melbourne bayside suburb of Brighton on Monday after filming was halted at the end of March as the corona issue escalated.

“We have a nurse on site full time, we have built a little clinic, everyone gets temperature tested every morning, we have all had flu vaccinations, we have a limited number of people allowed in each room and we have finished the actual structure of the houses that we are building in Brighton, so the outside is finished and our team of builders is down to a skeleton crew,” celebrity tradie Scott Cam said.

“Basically the contestants will be inside their homes fitting out the actual house.”

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Next season of 10’s I’m a Celebrity could be filmed in Australia

Contestants on the next season of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! might be stuck in the bush instead of the jungle, reports news.com.au’s Andrew Bucklow.

The show will return to Channel 10 early next year and could “absolutely” be filmed in Australia instead of South Africa due to travel restrictions, the ViacomCBS Australia & New Zealand Chief Content Officer and EVP told news.com.au.

“All those things are on the table,” Beverly McGarvey said.

“We love our South African site, the jungle is kind of a character in the show, but we just don’t know if that’s possible or realistic, so we’re just looking at a range of options.

“The show will definitely be back next year … but because of the complexity of the travel, we are having to think about how we do that show, maybe in a slightly different way.”

One of the breakout hits of 2019, The Masked Singer, will start filming “in a couple of months,” McGarvey told news.com.au.

“If there was ever a show made for lockdown, it was this. People are in masks anyway,” she joked.

It’s likely there won’t be a studio audience at all due to social distancing requirements, and it’s unknown if Lindsay Lohan will be able to get back into Australia.

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