Mediaweek Roundup: SEN, Domain, Bauer, Freeview, News Corp + more

ABC, Facebook, Google, HBO’, Killing Eve, Sonia Kruger, Karl Stefanovic, Lawyer X and A-League

Business of Media

Cash for coronavirus: ABC ‘guru’ Swan after money to turn spin doctor

A company co-founded by prominent ABC health broadcaster Norman Swan, the No 1 public critic of Scott Morrison’s coronavirus strategy, was bidding to win the contract for a government-funded media campaign to educate GPs across the country on COVID-19, reports The Australian’s Brad Norrington.

Dr Swan is executive director and co-founder of Tonic Health Media, a private company that unsuccessfully pitched last month for work funded by the federal government to produce educational videos about coronavirus for GPs.

Dr Swan confirmed that Tonic had sought the government contract to educate GPs on corona­virus “a few weeks ago” during discussions with Universal McCann, the media booking agency that negotiates contracts on the government’s behalf for public ­information and advertising campaigns. But he said he did not know that Tonic was unsuccessful in winning the work until contacted by The Weekend Australian, and then checking with Tonic’s sales manager.

An ABC spokesman told The Weekend Australian that Dr Swan’s involvement with Tonic was governed by the terms of his contract with the ABC and its editorial policies: “Norman is a highly experienced ABC journalist and health professional who offers informed insights and analysis as part of the ABC’s coverage of COVID-19, and is highly regarded and respected for his commitment to independence and integrity.”

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Craig Hutchison seeking cash injection to survive coronavirus crisis

The AFL and the NRL testing positive for the coronavirus has left SEN head honcho Craig Hutchison puffing on a ventilator, reports News Corp’s Alice Coster.

Hutchison desperately needs a cash injection to survive and hopes a white knight may step up.

Don’t worry he has a few with deep pockets on hand.

The former sports presenter is the chief executive of Pacific Star Network, the parent company of the SEN radio network and Crocmedia.

Yesterday, the Pacific Star Network, which is listed as PNW, applied to extend its trading halt for a third time, by another two weeks, until May 1.

In a letter to the ASX, Hutchison’s company said: “PNW is expecting formal approval on funding from its financiers during that period.

“PNW is also continuing discussions with clients on forward bookings and suppliers, landlords and other stakeholders about their arrangements with PNW.”

The likeable former host of The Footy Show had made the transition from sports anchor to high-flying businessman only to become another victim of the COVID-19 virus.

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Hutchy and his SEN Saturday morning Off The Bench co-host Liam Pickering referred to the Herald Sun story on their show, objecting mainly to the description of the media chief as “likeable”.

Listen to the podcast here.

Facebook, Google ordered to pay media for publishing news

Facebook and Google will be forced to pay Australian media companies for publishing their news stories, under a world-first mandatory code of conduct, after negotiations with the two global digital giants failed, reports The AFR’s Max Mason.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher ordered the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to draw up a mandatory code of conduct to correct the imbalance of bargaining power between local media companies and global technology platforms.

This follows complaints from local media companies that Facebook and Google did not genuinely engage in negotiations over a voluntary code.

The government was motivated to act by the collapse in advertising caused by the coronavirus-induced economic downturn, which put further pressure on the viability of media companies.

The new code being drawn up by the competition watchdog, headed by Rod Sims, will include enforcement, penalties and ways to sort out arguments between the global platforms and local media companies.

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Domain to wield axe: Staff to vote on COVID-19 survival strategy

The Australian has obtained a document sent to staff of the Nine Entertainment controlled Domain following a virtual meeting with management last week outlining three options for the company to cope with the dramatic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, with a vote on the plan as early Monday, reports Leo Shanahan.

“Plan A” presented to staff involves reducing hours by 20 per cent, with the reduction in pay transferred to share rights.

“Plan B” put to staff was to reduce all staff pay by 20 per cent and no share right issue.

“Plan C” – seemingly the least attractive – would be staff stand-downs, which The Australian understands would involve suspensions or redundancies of up to 30 per cent of staff.

As part of the preferred Plan A package, the board of directors – which includes Nine chief executive Hugh Marks – will take a 50 per cent pay cut, and the executive leadership team will take a 30 per cent cut. Staff earning more than $180,000 will take a 25 per cent cut and staff earning between $65,000 and $180,000 will take a 20 per cent cut.

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Pacific takeover puts Bauer titles under pressure

Bauer Media is planning to meet the new deadline for its acquisition of Seven West Media’s magazine arm but immense financial pressure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could cause further redundancies and temporary suspension of magazine titles, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios.

Sources familiar with discussions said Bauer is now considering about 100 redundancies and temporary suspension of print magazines including Harper’s Bazaar and Elle. The redundancies are expected to take place in the commercial side of the business and are in addition to the previously announced cuts planned to occur as part of the acquisition.

Bauer sources said all decisions on the transaction are being led by headquarters in Germany – the same executives who led the shock decision two weeks ago to shut Bauer Media’s New Zealand operation. The company’s German headquarters have to provide the local division with the money it needs to complete the deal.

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Free TV Australia takes over management of Freeview after review

Freeview Australia has announced a renewed focus on its product suite to ensure all Australians can easily search and discover the best free-to-air content in one place.

Freeview chair, Helen Clifton, described the move as a great boost for viewers, especially as they spend more time at home to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“Given diversified viewing habits, the board of Freeview began a detailed review in the months before the pandemic and that work has since accelerated to redefine the role of Freeview so that it gives viewers an easy, convenient and aggregated way to discover and experience all our great content – and all for free.”

As part of the review, it has been agreed that Free TV Australia will provide management oversight of Freeview through Free TV CEO, Bridget Fair and finance director, Camryn Turner.

“I look forward to working with Helen and the Freeview board to help ensure that Freeview is a strong contributor to the range of free-to-air broadcast and digital services,” Fair said.

Findings from the Freeview review include a sharper focus on the following initiatives:

An improved Freeview service with greater search and discovery on the ‘big screen’ – TV and laptops.

An enhanced Freeview website to promote the huge breadth of free-to-air content, linking viewers to content on individual broadcaster apps.

The Freeview mobile app will continue to provide a TV Guide and access to content through individual broadcaster apps.

The changes will be delivered throughout 2020.

Clifton offered her thanks on behalf of the Freeview Board to the acting Freeview CEO, Julie Flynn, who has guided the board’s considerations. Flynn will work with Free TV to transition to the new management structure.

New Brands

Mel Mansell readies News Corp’s AAP replacement for June launch

News Corp Australia’s newswire service is aiming to be ready to launch by the end of June and is casting the net for staff in most major capitals as well as an editor-in-chief to head up the ambitious enterprise following the company’s decision to pull out as a shareholder of AAP, reports The Australian’s Leo Shanahan.

With the likely impending closure of Australian Associate Press’ newswire service after 85 years, News Corp Australia has further detailed its plans for a newswire service to provide content to its own mastheads as well as other potential media partners.

Mel Mansell, who is heading up the project going by the working title of NCA NewsWire, said the wire service would be a “back-to-basics” operation focusing on the fundamentals of reporting.

Mansell, a former editor of The Adelaide Advertiser, told The Australian the service would provide content to other News Corp mastheads but would be independent of them. It will also aim to sell content to other media organisations in much the same manner that AAP currently does.

[Read more]

Television

Foxtel and Stan battle over HBO’s shows

Foxtel is considering partnering with a commercial free-to-air television network to shore up its bid to secure a critical $100 million content deal with US entertainment giant WarnerMedia, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios.

Television sources said the New York-based WarnerMedia, which owns HBO, has given Foxtel and rival streaming service Stan, owned by Nine Entertainment Co, until early May to formalise bids for popular shows like The Sopranos, Succession, Game of Thrones and Big Little Lies. The deal would also include Warner Bros content and a number of new programs known as HBO Max Originals that are set to run on its new streaming service HBO Max in the US.

The current HBO Max deal is worth more than $100 million a year, according to those familiar with its value. If the company gets a big enough offer by deadline, media sources have said HBO is likely to accept.

Foxtel currently has the exclusive first-run rights to air HBO content in Australia for the next two year.

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Karl on leaving Today and having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Nine’s Karl Stefanovic talks to News Corp’s Angela Mollard, in a cover story for Stellar magazine, about Nine executives announcing he was being dumped from Today:

On reflection, he says, “I never really stopped and went, ‘Oh sh*t, I’ve just been taken off the show.’ I just thought it was going to be a break. But I had, 100 per cent, been taken off forever. I was in denial. I don’t think it dawned until a few months afterwards when I thought to myself, ‘Oh, maybe I should start thinking about what I’m going to do now.’”

With hindsight, Stefanovic can see he wasn’t coping. There were flare-ups at paparazzi; he became anxious to leave his home. He eventually saw a psychologist who diagnosed him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“I remember him saying, ‘You tick all the boxes, my friend.’ I could have kept going, but you don’t know how long you can go until you break. I don’t know of too many people in Australia who had that extent of scrutiny for so long. This guy raised some points and mental notes and strategies. Once I started to get knowledge of my own behaviours, I started getting more control.”

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Busy Sonia Kruger on returning to Seven and outlook for Big Brother

Sonia Kruger is confident the Seven Network’s gamble to bring back reality television show Big Brother will pay off following a major overhaul of its format, which pits housemates against each other much like Survivor, reports The Australian’s Lilly Vitorovich.

Kruger, who returned to Seven’s talent roster last November after eight years at staunch rival Nine Network, says the show is the “big daddy” of reality TV, supercharged with the latest technology and “epic kind-of nomination challenges”.

Kruger said it was an easy decision to return to Seven, which was “really part of my DNA”, having worked there for 15 years before moving to Nine to host its morning program, Today Show Extra. Plus, her husband, Craig McPherson, is Seven’s director of news and public affairs.

“You don’t get opportunities like the ones that were being offered to me by Seven very often. I did enjoy my time at Channel 9 but the contract renewal was really to keep doing what I had been doing for the last eight years, and I just felt like I needed to change things up,” she said.

On signing, Seven announced Kruger would be a judge on Australia’s Got Talent: The Champions, host of Mega Mini Golf, which has since been renamed Holey Moley, and part of Seven’s broadcast team for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

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Australian director Shannon Murphy on Killing Eve

It’s not just the drop-dead fashion choices of assassin-for-hire Villanelle (Jodie Comer) that make Killing Eve such compulsive viewing, says director Shannon Murphy, reports The Age’s Karl Quinn.

“It’s tonally unique, out of the box and bonkers, and the reason it’s so bold is because the people behind it are bold, they take risks,” says the on-the-up Australian who directed two episodes in the show’s third season, which begins on ABC on Sunday.

Murphy, who is spending lockdown at her parents’ place on the Gold Coast, shot episodes five and six in October and November last year, but has only just put the final touches on them. And given the current state of the industry – virtually all scripted film and television production in Australia, the UK and Hollywood is in shutdown – she knows how lucky she is.

“We just slipped through,” she says. “It was all finished just three or four days ago. It’s amazing, really.”

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Playing Nicola Gobbo in Lawyer X opportunity of a lifetime

When Ella Scott Lynch’s father heard the Underbelly producers were writing a miniseries on Lawyer X Nicola Gobbo, he rang her up to tell her she would be perfect for the role.

Scott Lynch, whose credits include Love Child, Brock and Upright, had previously performed as Chopper Read’s wife in Underbelly Files: Chopper. But being Sydney-based she knew little about Melbourne’s gangland history when she sent off an audition tape to producers.

“I just read the scene and thought, ‘Wow this is going to be an incredible character.’ It’s an unusual opportunity because we know very little about the character personally. So it left a lot up to us creatively, to try and understand what motivated the character,” she tells TV Tonight.

She got the role, playing barrister-turned police informer Nicola Gobbo, code named Informer 3838. It was a demanding schedule, filmed with little network fanfare late last year.

“The workload was immense, and it was a short shoot, relatively speaking, shooting four hours of television in just over five weeks.

“You run the gamut of emotions in something like this, so it was a very physical shoot as well.”

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Sports Media

If it survives the pain of Fox Sports split, A-League could blossom

If staying in an unhealthy marriage is worse than divorce, optimists might view the impending break-up of Fox Sports and the FFA as a good step. At least for the long term. And only if the game can survive the immediate hardship caused by a painful separation, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Dominic Bossi.

With the competition suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the broadcaster withheld its final quarterly payment for FFA due this week despite senior A-League sources claiming Foxtel, the parent company of Fox Sports, had little legal justification to do so. While those technicalities will be solved by lawyers, what’s clear is the 15-year relationship between Fox Sports and FFA appears to have fractured beyond repair.

According to sources at those bigger A-League clubs, broadcast revenue is becoming a secondary issue. What they need more than cash is exposure, and pay TV isn’t providing it.

When FFA took its TV rights to the market in 2016, it attracted interest from free-to-air partners, namely Nine, the publisher of this masthead. However, Nine couldn’t match Foxtel’s offer and FFA opted for money over eyeballs when it agreed to a six-year, $57 million a year deal with Fox Sports. That amount appears to overvalue the product as interest in the A-League has dwindled, compounded by Foxtel’s woes.

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