Mediaweek Roundup: Seven, Prime, David Speers, Rugby Union + more

Sunrise, The Project, Leigh Sales, Wall Street Journal, The Feed, Andrew Bolt, Plate of Origin, Asha Dahya, Friends, and Optus

Business of Media

Seven West Media approaches Nine about TX Australia sale

Seven West Media has approached Nine about a potential sale of a joint venture that owns the broadcast towers for free-to-air television as the Kerry Stokes-controlled company explores asset sales to reduce its debt, reports The AFR’s Max Mason.

Sources told The Australian Financial Review that Seven had met with Nine to discuss potentially selling TX Australia, a business founded in 1999 which held the broadcasting transmission towers for the three commercial metropolitan free-to-air networks.

TX Australia has 67 sites across the country and its infrastructure providers broadcast in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. It’s believed a sale would require approval from both shareholders.

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Seven West Media studios business looked at by ITV

British media group ITV Studios are in talks with Seven West Media about buying the in-house production business that makes Home and Away and My Kitchen Rules, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios.

In a further sign that local content will be controlled by global players, ITV Studios, which produces shows including Love Island, Saturday Night Takeaway and The Graham Norton Show, have been in discussions with the media company about acquiring Seven Studios for several months, according to television sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Sources said international entertainment giants Disney and Comcast’s NBC Universal are also in discussions with the media company.

Seven Studios is led by Therese Hegarty and has a number of international divisions, including Seven Studios UK and 7Beyond in the US. The operation creates local content for the television network, but also has deals with international streaming services.

UBS analyst Eric Choi valued Seven West Media’s studio assets at about $400 million.

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Boardroom off limits for big Prime Media Group shareholders

Some of the biggest names in the industry will have to fight for control of Prime Media Group outside the boardroom, with the regional broadcaster unlikely to let them nominate their own directors, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios.

Regional media proprietor Antony Catalano and business partner Alex Waislitz will not have representation on the board despite expressing an interest as they increased their stake in Prime to 14.6 per cent and blocked a merger between the regional broadcaster and Seven West Media late last year.

Seven chief executive James Warburton told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age last week his company had no desire to be on the board nor does he plan to make another bid for the group.

“We have an affiliation agreement. We don’t want it and Bruce and the Cat can’t have it,” Warburton said. “With Prime, we are being patient. It’s not on the agenda over the next six to 12 months from a day to day perspective.”

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News Brands

Barnaby Joyce and Joel Fitzgibbon take over Sunrise

It’s the TV slot that famously catapulted Kevin Rudd and Joe Hockey into the national spotlight. Now Barnaby Joyce and Joel Fitzgibbon are locked in as the new permanent occupants of Sunrise’s Monday morning political debate segment, just before the 7am news, reports The Australian’s Nick Tabakoff.

Before the Barnaby and Joel show came to Sunrise, the slot’s most recent occupants were Pauline Hanson and Derryn Hinch.

But Hanson, of course, defected to the lower-rating Today after her spectacular on-air blow-up at David Koch nearly a year ago, in the wake of the Christchurch mosque massacres.

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David Speers ensures Insiders still compulsory Sunday viewing

He is the best ABC hiring I can remember: David Speers is a month into hosting what has become the most important political program at the national broadcaster, writes The Australian’s Chris Mitchell.

Speers is the best possible successor to Barrie Cassidy. While many on Twitter hated the idea of being hosted by the former political editor of Sky News, those who have watched him since he joined subscription television know he is scrupulously fair and the best political interviewer in the post-Laurie Oakes era. Having lost Speers’s only real rival – Chris Uhlmann, to Nine to succeed Oakes – Speers was the ABC’s only choice.

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Green-left Project gets it wrong on German power

No television program is more relentlessly woke, driven by feelpinions and committed to fake news than Channel 10’s The Project, writes Chris Kenny in The Australian.

In recent months it has campaigned strongly against Scott Morrison and has been caught out misrepresenting an exchange between the Prime Minister and a bushfire volunteer, hiding the Greens campaigning credentials of another Morrison bushfire critic and portraying an abusive Morrison bushfire critic as a martyr who had been dumped by the NSW Rural Fire Service when, in fact, he had not been.

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ABC’s Leigh Sales getting tougher on evasive politicians

The ABC’s Leigh Sales has finally had enough. A decade of interviewing evasive politicians will do that to you, reports The Australian’s Nick Tabakoff.

In recent weeks, political pundits have spotted what looks like a noticeably harder edge in Sales’s attitude to pollies. The ABC 7.30 host has lost patience with any she sees as ducking questions or avoiding the show altogether.

Tabakoff asked Sales: what has prompted the tough mindset?

“I’ve been doing 7.30 for nearly 10 years, and I know that the audience absolutely hates it when people either come on the show and don’t answer difficult questions, or don’t front up at all,” she says.

“I think you owe it to the audience to make it clear that you’ve invited these people on, and you’re doing your best to work on behalf of the taxpayer to find out how the politicians are spending taxpayer dollars.”

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Tiny show that punches above its weight: The Feed goes big

After seven years as the flagship program on SBS’s secondary Viceland channel, current affairs and satire show The Feed is graduating to the main channel, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Robert Moran.

After almost 600 episodes, the award-winning show will form part of the channel’s Tuesday night news and current affairs line-up. For host Marc Fennell, it’s a vote of confidence from management at the broadcaster.

“There’s a loyal broadcast audience for The Feed which has more or less stayed stable over the years, but digital numbers for the show have skyrocketed,” Fennell said.

On social media, current affairs segments from The Feed regularly reach hundreds of thousands of viewers. Satire segments that have gone viral have been watched by millions of people. The reach of those segments are then amplified again by SBS On Demand, the broadcaster’s digital platform.

It’s also a grab at turning Tuesday night into “destination TV” for SBS. Airing at 10pm, The Feed will follow veteran current affairs programs Insight at 8.30pm and Dateline at 9.30pm.

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Tensions rise at Wall Street Journal over ‘Sick Man’ China headline

More than four dozen journalists at The Wall Street Journal challenged their bosses and criticised the newspaper’s opinion side in a letter that was sent to top executives on Thursday, the day after China announced that it would expel three Journal staff members in retaliation for a headline that offended the country’s leaders, reports The New York Times.

In all, 53 reporters and editors signed the letter. They criticised the newspaper’s response to the fallout from the headline, “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia,” that went with a Feb. 3 opinion essay by Walter Russell Mead, a Journal columnist, on economic repercussions of the coronavirus outbreak.

The letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times, urged the newspaper’s leaders “to consider correcting the headline and apologising to our readers, sources, colleagues and anyone else who was offended by it.”

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Hadley on Bolt: Shock jock says columnist ‘soft on paedophiles’

Top-rating broadcaster Ray Hadley has accused fellow right-wing commentator Andrew Bolt of being “soft on paedophiles” in an extraordinary blast on his 2GB morning show, reports Guardian Australia’s Amanda Meade.

Hadley took aim at Bolt for his widely condemned comments about ABC Four Corners and St Kevin’s victim Paris Street on the Bolt Report.

After Street wrote an open letter to Bolt saying his comments made him sick, the News Corp journalist apologised on Sky News for upsetting him, saying he regretted using the phrase “hit on”.

On Friday’s show Hadley said Bolt’s claim that Street wasn’t sexually assaulted but was “hit on” was “demeaning, insulting and beyond the pale”.

“You do a lot of good in the community, but, by crikey, when it comes to paedophilia you’ve got a very poor record,” Hadley said. “A very poor record. Which has compelled you to apologise to Street today.”

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Seven’s Plate of Origin project for Matt & Gary further delayed

Ex-MasterChef judges Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan have not even set foot in Seven’s production HQ in Sydney’s Redfern yet. But already their new star vehicle, Plate of Origin, (affectionately known by its unfortunate acronym POO) is in turmoil, reports The Australian’s Nick Tabakoff.

A tense in-house “heads of department” meeting early last week, attended by POO’s executive producer David Dutton and director Kate Douglas-Walker, among others. Those in the meeting concluded there was no way POO would be ready to start production in the first week of March, as planned. It is the latest of several delays to the troubled production’s start date.

Apparently, senior Seven executives have been panicked by the disastrous ratings of the network’s other big cooking show, My Kitchen Rules, up against Married at First Sight. Our spies tell us there is already a full-scale review of POO underway, with one option being to make it more like MasterChef than MKR, forcing major changes to the production schedule.

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TV presenter Asha Dahya calls for more diversity in media

Former TV presenter on Nine and Foxtel channels Asha Dahya has called for more diversity on Australian TV screens, reports News Corp’s Mibenge Nsenduluka.

The former Music Jungle co-host told Confidential that little has changed on TV screens since she left Australia for Hollywood more than 10 years ago and that TV bosses are out of touch with consumers.

“It wasn’t until I moved to the US in 2008 and realised how much more competitive it was however, there are far more opportunities for women of colour [there],” said Dahya, who is of Indian heritage.

“It made me realise that if I stayed in Australia…I felt like I had reached my capacity as a young up and coming presenter in Australian media and every time I went back to Australia I would look at TV and I’m like ‘it’s the same people’.

“People [at the top] have just become so out of touch with day to day people, in a way I get it because they’re running a business and their careers are on the line.”

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Friends cast negotiate massive fee for one-off reunion special

As megahit Friends continues to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the six core stars and the creators of the NBC comedy from Warner Bros. TV have officially closed a deal to reunite for a one-off HBO Max special, reports The Hollywood Reporter. The special, along with the entire library of Friends, will be available in May when HBO Max officially launches.

The unscripted reunion special will feature stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer, as well as series creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that the cast, who all negotiated together, will earn more than double their former per-episode fee for the reunion and be paid between $2.5 million and $3 million for the special. The cast famously renegotiated their salaries together during the show’s original run to earn a then-historic $1 million per episode of the scripted comedy. (The cast also confirmed the news Friday with joint Instagram posts.)

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Sports Media

A second Brisbane team could be injection of rivalry the NRL needs

Foxtel boss Patrick Delany has backed plans for a second Brisbane team to create an “explosive” Broncos rivalry as a former NRL powerbroker declared expansion will happen in 2023, reports News Corp’s Peter Badel.

Delany, also the chief executive of Fox Sports, is one of the most powerful men in Australian sports broadcasting, playing a key role in the NRL’s record $1.8 billion deal which expires at the end of 2022.

Now, as ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys hatches plans for a 17th NRL team, Delany has given compelling insights on the power of expansion and why a second Brisbane team can be a coup for rugby league.

Delany’s support for a fourth Queensland team is an emphatic sign Fox Sports will head to the negotiating table later this year ready to back V’landys’ vision for another Brisbane team to rival the Broncos.

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Optus runs the rule over more European football

Optus could look to swoop on more European football rights, eyeing leagues in Germany, Italy and Spain as the local broadcasting contracts run down, reports The AFR’s Max Mason.

Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A are believed to be on Optus’ radar, with local rights held by Qatari-owned beIN Sports Australia winding down. It is believed beIN’s local Bundesliga and la Liga rights run out at the end of the 2020 season, while its Serie A rights expire at the end of the 2021 season.

Since pouncing on Australian broadcast rights to the English Premier League in 2015, Optus, under Arsenal-fan and CEO Alan Lew, has steadily built up its football offering, which now includes the FIFA World Cup, European Championships, UEFA Champions League and Europa League as well as Japan’s J-League.

In that time, the telco has built up Australia’s largest sports streaming service, Optus Sport, with 825,000 active subscribers. At its quarter results earlier in February, Optus revealed it had added 220,000 mobile customers in the three months to December 31, including 157,000 prepaid and 52,000 postpaid.

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Rugby Australia includes clause to encourage competitive bid process

Rugby Australia has inserted a protective clause into the tender documents for its broadcast rights to ensure all bidders make a serious play or risk losing out in the early stages of the process, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios.

According to people familiar with the documents, the provision has been included to allow for a fair competitive process and to ensure bidders lodge genuine bids for the rights, which include NSW and Queensland club rugby, the Super Rugby and Wallabies matches.

If one offer is a substantial percentage higher than another, that bidder can eliminate rivals by winning the process and avoiding further weeks of negotiations.

Foxtel sources have said the company still has not signed the non-disclosure agreement and therefore does not have the tender documents. But Foxtel does not need to sign an NDA to lodge a bid for the rights and any bid could be considered by Rugby Australia if it is put forward.

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