Mediaweek Roundup: Seven Studios, Between Two Worlds, Karl Stefanovic, NRL + more

TV revenue, Podcasting, Seven West Media, News Corp, Discovery, Between Two Worlds, and Nicole Kidman

Business of Media

TV revenue cut by a third despite more people watching

Commercial television revenue slumped over 30 per cent in the second quarter of the year as advertisers spooked by low consumer confidence and a weak economy pulled back on spending, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios.

Unaudited internal commercial revenue data, obtained by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, shows the extent of the revenue lost by the broadcasters during the coronavirus pandemic despite posting strong audience growth on the back of AFL and NRL matches and shows like MasterChef Australia, Big Brother and The Voice.

Kerry Stokes‘ Seven West Media suffered the biggest decline in revenue for the three months to June 30 – down about 38 per cent – while Nine Entertainment Co (publisher of this masthead) and Network 10 also experienced double digit declines.

The three broadcasters booked a combined $465 million in advertising revenue over the last three months, a fall of 33 per cent from the $694 million made the same time last year. By comparison, advertising revenue fell by 8 per cent for the three months to March. The unaudited figures are subject to change and the official numbers are due to be released by industry body Think TV in a couple of weeks.

While the last few months have been difficult, the market is showing slow signs of recovery.

Seven’s chief revenue officer Kurt Burnette said he was pleased to see the rate of decline improving. “We are seeing further signs of that continual improvement into the current quarter. This clearly shows the resilience and effectiveness of TV and BVOD as key mediums advertisers return to for their messages,” Burnette said.

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Harder than it looks: How to make money from podcasts

Podcasting can give brands access to a younger and more affluent audience, but despite the format being more than 15 years old, making money and turning it into a sustainable business on its own is still in its infancy, reports The AFR’s Natasha Gillezeau.

Australian Radio Network’s head of commercial audio and podcasts Corey Layton says podcasting was still in the relatively nascent stages of building out a sophisticated commercial architecture to underpin the industry, for example, with the availability of solid independent data and research.

Layton said podcasts are heavily weighted towards a highly educated audience.

Layton’s approach to pushing podcasting into the mainstream involves two key strategies: posting video ads and podcast content via social media channels where new content types are more intrinsically discoverable than on apps like Apple Podcasts and Spotify; and using ARN’s commercial radio stations, including KIIS FM and Pure Gold, to direct traditional radio listeners to new podcasts.

Shameless Media co-founders Zara McDonald and Michelle Andrews – who host four separate podcasts – have been able to get brands such as Nissan, Maybelline and ANZ to advertise on their shows.

The pair approached female-founded relationship app Bumble last year with a cold pitch sent out to a series of guessed email addresses, and were promptly commissioned to produce their sex and relationship podcast Love Etc, which has been downloaded 1.3 million times and is now in its second season.

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Banijay to look at Seven Studios as broadcaster restructures

French production giant Banijay is expected to run the rule over Seven West Media’s studio business, along with Britain’s ITV and US giant NBCUniversal, when the Kerry Stokes-controlled media business soon reignites the sale process, reports The AFR’s Max Mason.

Banijay Group, which recently completed a $US2.2 billion ($3.2 billion) acquisition of Endemol Shine Group, is believed to have had a look at Seven Studios earlier this year when investment bank Morgan Stanley began a sale process. Its interest has previously been unreported.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic led to Seven taking its foot off the gas on the sale. Production schedules around the world were thrown into chaos amid the spread of coronavirus, with many shoots forced to shutdown due to government imposed restrictions on movement. Shooting has been steadily coming back, including Seven Studios’ Home & Away.

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Seven West newspaper spin-off in the spotlight

The idea that Kerry Stokes could privatise Seven West Media’s newspaper division was doing the rounds long before the arrival of former Fairfax Media boss Greg Hywood as a consultant. Now, speculation about his plans are more rampant than ever, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios.

Hywood’s appointment was part of ‘broader transformation’ efforts, according to Seven, however the company has largely remained silent on what specifically it expects from his work. If Warburton’s track record to date is anything to go by, a spin-off from the television-focussed mothership is a definite possibility.

Privatising WAN would let Stokes keep a stake in the media industry that he wants to be a part of. And without a newspaper division, Seven becomes an even more enticing proposition for a buyer.

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News Brands

News Corp’s Sydney community newspapers return to print

News Corp Australia will resume printing three community newspapers in Sydney this week after strong demand from readers and advertisers, reports The Australian’s Lilly Vitorovich.

The Wentworth Courier will return on Wednesday, and The Mosman Daily and North Shore Times the following day in the wake of the NSW government’s easing of coronavirus restrictions.

News Corp Australia general manager of real estate Clare Starling says the titles, which have been online-only since April, reach 85 per cent of households in Sydney’s affluent eastern and northern suburbs.

The return of the print editions of the three community newspapers comes as News Corp looks to launch 15 digital-only local mastheads by the end of September as part of plans to launch more than 50 during the next three years.

News Corp recently shifted 76 of its community and regional newspapers, with 375 journalists, to digital-only titles as part of its publishing restructuring plan announced in May.

Tim McIntyre, the editor of the three community newspapers, said the real estate markets in Sydney’s north and east had been “very resilient”, which had been an important part of the group’s decision to bring back the mastheads.

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ABC News channel flags ‘on demand’ future after a decade on-air

Whether it’s covering international conflicts or transforming the national broadcaster, ABC News director Gaven Morris isn’t one to shy away from a challenge, reports The Age’s Broede Carmody.

The ABC News channel plays a significant role in Australia’s broadcast mix. Its breakfast program, which airs on ABC’s main channel as well as its news channel, draws a combined audience that sometimes exceeds that of commercial rival Today.

The ABC says its 24-hour news channel is reaching an average 4.2 million Australians on any given week this year, a 37 per cent increase compared to 2019.

“[ABC News] has taught all of our teams to get out of that deadline mentality of scheduled broadcast news,” Morris says. “It taught us to think about the audience’s needs. I think the launch changed the commercials’ approach to news as well.

“Back then, the commercials wouldn’t have gone three to four hours on a significant event. They didn’t have as many news bulletins. And so we met them at breakfast but equally [they] rose to the challenge of doing more live news events.”

Now, Morris is preparing the public broadcaster for another seismic shift in the way it operates – all while juggling a smaller budget, job losses and calls for greater diversity. At least 70 jobs are expected to go in the ABC’s news division in the coming weeks.

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Television

Discovery ramps up production, taps Irwin family for life in bubble

Discovery has ramped up production of documentaries and filmed a special about the Irwin family, thanks to the creation of a “production bubble” at the start of the coronavirus crisis, which has halted other filming projects, reports The Australian’s Lilly Vitorovich.

The US-based media group’s local boss, Rebecca Kent, says the company has been “very fortunate” that it has been able to continue to film programs in remote locations, such as Coober Pedy in South Australia and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, during the coronavirus crisis.

It has also taken advantage of the unusual COVID-19 situation by filming a special program about the Irwin family, called Crikey! It’s The Irwins: Life in Lockdown.

Kent has also been busy expanding Discovery’s local presence, most recently by striking a joint venture with Nine Entertainment to set up a new free-to-air TV channel called 9Rush in March. It is Discovery’s first foray on local free-to-air TV.

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Hermione Norris travelled across the world for role in new drama

She’s one of Britain’s best known – and most respected – actors, famous for her roles in some of that country’s biggest drama series. So it comes as something of a surprise to see Hermione Norris, who starred as Karen Marsden in Cold Feet and who also appeared in the most recent series of Luther alongside Idris Elba, pop up in an Australian drama created by the same man responsible for A Place to Call Home, Packed To The Rafters, Winners and Losers and All Saints, reports Clare Rigden in Nine newspapers.

Yet there she is, front and centre in Seven’s new drama, Between Two Worlds, from creator Bevan Lee. The series, set in Sydney, focuses on the goings on of an unfathomably rich family, and is chock full of characters that can only be described as, well, pretty reprehensible.

For Norris, that was entirely the appeal.

Phillip Quast (who plays Norris’ tycoon husband in the series) and I, we delighted at the insanity and hilarity of those people, and the way they were these vile, disgusting characters,” says Norris. “(My character, Kate) is complex and conflicted, and that is always interesting as an actor. She really is trapped in a web of her own secrets and lies – and love.”

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Karl Stefanovic hires publicist Adriana Glass to join his team

Two months after announcing he had a new agent, Karl Stefanovic has brought a publicist into his team, reports News Corp’s Briana Domjen.

Sunday Confidential reports Stefanovic will use the services of well-known Sydney fashion PR Adriana Glass.

Glass has just been enlisted by Stefanovic’s new agent, Mark Morrissey, to oversee the publicity for a number of his clients.

Glass, who looks after the PR for Stefanovic’s wife Jasmine’s shoe brand Mara & Mine, has worked with a number of big fashion brands, including Alice McCall and Ellery, and a number of high-profile international brand ambassadors, including Kim Kardashian West, Gigi Hadid and Justin Bieber.

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Nicole Kidman brings $100m production of Moriarty miniseries to NSW

Oscar-winning actor Nicole Kidman is leading the revival of Australia’s screen production business by bringing a $100 million blockbuster production and hundreds of new jobs home to NSW, report News Corp’s Linda Silmalis and David Meddows.

Kidman, who will also star in the much-anticipated screen adaptation of Sydney author Liane Moriarty’s bestseller Nine Perfect Strangers, won permission from the state and federal governments to bring in international and interstate cast and crew under strict COVID-19 guidelines.

Police will supervise an isolated production hub at Kidman’s Southern Highlands property to allow pre-production to proceed as the team quarantines.

Kidman, husband Keith Urban, and children Sunday and Faith, as well as cast and crew members, will serve a 14-day quarantine under strict government guidelines in a fully-contained facility, with Kidman and her co-producers to pay all medical and security costs.

The series, to be produced in Byron Bay by Kidman’s Blossom Films and Bruna Papandrea’s Made Up Stories, in conjunction with Endeavor Content and the US streaming company Hulu, will also star actors Luke Evans and Melissa McCarthy, and Australians Asher Keddie and Samara Weaving.

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Sports Media

Sale of the century: NRL in talks about potential $1 billion equity deal

The NRL has begun due diligence on a bid by private investors to take a stake in the NRL that could bring between $500 million and $1 billion into the game, reports Adrian Proszenko.

The Sun-Herald reveals Melbourne Storm chairman Matt Tripp is helping to facilitate a private-equity bid involving Oakwell Sports Advisory. The London-based firm has brokered a number of mammoth sporting deals globally – such as CVC Capital Partners’ purchase of a stake in the UK rugby premiership and Top 14 competition – and now has investors eyeing off a piece of the NRL.

Oakwell’s initial valuation of the NRL is $3 billion, meaning a stake of 20 per cent would cost about $600 million. However, the parties agree the $3 billion figure is on the high side and more work will be done to determine its true worth. Regardless, sources with knowledge of the negotiations suggest that investment interest could reach the $1 billion mark, depending on the size of the stake available.

Any deal would be contingent on the support of at least 12 of the 16 clubs, the NSWRL and QRL, as well as the ARL Commission.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo confirmed the talks with Oakwell and said the dialogue will continue as part of broader considerations to future proof rugby league.

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