Mediaweek Roundup: Seven West Media, HT&E, Horse Racing, AFL + more

James Warburton

• newsagencies, Paul and Marion Makin, Mint Condition, The Reset Collective, and AFL

Business of Media

Seven West Media axes 50 sales staff in cost cutting effort

Seven West Media has taken the axe to its sales team, with as many as 50 staff made redundant this week as the Kerry Stokes-controlled media company slashes costs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, reports The AFR’s Max Mason.

Sources told The Australian Financial Review the changes to the Seven sales team nationally were made on Wednesday. Seven declined to comment.

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HT&E says radio audience up amid COVID-19 at virtual AGM

Chairman Hamish McLennan said HT&E now has one of the strongest balance sheets in Australian media. “While some businesses are struggling with their capital structures, your company had $111 million net cash at the end of 2019, no undrawn debt and a radio business generating strong cash conversion,” he told a virtual annual general meeting on Thursday, reports The AFR’s Max Mason.

In a trading update at its AGM, HT&E said its share gains in the metro ad market mitigated some of the poor overall market conditions in the first quarter. Its Australian Radio Network saw revenue fall 7.2 per cent, while the wider metro market slipped 12.4 per cent.

HT&E said second-quarter bookings were hurt by the pandemic, with April revenue declines of 40 per cent at ARN. However, it noted the high level of cancellations in the weeks following government lockdown restrictions had abated. It said forward bookings for May were in line with April.

HT&E also said it had been successful in applying for the government’s JobKeeper package, which requires businesses to pass the test of a 30 per cent fall in turnover if they have less than $1 billion in overall revenue. HT&E had $252.7 million in revenue in 2019.

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Winners & losers as COVID-19 impacts newsagency sales across Australia

While some retail newsagencies report 40% and more growth in revenue in April 2020 compared to April 2019, others report 60% and more decline, reports Australian Newsagency Blog.

Such is the gap in the experience of Australian newsagency businesses in this COVID-19 impacted world.

Looking at comprehensive sales data from 139 newsagencies the results are stunning in that never before in 20 years of benchmark analysis have I seen such a gap in business performance, writes blogger and newsagent Mark Fletcher.

The gap in performance has a fresh subtlety too. Whereas in previous studies, geography was the key factor, now, in this COVID-19 world, situation is the key. High street retailers, retailers outside of shopping centres, are faring much better.

Core products:

Newspapers. Over the counter unit sales. City high street: +6%; City mall: -55%; Regional high street: +11%; Regional mall: -31%. NOTE: the gap in the city high street cohort is considerable, making the average somewhat meaningless. For example, one city high street business reports a decline of 17% while another in the same state reports an increase of 15%.

Magazines. City high street: +21%; City mall: -32%; Regional high street: +23%; Regional mall: -7%. NOTE: Within magazines, crosswords, calming titles and escape type titles have done well. Even the dubious content filled weeklies have performed well.

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Radio

Former Today Tonight host told his radio station in breach of licence

Regional Queensland radio station FAB FM holds a licence to provide an ‘open narrowcasting service’. Under law, open narrowcasting services must be limited in some way, such as targeting special interest groups, or by providing programmes of limited appeal.

An ACMA investigation found FAB FM was broadcasting some content to a special interest group, being tourists visiting the Port Douglas region, however the proportion of material targeted at this group was low. The majority of content was targeted at a wide audience, being residents of the Douglas Shire.

The radio station directors are Paul and Marion Makin. Paul is a former host of Today Tonight in Adelaide who also has a long radio career ranging from 2UE and 2GB to Fiveaa.

Paul and Marion Makin purchased the licences and started broadcasting throughout the Douglas Shire on Anzac Day 2018 from their studio in Adelaide SA. In November 2018 they relocated to Port Douglas to live and started broadcasting from their new studio situated at the historic Bally Hooley Railway Station at the Marina.

Of the FAB FM broadcasts reviewed by the ACMA, less than 10 per cent of automated programming provided tourist information. Of its four live-hosted programs, no more than 17 per cent of time was devoted to tourism information.

ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said radio broadcasters must ensure they operate within the terms of their licences or licensing arrangements.

“After a thorough investigation, we found that FAB FM is not providing open narrowcasting in accordance with its licence,” O’Loughlin said.

“Licensees must comply with their licence conditions at all times. There are serious consequences for not doing so, including criminal proceedings and suspension or cancellation of the licence.”

The ACMA has accepted a court enforceable undertaking made by FAB FM to take actions to comply with its licence conditions and be monitored by the ACMA for the next two years.

Television

Mint Condition is the Australian TV series you can binge in an hour

When does 11 minutes feel like half an hour? asks News Corp’s Kathy McCabe.

Even actor Sibylla Budd was shocked at how much drama her new short form series Mint Condition packs into each of its five episodes.

Budd stars with Bernard Curry, Gary Sweet, Grace Champion and Damien Richardson in the series about fortysomething mum Audrey who opens a record store and coffee shop with her teen daughter after her marriage breakdown.

Shot in about 10 days in Melbourne late last year, the series is soundtracked by local indie musicians including Mick Thomas, Jade Imagine, Charles Jenkins and Kylie Auldist and will likely draw comparisons to cult film High Fidelity.

Locations included Oh Jean Records in Fitzroy, Bakehouse Studios, Red Betty Bar in Brunswick, and PBS FM in Collingwood.

Short form series are enjoying their moment online and via streaming services.

YouTube has been an incubation lab for the format, with comedy proving an adaptable genre for bite-sized shows.

Mint Condition, by independent production house Boilermaker, is fast-paced and immediately engaging about dealing with teenagers (Champion), ex-husbands (Sweet) and ex-rock stars like Vince (Curry). You can watch the entire series in an hour.

Budd’s indie music fangirl character also allows the series to showcase 23 songs from 14 artists across the five episodes, a bonus for the musicians who can’t play live in the pandemic shutdown.

You can watch via mintconditiontv.com

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New content company launches in Sydney – The Reset Collective

A new content company will focus on acquisitions and distribution, with plans for Film & TV development and production, reports TV Tonight.

The Reset Collective has been formed from Cornerstone Films (UK / US), Genesius Pictures (UK) and distribution executive Lisa Garner (Warner Bros Home Entertainment, Icon, Rialto Distribution).

The group will be based out of Sydney with a further presence through its UK and LA based principals and is fully financed by London-based Genesius Pictures.

The production arm will prioritise emerging Australian filmmakers and digital platforms looking to develop international content.

Mark Gooder and Alison Thompson said, “We have been looking for unique opportunities to expand on the success of Cornerstone Films since we launched five years ago. Australia has always been a key territory for us both personally and commercially. Challenging times often reveal unseen opportunities and we are excited to be part of this new adventure at a critical moment in the content business.”

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Sports Media

Pandemic brings broadcasting peace to racing via Seven Network

COVID-19 has achieved what was previously thought to be impossible in racing, bringing at least temporary peace between NSW and Victorian authorities, reports The Australian’s John Stensholt.

Tabcorp will help fund Sydney and Brisbane races from its Sky Racing network onto the Seven Network’s main free-to-air channel on Saturday, where it will be calibrated with Melbourne and Adelaide races shown by rival Racing.com.

The move brings all the main races onto the one network outside of major events for the first time since the heady days of TVN, the ill-fated Thoroughbred Vision Network, which aggregated NSW and Victorian racing vision until an ugly dispute led to its collapse in 2015.

Racing.com, a joint venture between Seven and Victorian racing bodies, telecasts Victorian and South Australian racing and Tabcorp’s Sky shows most other jurisdictions, while Seven had free-to-air rights for important Saturday meets around the country throughout the year and Network Ten pays $20m annually for the Melbourne Cup carnival. Various bookmakers also have streaming deals.

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Seven to call AFL games from remote bunker to adhere to social distancing

Channel 7 commentators will call this year’s rebooted AFL season from a hi-tech remote bunker rather than from the ground venues in order to adhere to strict COVID-19 protocols, reports News Corp’s Glenn McFarlane.

It comes as the network’s Melbourne managing director Lewis Martin said the station was logistically “ready to go” as soon as the medical experts and the government provide the AFL with the green light to resume the 2020 season.

That is likely to happen in mid-June.

“The guys (callers) will be calling from a very hi-tech centre with multiple angles and statistics and with probably more facilities (than at the ground),” Martin told the Herald Sun.

“Obviously, we would always prefer to be there (at the ground), but in this environment, it is not meant to be.

“We don’t think the audience will notice too much of a difference.”

Martin confirmed the network was looking to incorporate crowd noise recordings to the broadcast, but stressed it wouldn’t be overbearing.

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