Mediaweek roundup: Stefanovic, Disney+, Fifi Box + more

Karl Stefanovic

• AAP, Jonathan Brown and Sam Pang, Coronavirus, The Living Room, ACMA, Big Bash League + Billy Brownless

Business of Media

Disney+ makes strong debut with estimated 1.2m Aust subscribers

The force appears strong with Disney as new analysis shows the US media giant has accrued 1.2 million subscribers in Australia for its streaming service, less than five months after it launched, reports The AFR’s Max Mason.

Disney+ launched in Australia on November 19 with Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian, and according to new analysis by AMPD Research, part of Media Partners Asia, is now the third largest streaming service in this country in an increasingly crowded market.

“The depth of the streaming economy is here to stay,” Media Partners Asia executive director Vivek Couto told The Australian Financial Review.

Couto said Disney+ had a strong debut, but other streaming services, including Netflix, Stan and Kayo continue to add subscribers, noting Stan had added 100,000 subscribers in the half despite losing Disney content in November and is now adding to Nine’s profits.

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Business as usual say networks as coronavirus shutters key TV market

Australia’s broadcasters say it will be business as usual despite the cancellation of one of the year’s two key international television content markets, April’s MipTV, over coronavirus fears, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Michael Idato.

Foxtel’s director of content Ross Crowley said all international events like MipTV would “be subject to scrutiny in the short term, and [content] rights trading will go online for a period until we can all meet safely again”.

10’s chief content officer Beverley McGarvey said her network would instead lean into its global relationships to monitor emerging content. “We have insights from around the world about what is going on and we have access to a pretty amazing content pipeline from the CBS and Viacom channels around the world,” she said. 10’s US parent company ViacomCBS also owns the UK’s Channel 5.

Nine’s program director Hamish Turner said the network was “regularly in contact with all producers and distributors and have representation on the ground in London who will be taking meetings over the coming weeks”.

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Broadcasters criticise ACMA report on advertising influence

Commercial free-to-air television networks have criticised a discussion paper released by the media regulator which raised concerns about the influence of advertisers in news programs, warning any changes to media rules would be problematic for journalism, report The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios and Jennifer Duke.

Industry group Free TV, which represents the interests of Nine Entertainment Co, the publisher of this masthead, Seven West Media and Network 10, in its submission says there is “no evidence” to suggest regulation is needed.

ACMA’s paper analysed 160 hours of television news and current affairs on commercial networks and 80 hours of commercial radio content in January. It found 77 per cent of participants were concerned there was a lack of disclosure of the commercial arrangements between networks and advertisers, putting pressure on the broadcasters to provide viewers with greater disclosure.

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News Brands

Australian newsrooms prepare for COVID-19 outbreak

Journalists have forever been on the frontline of global crises, from World Wars to catastrophic weather events. Now newsrooms around the world are preparing for the unprecedented challenges of delivering the news amid a potential ramp-up in the coronavirus outbreak, reports The AFR’s Max Mason.

On Sunday afternoon, there were more than 70 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia and three deaths, a relatively small number compared to other countries. But Australia’s newsrooms are building and testing contingency plans to allow them to keep the public informed during an era of misinformation across social media, while maintaining a level of safety for staff should there be a large uptick in cases in Australia.

Managing editor of The Australian Financial Review, Joanne Gray, said the health of staff is the publisher’s overriding concern.

The Australian Financial Review Business Summit will go ahead on Tuesday and Wednesday and all precautions are being taken, Gray said. The event will include the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Reserve Bank deputy governor Guy Debelle, US ambassador Arthur B. Culvahouse, and UNSW professor of global biosecurity Raina MacIntyre, a COVID-19 expert.

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Internal newswire on cards at News Corp after AAP’s demise

News Corp Australia is understood to be looking at setting up an internal newswire to produce content for its vast media operations, including newspapers, websites and Fox Sports, reports The Australian’s Lilly Vitorovich.

The plan – which is still in the early stages – comes ahead of the planned closure in June of national news agency Australian Associated Press.

The move is expected to see News Corp hire about 30 journalists, including AAP’s well regarded court reporters and some of its sports journalists. News Corp is also believed to be looking to establish an in-house centralised sub-editing team.

AAP chief executive Bruce Davidson is also examining the prospect of a business that produces horse racing content and puzzles, plus content moderation, along the lines of AAP’s sub-editing and production business Pagemasters.

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AAP subscribers in discussions over partnership as they plan for future

Australian Associated Press subscribers are holding discussions about pooling resources and forming journalism partnerships that could replace the newswire when it closes in June, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios.

AAP clients, which include Daily Mail Australia, Guardian Australia and Verizon Media, have started looking at how to fill gaps in their existing editorial teams that will be caused by the closure of AAP, according to sources familiar with discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

AAP chief executive Bruce Davidson has also confirmed he will be part of a new private business that will include AAP’s fact-checking division and parts of its editorial services arm Pagemasters.

For some of the entities, the loss of AAP content and resources could have a financial impact. With smaller editorial staff, budgets and teams restricted to certain parts of Australia, the absence of a newswire creates gaps that urgently need to be filled for the benefit of readers. But any co-operative, should it be formalised, would not run like AAP’s existing newswire, according to those involved in discussions.

News Corp and Nine are considering developing their own breaking news services.

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Production house WTFN settles with 10 over The Living Room

Network 10 has reached a settlement with The Living Room producers over the use of its name, paving the way for the show to return in 2020, reports TV Tonight.

The agreement means 10 has been able to avoid plans for a new-look lifestyle show with hosts Amanda Keller, Chris Brown, Miguel Maestre and Barry DuBois.

But in a telling sign of negotiations, producers WTFN will no longer produce the series.

WTFN said in a statement to TV Tonight, “WTFN has reached a commercial settlement with Network 10 to sell the name and trademark for The Living Room.

“WTFN is retaining its rights in the format and all international rights to the program and the format.”

WTFN CEO Daryl Talbot said “When we created The Living Room, we reinvigorated the lifestyle TV genre on Australian TV. Obviously, Australians loved the fresh approach to information about food, renovation and travel.

“We appreciate the opportunity 10 gave us to develop an original concept that has become an iconic brand.”

The deal also enables WTFN’s distribution company, FRED to sell completed episodes to networks around the world. FRED recently sold several seasons to CBS in the USA, which is expected to start airing in the next few months.”

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Is another break-up for Karl Stefanovic on the cards?

One of television’s closest partnerships could be over, with industry sources adamant Karl Stefanovicis in the process of splitting from his agent of 17 years and friend Sharon Finnigan, reports News Corp’s Briana Domjen.

While Stefanovic could not be reached for comment yesterday, Finnigan was quick to shut the talk down. “He is still with me,” the agent said.

Stefanovic is in the final year of his lucrative five-year $3-million-a-year contract with Nine.

His earning power, going forward, could be under a cloud with Nine’s Today show registering only a small ratings lift since his return to the program in January.

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Inside Jonathan Brown and Sam Pang’s bromance

Jonathan Brown says he is proud he can call himself a broadcaster having entered his fifth year of breakfast radio, reports News Corp’s Jackie Epstein.

The former footy champion started his career on Nova 100 alongside his current co-hosts Sam Pangand Chrissie Swan.

“Pang still thinks it’s funny when I refer to myself as a broadcaster, he gets a laugh out of that,’’ Brown said.

“The main thing is the friendship we have, it’s a lot of fun and we stir each other up. Swanny cooks me all my meals and I get to play golf with Pang. It does go quick, which is a good sign.”

Brown said he and Pang play golf most days after their early starts.

“It’s better than taking the kids to school,’’ he said. “(My wife) Kyles reckons I’ve got the hero shift, the school pick up.

“I’m down to 13 (golf handicap), Pangy is down to 15 or 16, but we probably should be lower for the amount of times we play.”

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Fifi Box reveals how she orchestrated Brendan Fevola’s radio career

Broadcaster Fifi Box has paid tribute to the power of Brendan Fevola and the way he keeps winning over audiences on their top-rating radio show, reports News Corp’s Nui Te Koha.

Box, who co-hosts Fox FM’s breakfast show Fifi, Fev and Byron with Fevola and Byron Cooke, told Confidential how the unlikely duo have bonded since becoming work mates.

“I only knew Fev the footballer, but I didn’t know him well,” she says.

“When he went into the jungle (and won I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here in 2016), I saw a different side to Fev. I was enamoured with him immediately.

“I said: ‘This guy is gonna win because he’s a firecracker, his personality is phenomenal, but he’s a really good guy.’

“As soon as he got out of the jungle, I said to my boss: ‘Quick, get him in.’ It was such a nice fit from the moment he was on our show, and he’s become one of my best friends.”

Box said Fev has helped their show achieve top ratings because “he has a heart of gold.” She added: “Everybody loves Fev because he is authentic and genuine.”

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Billy Brownless inks new radio deal after I’m A Celeb heartbreak

Footy Show favourite Billy Brownless has secured his future with a partner who has stuck by him through thick and thin, reports News Corp’s Fiona Byrne.

Brownless, who ventured into the robust world of reality shows in January with a stint on I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!, has started his new role as an early evening host with Triple M.

He and his long-time radio partner, James Brayshaw, have had their Rush Hour show moved from its traditional mid-afternoon home to the 6pm-7pm timeslot as part of Triple M’s national strategy.

Along with the new timeslot, Brownless has inked a new three-year deal with the station.

That comes after he signed a new one-year deal with Channel 9 to continue into 2020 as part of the Sunday Footy Show.

Triple M Melbourne content director Dan Bradley said Brownless was much loved by listeners.

“Billy is a superstar, we love him at Triple M and our listeners love him just as much. We could not be more pleased that Billy will remain part of the Triple M family for the next three years,” Bradley said.

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Sports Rights

Seven West Media tried to offload Big Bash League to reduce debt

Seven West Media offered to sell Network 10 the Big Bash League broadcasting rights as part of new chief executive James Warburton‘s efforts to reduce the company’s debt pile and free up cash, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Zoe Samios.

Sources familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the Kerry Stokes-controlled Seven had a discussion with the ViacomCBS-owned 10, which held the BBL rights until 2018. Network 10 declined the offer.

Seven had already indicated it paid too much for the rights, writing down the value of the cricket at its half-year financial results as part of a $52 million carve-out for onerous contracts. Excluding the final, audiences for the BBL were down by 10 per cent year on year and fell by 41 per cent compared with the last time it was broadcast on Network 10.

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