Roundup: Foxtel IPO, 10’s cultural review, Lisa Wilkinson, Lisa Davies + more


Plus: The ABC, TV ratings war, News Corp, Amanda Hodge, Seven, Craig McLachlan, and the A-League

Business of Media

Foxtel brings in big gun as it weighs float

Streaming and pay-TV company Foxtel has tapped a big gun American television executive to provide advice on its operations, as it weighs up whether to progress with an initial public listing early next year, reports SMH‘s Zoe Samios.

Randy Freer is a former Fox Networks executive who ran streaming service Hulu for two and a half years until early 2020. His involvement coincides with attempts by the News Corp-controlled media company to integrate online streaming platforms onto its set-top boxes, to become Australia’s leading content aggregator. Foxtel declined to comment on Freer’s role.

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Network 10 undertakes a cultural review after issues at its Canberra bureau

Network 10’s Canberra press gallery bureau is undergoing a “cultural review” after reports of inappropriate comments about female staff prompted management to take action, reports News Corp’s Sophie Elsworth.

Reports emerged in recent weeks that disparaging remarks about one particular staff member had allegedly been made within the bureau earlier this year, prompting the incident to be referred to 10’s head office in Sydney.

Management took the incident “incredibly seriously” and it resulted in them setting up an independent cultural review to closely investigate the operation of its Canberra bureau to determine if there were underlying problems among staff.

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Ita Buttrose: ABC is too ‘east-coast centric’

ABC chair Ita Buttrose has admitted the public broadcaster is “too east coast-centric” and she says she has repeatedly raised her concerns with management about the ongoing problem, reports News Corp’s Sophie Elsworth.

In an extraordinary public concession, the 79-year-old blamed budget cuts and the “tyranny of distance” for the lack of programming produced in locations outside the eastern seaboard, which has left states such as Western Australia largely under-represented on the national broadcaster’s various platforms.

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ABC boss David Anderson pockets salary of $1m-plus, total staff now 4,377

Senior executives at the ABC ­enjoyed bumper salary increases in the past financial year, with the remuneration package of the managing director tipping over $1m and the news director pocketing a 36 per cent rise, report The Australian’s James Madden and Sophie Elsworth.

According to figures in the latest ABC annual report, managing director David Anderson’s total remuneration package ­increased by more than 10 per cent to $1.098m, up from $998,000 in 2019-20.

Gaven Morris, who this month announced his resignation as the ABC’s director of news, analysis and investigations, boasted a salary package of $676,000 in 2020-21, a 36 per cent rise from his 2019-20 remuneration of $495,000.

ABC employee numbers, ­including ongoing and non-­ongoing full-time and part-time staff, rose from 4257 at June 30, 2020, to 4377 at June 30, 2021.

“Outsourcing expenditure” also increased from $36.6m to $42.7m, a rise of $16.6 per cent.

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Anderson back on show at Senate estimates rodeo

ABC managing director David Anderson is already gearing himself up for the worst hour of his year – an appearance at Senate estimates on Tuesday, reports SMH‘s Samantha Hutchinson and Stephen Brook.

It’s been a week since the Auditor-General passed mild judgment on the ABC stumping up almost $200,000 to settle a defamation claim levelled at star Four Corners reporter Louise Milligan over a tweet which Liberal MP Andrew Laming claimed was defamatory. And it’s no secret a handful of senators have burning questions for Aunty’s top dog.

Auditor-General Gary Hehir was frank that the broadcaster’s decision to cover costs in a claim which was not levelled at it mystified him. The posts only appeared on the journalist’s social media account which is independent of the broadcaster. “To the ANAO’s (the Australian National Audit Office) knowledge there is no documented advice which was prepared to support the appropriateness of the decision to meet the costs of an employee,” Hehir wrote.

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News Corp CEO Robert Thomson raises concerns at Senate inquiry into media diversity in Australia

News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson has warned of the dangers of “digital disruption” in the media landscape, and expressed concern about the unchecked power, reach, and influence of the tech giants across the globe, reports News Corp’s James Madden.

Appearing via videolink before a Senate inquiry into media diversity in Australia, Mr Thomson said he welcomed the opportunity to “have a more sophisticated debate about the impact of social media and the potency of digital platforms”.

The News Corp chief said the issue of media diversity was “profound”, and argued that while there was now “indisputably” a greater variety of potential news sources both in Australia and overseas, there had been a shift “in power, influence and profitability from the creators of news content to the distributors of news content”.

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News Brands

Saying goodbye to the best job in journalism: SMH editor says farewell

The departing editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, Lisa Davies, explains her departure to readers:

When I was offered the job as editor of The Sydney Morning Herald almost five years ago, I swore with incredulity. Not my finest moment, but thankfully my then-bosses laughed as I did. I simply couldn’t believe it. The chance to lead this great masthead was – and remains – an extraordinary honour.

This week I announced it was time to move on. Five years in an all-consuming 24/7 role, plus the years before in other senior positions, has taken its toll. It is time for me to take a break and pursue new challenges.

Deputy editor Cosima Marriner will be acting editor while a formal process for my replacement takes place. Cosi started her career on the Herald’s business desk 20 years ago before reporting in our Canberra bureau, on London’s Fleet Street, as the Queensland correspondent for the Herald and Age and as deputy editor of Sunday Life magazine before becoming editor of our Sunday edition The Sun-Herald.

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SMH staff in shock at editor Lisa Davies’ sudden resignation

Editorial staff at media company Nine’s newspaper division were in a state of shock last week following news the popular editor of the Sydney Morning Herald Lisa Davies had resigned her post after almost five years, reports News Corp’s Annette Sharp.

Nine insiders have told this column Davies had been under scrutiny at the newspaper for over a year – at least since the departure of her Melbourne counterpart Alex Lavelle from The Age in June 2020.

Lavelle’s departure, after three years in the job, followed the appointment of former News Corp journalist and editor-in-chief of the failed Huff Post Australia venture Tory Maguire to Fairfax Media in 2018.

Davies’ departure follows the recent promotion of the less-popular Maguire to a new role, as executive editor of the metro mastheads.

This position was previously held by the newly installed MD of publishing James Chessell, who has been fast-tracked to the top following the departure of former digital and publishing chief Chris Janz in July.

Chessell and Maguire are tasked by new Nine CEO Mike Sneesby with transforming the left-leaning newspaper faction into something leaner and politically more aligned to Nine’s conservative broadcasting division, say sources.

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Lowy Institute recognises excellence of roaming correspondent Amanda Hodge

The Australian’s Southeast Asia correspondent, Amanda Hodge, has been named the winner of the 2021 Lowy Institute Media Award.

The award recognises excellence in coverage of international affairs by Australian journalists and media outlets.

A twice finalist and first-time winner, Hodge was recognised for her reporting across multiple Asian nations, including Myanmar, India, Indonesia and Afghanistan.

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News Corp global boss Robert Thomson first heard about Mission Zero in SMH

News Corp’s global chief executive Robert Thomson says he did not know about his Australian newspapers’ climate campaign ahead of time, but he did discuss the upcoming UN Glasgow climate talks with Prime Minister Scott Morrison when they met in New York last month, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Lisa Visentin.

Thomson said News Corp Australia’s “Mission Zero” campaign was the brainchild of local editors and he first learned about it when The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age revealed in September the company’s papers would shift their long-held stance on climate change.

“I first heard when I read a story – somewhat accurate, somewhat inaccurate – in the Channel Nine press about the plan. So it was very much generated by editors,” he told a Senate inquiry into media diversity on Friday.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the chairwoman of the inquiry, queried how the company could claim its papers had editorial independence when metro tabloids – including The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, Herald Sun in Melbourne and The Courier-Mail in Brisbane – all carried the same 16-page campaign.

“There was a meeting of the local editors. They have collectively agreed that ahead of Glasgow, they wanted to make an editorial statement,” Thomson said, saying he hadn’t seen the coverage but assumed it was tailored to a local audience in each paper.

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Seven loses defamation case over news report

Seven network has lost a defamation case following a 2019 Seven News report in which property developer Jean Nassif bought a “lavish gift” yellow Lamborghini for his wife, Nisserine, reports TV Tonight.

The report raised questions about the legitimacy of Nassif’s Wiping Tears charity, described as having “the stated aim of helping disadvantaged families, but a look at their most recently reported financials reveals they did very little to help anyone.

Yesterday Federal Court Justice Wendy Abraham found that Nassif and her charity were defamed in the report but found that the defamation did not financially harm the charity – on the contrary, there was evidence that Wiping Tears raised more money at the Blossom Ball which was held after the broadcast.

Given the lack of financial harm, Justice Adamson awarded nominal damages of $500 to the charity. She was not persuaded that Nassif had established the case for aggravated damages, and awarded her $100,000.

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McLachlan accused of touching colleague’s breast on Neighbours, court told

Actor Craig McLachlan allegedly touched a colleague’s breast during a rehearsal for the television show Neighbours in the 1980s, a court has been told during a preliminary hearing in his defamation case, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Georgina Mitchell.

McLachlan, 56, sued the ABC and The Sydney Morning Herald in the NSW Supreme Court in April 2018 after an investigation was published three months earlier which alleged he harassed female performers during the 2014 stage production of The Rocky Horror Show.

On Friday, barrister Lyndelle Barnett – representing the ABC and the Herald – applied to amend the media organisations’ defence documents to add several fresh allegations.

This included an allegation that McLachlan sexually harassed a female actor on Neighbours in 1987, “including by touching her breast”, while they were going through a script read or a rehearsal.

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This included an allegation that McLachlan sexually harassed a female actor on Neighbours in 1987, “including by touching her breast”, while they were going through a script read or a rehearsal.

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Everyone’s a winner: Inside the TV ratings war

In the annual television ratings war, everyone’s a winner. Or at least that’s the way it seems, reports SMH‘s Zoe Samios.

The ratings battle between Australia’s three commercial television networks Nine, Seven and Ten has always been heated, fuelled by public sledges from the industry’s colourful television executives and the odd legal dispute.

Networks spend large amounts of money on popular programs like Nine’s Married at First Sight, Seven’s The Voice and 10’s Masterchef Australia in the hope that large numbers of viewers will watch and networks can earn a return on investment from the advertisements that run in breaks and during programs. The higher the ratings, the more money a network can make.

But ego and publicity plays as much of a role in claiming the ratings throne as the data does. Determining the highest rating television network is almost impossible because of the different ways the networks carve up the numbers.

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Karl Stefanovic not buying into Wilkinson’s pay negotiation saga

Karl Stefanovic has weathered enough publicity storms to be wary of igniting any new ones, especially when it’s over his former “work wife” Lisa Wilkinson’s feelings of “betrayal”, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Andrew Hornery.

“Brother, I’ve got too many positive and wonderful things going on in my life to talk about that stuff,” he told Hornery when asked about the deluge of revelations in Wilkinson’s new memoir – many of them about him. “I’m very happy. In work and life.”

Wilkinson does not hold back in her memoir, It Wasn’t Meant To Be Like This, revealing Stefanovic proposed they negotiate over pay together, and accusing him of cutting her loose to ink his own multimillion-dollar deal.

But Hornery reports that while Wilkinson’s world was supposedly dissolving around her in aisle six after negotiations to match Stefanovic’s pay deal fell over, sitting in her agent Nick Fordham’s Sydney office was a letter of offer from rival network Ten with a deal offering her $2 million a year for four years.

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Like an episode of Morning Wars, Lisa Wilkinson has stirred up drama

For a comparatively thin slice of the television ratings pie – around 750,000 viewers daily, less than a quarter of the audience tuned into the much busier primetime – breakfast television bats well above its weight in terms of media oxygen, writes Michael Idato in The Sydney Morning Herald.

At the eye of breakfast television’s current storm is former Today host Lisa Wilkinson’s new memoir It Wasn’t Meant to Be Like This, which is drawing headlines such as “bombshell memoir”, “wedding snub”, “feud deepens” and even the bold assertion that it belongs on the fiction shelves.

Of all the issues the book raises, the one pouring the hottest wind into the media cyclone is the pay disparity between Wilkinson and her former Today co-host Karl Stefanovic. When she quit Nine, the owner of this masthead, for Ten in 2017, he was paid $2 million-plus, while she was on $780,000.

Like most shrewd players of the television board game, Wilkinson has parlayed her hand twice over, first into the Today show gig itself, which transformed her from a television fringe player to a legitimate heavyweight, and then from Nine to Ten where, despite the relatively shallow pond, she is one of its biggest fish.

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The Sunday Telegraph visited the Lisa Wilkinson controversy again on Sunday.

‘Stunning’ reports that Lisa Wilkinson once earnt more than her Today co-host Karl Stefanovic are four years behind — and a lesson for all women, writes Annette Sharp.

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Andrew Hornery in Sun-Herald: Wilkinson’s salary woes…I’m struggling to sympathise

Publisher HarperCollins paid Wilkinson a huge advance in a deal struck years ago. [I have] been reliably informed it is more than $400,000, on par with the likes of Jimmy Barnes and Julia Gillard.

With the hardcover price set at $45, Wilkinson will need to sell an estimated 80-100,000 copies across print, ebook and audio book before the advance is “earned out”.

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Wilkinson failed to disclose lucrative $500,000 contract with vitamins company in book

Former Today show host Lisa Wilkinson has omitted important details in her new book about a separate $500,000 contract she had with a vitamins company that was a key frustration for Nine management during her contract negotiations in 2017, reports News Corp’s Sophie Elsworth.

In Wilkinson’s upcoming autobiography, It Wasn’t Meant to Be Like This, the 61-year-old reveals she was “dismissed from Channel 9” after contract negotiations broke down between her agent, Nick Fordham, and Nine.

Sources told The Australian Wilkinson’s deals outside the network were a problem for Nine because, unlike Stefanovic, it did not have full access to her for a range of duties. Multiple sources familiar with the deal confirmed her two-year contract with Vitaco was worth about $500,000. Stefanovic had agreed not to have any external contracts at the time.

In August 2017, two months before she left Channel 9, Vitaco announced her as its new national brand face and in a press release said: “This is the first time that Lisa Wilkinson, the much-loved 57-year-old mother of three, has partnered with a brand on a major television campaign,”

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Celebrity Gogglebox to screen with returning season in 2022

Celebrity Gogglebox will screen in 2022 attached to the returning new season on Foxtel and 10, reports TV Tonight.

Episodes will screen concurrently with the returning series, in order to keep production costs down.

Foxtel is currently casting the series with producers Endemol Shine Australia and Network 10.

“We had a very robust discussion on that this week,” Foxtel Executive Director of Television Brian Walsh told TV Tonight.

“It’s all about getting the chemistry right. It’s easy to go and pick names for the sake of names. Whether they’re going to give you the kind of television that you want, is another matter.”

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Travel Guides to return to international destinations

It’s a wish for so many of us -and slowly becoming a reality- but Nine’s Travel Guides have their sights set on international destinations in 2022, reports TV Tonight.

A Nine spokesperson told TV Tonight, “The exciting news about Australia’s international borders opening has our Travel Guides dusting off their passports and gearing up for their next global adventure.”

Earlier this week 10 confirmed The Amazing Race Australia was also looking to international locations next year.

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Sports Media

Seven signs winner of SAS Australia for NRL coverage

Channel 7 wants ex-South Sydney star Sam Burgess as part of its NRL news coverage, reports News Corp’s Phil Rothfield.

The network’s CEO James Warburton is a huge fan of Burgess after watching his performances on SAS Australia and witnessing the huge ratings results.

Burgess was last week cleared by police of domestic violence allegations and drug use.

Despite missing out on the NRL TV rights, Network Seven is keen to strengthen its rugby league credentials and boost support for its outstanding journalist Michelle Bishop.

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A-Leagues set for $130 million payday with equity sale to US firm

The A-Leagues are set to receive a game-changing payday by selling a stake of the competition to an American private equity firm for $130 million, in what will be the biggest single injection of cash into Australian club football, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Dominic Bossi.

The Sun-Herald and Sunday Age reveal the Australian Professional Leagues, the new owners and operators of the A-League Men and A-League Women, are in the advanced stages of talks to sell a significant stake of the competitions to US-based firm Silver Lake.

While A-League clubs will likely receive some of the windfall of the proposed sale, most of the funds will be put towards building a new digital media platform, as well as covering the costs of the competition’s promotion, long-term operating costs, future investments and, potentially, enabling clubs to buy more marquee players.

If the sale goes through, Silver Lake will join broadcaster CBS Viacom (owners of Network 10 and Paramount+) as commercial partners with equity stakes in the A-Leagues, while the 12 clubs will remain the majority owners of the competition.

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Dodgy association may sink TV deal for Australian Swimming League

The Australian Swimming League — an ambitious plan backed by Swimming Australia to stage a series of made-for-TV race meets involving Olympic athletes — is uncertain to reach the starting blocks after the project’s founder and principal investor was convicted of tax fraud and banned from serving as a company director, reports The Age’s Chip Le Grand.

David Brandi, a prominent Melbourne business owner and property investor who first approached Swimming Australia with the idea last year, is serving a two-year, wholly suspended jail term after pleading guilty to dishonestly obtaining a gain from the Commonwealth. He was disqualified from managing a corporation for five years.

The concept of an elite professional swimming competition has strong appeal within Australian swimming, where a dearth of accessible, high-level racing is a long-standing problem. If successful, the ASL would feature Australia’s star performers from Tokyo, such as Ariarne Titmus, Kaylee McKeown and Emma McKeon, and emerging swimmers likely to make their names at the Paris Olympics in 2024.

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