Roundup: Foxtel’s NRL and AFL success, Christian Porter, John Burns speaks out + more

AFL TV deal Foxtel

• John Laws, ABC, The New Daily, Fetch, AusBiz, and WIN

Business of Media

The secret plan to merge regional TV

When a media mogul reaches a certain age and net worth, such as 92-year-old billionaire Bruce Gordon, there are imperatives besides making more money and exercising power that come into play. For Gordon, who left school at 13, it’s the future of his regional television network WIN Corporation, which he’s controlled for more than four decades, reports SMH‘s Anne Hyland.

When Paul Fletcher became the federal Communications Minister in May 2019, the department commissioned two independent reviews, according to several sources, in light of that proposal.

The proposal was that the television assets of the regional networks would be merged or one network would act as the acquirer. There was a view that WIN would be best placed of the three to be that acquirer, or at least Gordon and WIN’s management held that view. WIN did not respond to a request for an interview.

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David Koch and business partner’s legal battle over naming rights

A business owner has launched an intellectual property dispute against AusBiz, a flourishing $25 million video production company backed by Sunrise host David Koch, demanding the platform rebrand and adopt a new name, reports News Corp’s Annette Sharp.

Boutique publisher Michelle Hespe has launched proceedings with IP Australia against AusBiz founder Kylie Merritt, Koch’s business partner, over use of the finance and technology streaming platform’s name.

Hespe argues her business, Publishing ByChelle, first started using the name in September 2017, two years before Merritt and Koch, as the title of an in-flight magazine insert she produces for airlines Alliance, Rex and previously Airnorth, and for an affiliated digital platform.

In 2019 when she made a bid to trademark the name, which has been popularised within the finance sector as a social media hashtag, she discovered Merritt had also applied for the trademark and been given tacit approval provided there were no objectors. Hespe subsequently launched a vigorous objection with IP Australia.

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Fetch TV takes Foxtel fight over CNN to competition regulator

Subscription television service Fetch TV has fired off a letter to the competition regulator over the impending loss of international news channel CNN from its platform to commercial rival Foxtel, reports SMH‘s Zoe Samios.

Rupert Murdoch-controlled pay tv company Foxtel secured the exclusive rights to broadcast CNN for subscribers as part of a multimillion-dollar deal struck with US entertainment giant WarnerMedia last year.

CNN, which is owned by WarnerMedia, has been been packaged as an exclusive Foxtel channel which means it will be unavailable on any other platform in Australia from April 22.

That exclusivity has concerned Fetch TV because it claims it limits the variety of news available to the Australian public. Fetch TV, which works with Optus, iiNet Group and Vocus to provide its service, has more than 700,000 subscribers. It informed users of the impending change late last week after unsuccessful talks with Foxtel to allow the channel to be public.

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Ex-Media Watch host Monica Attard in uni furore

Former Media Watch host Monica Attard has announced her departure from a role heading Australia’s top journalism school, as two former colleagues claim she had a “poor” management style during her tenure, reports New Corp’s Nick Tabakoff.

Sue Stephenson, foundation executive producer of the ABC News Channel, and high-profile Sydney Morning Herald and Canberra Times columnist Jenna Price claim they made “complaints” formally and informally about Attard during her three-year tenure running the University of Technology Sydney’s journalism school before they left.

In an email to colleagues over the weekend Attard confirmed that her departure as head of the UTS journalism school would be “announced on Tuesday”, with the five-time Walkley Award winner taking a new role as co-director of UTS’s Centre for Media Transition.

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News Brands

ABC terminates New Daily contract, focuses on Google and Facebook

The ABC will terminate its commercial agreements with several news websites, including industry superannuation fund-backed website, The New Daily, in a strategic shift that will focus on agreements with aggregation platforms like Facebook and Google, reports SMH‘s Zoe Samios and Lisa Visentin.

Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg, a fierce critic of industry super, passed a Senate motion late last year requiring the national broadcaster to hand over details of its commercial agreement with The New Daily, after claiming it raised questions about the ABC’s independence. He also wrote to the prudential regulator about his concerns. Ahead of Senate Estimates on Tuesday, the ABC has confirmed it will not renew its existing arrangement, putting an end to the seven-year deal.

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The charming streetfighter in Christian Porter’s corner

Barely a year after setting up her own law firm, Rebekah Giles has landed a lead role in what is already being billed as the defamation trial of the century, reports AFR‘s Michael Pelly.

Giles is acting for Attorney-General Christian Porter in his claim against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan, a case that could determine not only Porter’s future but that of the Morrison government.

Porter picked a charming street fighter who has become a go-to person for politicians and other public figures – for example Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Coalition staffer Brittany Higgins – because of her willingness to prosecute their case in public as well as the courts.

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How senators will grill ABC managing director David Anderson

If you thought relations between the ABC and the federal government were already as frosty as they could be, think again, reports News Corp’s Nick Tabakoff.

The tension will crank up yet another notch on Tuesday. Diary is reliably informed the government will use Senate estimates to grill the ABC about whether some journalists have been practising “activism”.

In a case of impeccable timing, ABC managing director David Anderson is appearing in Senate estimates less than 24 hours after the Four Corners episode Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell deals with the treatment of women in politics in light of Brittany Higgins’ allegations.

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Radio

Former 3AW breakfast co-host John Burns set to make return to the airwaves

Veteran Melbourne broadcaster John Burns says he never wanted to leave his top-rating breakfast radio show on 3AW, but was pushed out by the station’s management, reports News Corp Sophie Elsworth.

Speaking for the first time publicly since he exited the station in July last year, Burns has revealed he was told to “toe the corporate line” that he was retiring.

Burns and Ross Stevenson co-hosted Australia’s most successful radio program — the breakfast show on 3AW — for almost 20 years, notching up 147 consecutive ratings survey wins before Burns’ exit.

Burns said his contract wasn’t renewed with the station owned by Nine Entertainment; instead he was forced to leave and asked to publicly declare that he was in fact retiring of his own free will.

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Broadcaster John Laws in hospital but recovering from infection

Legendary radio broadcaster John Laws remains in hospital this weekend after taking ill with a mystery infection a week ago, reports News Corp’s Annette Sharp.

A spokeswoman for the 85-year-old said Laws was expected to be discharged next week following a standard procedure and was “on the mend”.

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Sport Media

Free-to-air TV to get priority on NRL, AFL rights for next two years

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has delayed the expiry of a list that outlines which sports matches should be on free-to-air television, putting to bed concerns of streaming services bidding against commercial television for major sporting events to put them behind paywalls reports SMH’s Zoe Samios.

The anti-siphoning list, which was expected to sunset on April 1, decides which major sports and cultural events the federal government believes should be made available to Australians for free. It gives networks such as Nine (owner of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age), Seven and Ten the ability to purchase the rights to sports such as the AFL and the NRL before subscription competitors such as Foxtel, which owns streaming service Kayo Sports.

The federal government has confirmed the current broadcast anti-siphoning list will now remain in effect until April 2023 and Fletcher is expected to review it as part of a broader media reform program.

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Foxtel viewers flock to watch season opener between Richmond and Carlton

The return of AFL blitzed it for Foxtel and was the second-highest rating season-opening game of all time, reports News Corp’s Sophie Elsworth.

The round one clash at the MCG between arch rivals Richmond and Carlton drew 359,000 viewers on Foxtel – falling only just behind last year’s record-breaking opener with 406,000 viewers.

Just last week Foxtel viewers also flocked to watch the NRL’s round one games, drawing the highest-ever ratings for an opening round in subscription television history.

The success also saw round one become the second-highest NRL round rating ever with an average audience of 372,000 viewers.

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Forget fake news – fake noise now all the rage as Fox boost crowd volume

The battle for rugby league television ratings will intensify this week following revelations Fox Sports has been artificially boosting atmosphere on its coverage by overlaying simulated crowd noise in the first two rounds, reports SMH‘s Michael Chammas.

Both Fox Sports and Nine, the publisher of this masthead, used artificial spectator effects to enhance broadcasts in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic largely restricting or prohibiting fans from attending matches for the majority of the season.

However the decision of Fox Sports, which enjoyed record ratings in round one, to continue to use its catalogue of crowd atmosphere will raise eyebrows. Some at Nine have no issue with Fox Sports’ decision, but others see it as mischievous.

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