The latest advertising revenue data shows newspaper revenue is collapsing, while Ten and pay-TV are also struggling, Glenn Dyer and Bernard Keane write.
The latest advertising revenue data from the Standard Media Index puts Malcolm Turnbull’s efforts at media “reform” in a somewhat different context to the one you’ll see in newspaper coverage: the newspaper industry is in a full-fledged crisis.
The SMI measures around 85% to 90% of all revenues booked through major media agencies, though it doesn’t measure direct ads sales by the networks and media companies. The index showed a fall in total spending of 2.8% in May, but of particular interest were slumps recorded by the Index across all but one of the print operations owned by News, Fairfax and Seven West Media, further confirms the collapsing revenue base for the print sector.
Two of the three metro free-to-air TV networks performed well: Seven (up 2.3% to a share of 41.6%), Nine (up 9.8% thanks to the first State of Origin game and extra eps of The Voice), to 40.4% and Ten (down 12.2% to just 17.9%, despite Masterchef in full flight). But otherwise, the performance of individual media companies was non-existent. Ten’s share for May this year compares to 20.9% in May, 2013. Nine’s share in May last year was 37.59% while Seven’s was 41.51%. Seven’s May share this year of 41.61% is the highest May share figure since the SMI was started several years ago, according to Index records.
TV ad revenues saw solid rises in a couple of areas of spending by banking and finance, which was up 12.4%, and communications, up 12.7% (mobile phone spending by telcos and companies like Apple and Samsung), but the good news was all in metro areas — regional television ad spending fell 3.7%. Other sectors shared the pain: cinema ads fell nearly 37%, outdoor was down 1.3%, radio was off 6.3%. Digital ad spending, however, was up 5.7%.
The Australian gave this reasonable coverage in its business pages and even went as far as reporting the sharp falls seen by newspapers of 14.6% and magazines which saw a 16.1% fall. But even the brave Oz couldn’t bring itself to report the damage among the established analogue media companies, including its owner, News Corp Australia.
The SMI report said News Corp papers saw a 15.9% drop in revenues in May, while the group’s magazines saw a near crippling 28% drop. Fairfax Media papers saw a 13.9% drop in ad revenues, while its magazines business suffered a shocking 38.8% slump in booked ad revenues. And Seven West Media’s West Australian newspapers lost 9.3% in the month — although its Pacific Magazines arm saw a 4.8% rise, the best by any analogue media business in May. The German owned magazine group Bauer saw a 13.4% drop in revenues. The Irish-controlled APN News and Media saw a drop of 14.5%.
Full financial year figures won’t be available until this time next month. But from the figures already issued by the SMI, the big media companies are looking at an accelerating collapse in revenue.
For News Corp and the Murdochs, the news from May is particularly grim: in addition to the continuing flow of bad news from Ten, pay television also saw a 16.2% plunge in ad spending in May. Increasingly, its digital revenues will also be pressured by the Daily Mail, which is already filching News Corp’s web traffic and, the company claims, its stories. Those efforts to talk up the company’s prospects by Lachlan Murdoch and Chris Mitchell look ever more Pollyannaish.
The media companies are emphasising their print performance for media consumers via the emma (Enhanced Media Metrics Australia) which attempts to measure readership/consumption across all platforms (print, mobile, website, tablet). Data is collected for over 600 newspaper and magazine titles, 420 regional and community titles and 270 branded newspaper sections via a rotating 54,000 panel every seven days. The media companies claim this shows readership is increasing, despite the falls in circulations because of higher digital consumption. But judging by the falls in revenue in May in previous months, advertisers aren’t listening to the emma spiel and continue to push print media such as newspapers and magazines towards the sidelines.
The results illustrate the potential hurdles for Malcolm Turnbull’s hesitant reform efforts on media law. His department has put out an anodyne discussion paper contemplating such radical reforms as the removal of the 75% reach rule. The paper is part of a notional deregulatory push — remember how big this government is supposed to be on deregulation — but as we noted last year, when it comes to communication policy the government was always likely to be strangely dilatory. According to media reports, Turnbull has flagged that he wants industry consensus on the most draconian media restrictions, the anti-siphoning list, a subject on which free-to-air and pay-TV interests usually have to be prevented from tearing each other’s throats out over. It’s not much of a deregulatory agenda when you basically ask industry to decide what laws should go, but t’was ever thus in media regulation.
But the dire situation of News Corp and Fairfax means there are higher stakes than ever before in media law changes. And the one mogul who’s sitting pretty, even if West Australian Newspapers is struggling , is Kerry Stokes. He may be disinclined to support any rule changes that help take pressure off his competitors.