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Media briefs: Foxtel falls … newsworthy beheadings … Joan Rivers dies …

Foxtel spooked by the dawning of the age of digital streaming. And other media tidbits of the day.

Some beheadings just don’t rate. While the vile snuff videos of Islamic State militants continue to garner exactly what their makers want — Western media reaction and condemnation — other executions by beheading don’t seem to garner quite so much attention. On Tuesday in Saudi Arabia, there were four more beheadings of people convicted of drug trafficking — three for smuggling amphetamines (not exactly the deadliest drug in the world, but anyway), one for hashish. August featured a remarkable 26 beheadings in Saudi Arabia, often of foreign nationals, for crimes ranging from drug trafficking to domestic homicide and sorcery; the four on Tuesday have gotten September off to a flying start. It’s one thing for a group of brutal terrorists to behead individuals, but a government engaged in beheading people at a rate of around one a day, surely that has drawn protests and criticism from Western governments? No, not a word. Indeed, it has been barely been mentioned in the Australian media, either. We found a single news.com.au article on Saudi Arabia’s decapitation spree. And, yes, of course IS and Saudi Arabia are different — we’re sure the guy who was beheaded for sorcery at least had the benefit of a proper judicial process. —  Bernard Keane

Digital streaming cometh. In April 2012, Chase Carey, then-chief operating officer of News Corp, visited Australia to look over the local operations. One of his stops was at Foxtel, where he reportedly told management that the pay TV provider was the most expensive in News Corp’s group of subscription TV businesses, and one of the highest in the wider world. He reportedly told Foxtel management that he thought this was the real reason pay TV penetration in Australia wasn’t growing (being around 28% to 29% of the national market), and not because of restrictions on sport and other programs (although that has contributed).

The best solution they could come up with was to try to secure a monopoly for the pay TV operator by acquiring rival Austar from John Malone’s Liberty Global group. That boosted subscriber numbers to around 2.4 million, which Foxtel now claims has grown to 2.6 million. Of course, Foxtel figures are not independently verified. In fact the reasons for this latest announcement are to be found in the 2013-14 News Corp annual report where it detailed the accounts of Foxtel. These show weak revenue growth in the year and a small rise in earnings; around US$30 million in an operating profit over US$900 million — chickenfeed, really.

Now we come to yesterday’s much larger revamp of its offerings which was variously portrayed in the media as an attempt to position Foxtel ahead of the growth of digital streaming services, or as a battle to lift subscriber numbers, or both. In fact it has all the hallmarks of a scared monopoly making what it hopes is a pre-emptive strike against a perceived threat in the hope that this will protect revenue, profits and the US$400 million a year in distributions to its owners, Telstra and News Corp.

Like all media monopolies in the way of the net and digital change, Foxtel is going to be disappointed and will have to give up more income and revenue to protect its position in coming years. — Glenn Dyer

Canadian company kills print. Is this possibly the most sweeping overreaction anywhere to the destruction of the print media by the internet, sluggish economic conditions and fickle advertisers? In an announcement in Canada on Wednesday night (Australian time) more than 20 local papers in the province of Quebec were closed and 14 others were sold. While the changes will result in the loss of “only” 80 jobs, some small towns in the province will be left without their papers and reduced news coverage. Oh, you should also add to that toxic mix a set of competition regulators intent on preventing local monopolies, even at the expense of local communities losing more than 30 print editions of these newspapers.

Transcontinental, a big Canadian media owner and printer (the largest in Canada and third biggest in North America), announced the changes in the wake of acquiring the weekly newspaper portfolio of rival publisher, Sun Media, owned by Quebecor, a rival Quebec media group. From what it said in its statement, Transcontinental has used the tough line from the competition regulators to rationalise its portfolio of weekly papers by shutting or selling many marginal papers that it or Sun Media had started since 2010. Transcontinental said it decided to close the 20 papers after buyers could only be found for 14 of the 33 publications that the Canadian Competition Bureau said had to be sold if it were to approve the CAD$75 million deal to buy 74 weekly newspapers owned by Sun Media.

Montreal-based Transcontinental publishes more than 30 magazines, including Canadian Living and Elle Canada, as well as books and flyers. Quebecor Media operates Quebec’s largest daily newspaper Le Journal de Montreal, Le Journal de Quebec, the 24 Heures free daily, the QMI news agency and Sun Media Corp. which is Canada’s largest newspaper publisher. According to industry data, Canada has 1040 weekly papers with a circulation of 20.6 million copies. Ontario is the largest market, accounting for nearly one-third of all papers. It is followed by Quebec, with 215 newspapers (up to this announcement) had a circulation of 6.34 million. Alberta and British Columbia come next at 133 and 131 papers respectively. — Glenn Dyer

Video of the day. Thank you and goodbye, Joan. The world really is a less funny and interesting place without you.

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  • 1
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 5 September 2014 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    As you’d expect from a Murdoch rag - “Thanks for that heads up”?

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