Yes, Kerry Packer is the TV executive of choice at Nine, but David Gyngell has the CEO’s role. Now he has to prove himself.

Is David Gyngell about to flex his muscles as the new CEO of the Nine Network? It was a confident David Gyngell who paraded himself in Monday’s AFR in an interview done before the decision the pull the mini-Millionaire effort of Eddie McGuire from the troublesome 5.30pm slot from this Friday.

Some of the rumours from Willoughby might be fanciful, some a sort of wishlist but there’s talk that news and current affairs chief, Jim Rudder might be in the gun, as well as the Nine Chief Financial Officer, Brent Cubis, who is partly responsible for the appalling attempt at integrating the Nine and PBL payrolls that’s caused nothing but angst for staff and talent.

Brent was appointed from the Packer private company, Consolidated Press to Nine. Former Nine chief, John Alexander, was behind the Cubis appointment and supported the integration. Alexander was also behind the Rudder appointment. Now he has fled Nine for the relative safety of Park Street.

But the problems with the pay office won’t go away with a surprise departure of one person a week ago, and the retention of another pay office employee who has been unable to deal with the flood of problems.

PBL has been forced to re-open the pay office at Nine closed only late last year to try and lift the load on the Park Street people.
And, even though its probably true that John Alexander had a big part in the departure from PBL of Peter Yates, don’t underestimate the impact of the problems in the payroll integration, which was a project close to Yates’ heart.

It’s a disaster, no matter what spin the executives, HR and other people at Nine and PBL try to put on a system that has failed staff and continues to cause concern with pay transfers still going adrift.

Rudder’s problem is the low morale in the news and current affairs area following a year of changes in staff, formats and look which have failed to deliver. Today is lagging, Nine News was beaten nationally last week and A Current Affair with Ray Martin is running a distant second to Seven’s Today Tonight.

Now the News and ACA in Sydney, the key market, are being beaten regularly by Seven’s efforts. Last week, even though Nine won the ratings, it lost two of the seven nights to Ten, Monday and Saturday nights.

In the Sydney Morning Herald Monday the TV Guide section has an amused Seven News boss, Peter Meakin, done up in boxing gloves and robe. Inside it was a confident but not smug Meakin who took a few pot shots at his old employer, while conceding that Seven had problems elsewhere in the schedule and that the comeback in the News and Current Affairs area was good, but could change if they got smug and arrogant. Which he said were Nine’s greatest sins.

Rudder’s response was more along the lines, we have great product and presenters and although he conceded that “they” had improved their product, Nine would be doing that too.

Hmmm, once again Jim misses reality which is that for whatever reason viewers around the country have suddenly fallen for the Seven approach in news and current affairs. They can, as Meakin said, easily fall OUT of love again. But at Nine there is no sign of any recognition of the problem except fiddling with the 5.30pm slot. And an emerging whispering campaign against Jim Waley, the Sydney news presenter, and Ray Martin.

Gyngell said in the AFR there were no plans to change presenters or make “radical changes to our news and ACA”but he reverted to the old problem its the poor lead in for Nine, and the great lead-in for Deal or No Deal on Seven. Yes that’s true, they have no idea who they are going to put into the slots at the moment, that’s why there are no “radical changes” planned.

Well, yes Dave, but does that account for the loss of viewers some nights from News to ACA to Frasier, and last Thursday night in Sydney, all the way through to 8.30pm? Gyngell described Nine’s ratings as a “purple patch” and very good they are to with record revenues and a viewing audience up in most of the important demographics.

Seven is not doing well after 7.30 pm most nights, although Ten is, especially Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Saturday nights.
If Nine is ever to lose it will probably to be a combination of very strong Seven news and current affairs and very strong mid-evening programming by Ten.

But the importance of news and current affairs cannot be underrated at Nine. It is Packer’s pride and joy, especially Today, Sunday and 60 Minutes, all his ideas.

The decision to pull Eddie McGuire from the 5.30 slot was the first decision of the new Gyngell-led Nine, with Kerry Packer’s oversight.
Blowing out The Price is Right to an hour for only $100,000 will be another stop-gap. Nine claims Eddie was a stop-gap, but strangely they wouldn’t say that the week before when he was announced for the 5.30pm slot.

Fixing the problem from 5.30pm to 7.30 pm Monday to Friday is Gyngell’s big job, if he is allowed to be the decision maker by Packer. As reported earlier on Crikey, Kerry Packer remains Nine’s most experienced and only TV executive in a position to make decisions.
Gyngell has to prove himself to himself and to Packer.

Starting by cleaning up two serious non-TV problems in news and current affairs and in the highly troubled financial and payroll area would be a big start.

Seeing he can’t do the usual trick of a new CEO of a clean the decks and big write-down in asset values (like, say Trevor O’Hoy at Fosters), he has to show he’s arrived by changing executives and presenters. Stand by.

How Kerry Packer stuffed up at Nine

From the June 21 subscriber-only sealed section

By Terry Television

The Fin Review’s Neil Shoebridge might have produced a glowing piece for Channel Nine across the top of the front page today but Crikey’s Terry Television is a lot more sanguine and directly blames Kerry Packer for the latest problems at the network. Check out Terry’s fascinating piece here:

The Fin quoted new Nine boss David Gyngell declaring that Kerry Packer was “the smartest TV executive in Australia” but the piece must have been written last week because it had still not caught up with the amazing Who Wants to be a Millionaire backflip.

Nine pulled the pin on the 5.30pm version late last week but Shoebridge’s piece this morning carried the following paragraph: “Running a 30-minute version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire at 5.30pm on weekdays is designed to give Nine’s news a bigger lead-in audience. So far the strategy has not produced great results.”

Meanwhile, it was amusing to hear Eddie McGuire, fresh from his first major failure on television, make the following comment about Channel Seven’s Melbourne boss Ian Johnson as his beloved Demons headed to victory over Essendon yesterday: “Ian Johnson has got to have some joy in his life.”

Such chutzpah from Eddie whose 5.30pm Millionaire was clobbered by Seven’s Deal or No Deal.

Another Sunday night defeat for Nine

Just when Nine was hoping the tide had turned (and David Gyngell obviously had no concerns in his AFR interview Monday), up pops another embarrassment. They lost Sunday night in Sydney. It’s more of the same: win the nation, lose the city that counts.

And being a Sunday night, National Nine News did really well, winning top spot in Sydney and nationally, which isn’t news. And then Nine’s margin got trimmed nationally, and they slipped to THIRD in Sydney. Yes, last in a three commercial network race.

No wonder the Nine press release sang the praises of the performance by National Nine News, the third place in Sydney was too embarrassing to mention, except buried down in the release.

Nationally Nine won with a 28.2% share from Seven on 27.5% and Ten on 26.7%. And why did Nine do so well, because of the performance of the Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide operations which saved the network from finishing third. But in Sydney it was, Seven 27.5%, Ten, 26.7% and Nine with 25.9%.

So why when National Nine News was first in Sydney, 60 Minutes fourth and The Block 7th? Ten’s competition to the movies at 8.30, Law and Order finished second in Sydney and nationally.

NCIS, which runs at 9.30 after Law and Order completed the now almost usual win in its slot in Sydney and Nationally.And Big Brother was 9th in Sydney and nationally.No joy for Nine after 8.30 pm especially.

But the Lioness who loved a little deer or something and not eat it on The World Around Us at 6.30pm captured viewers, finishing third in Sydney and fifth nationally. And it clipped the audience for The Block which still looks slick, self-centred Sydney.

Other good performers for Seven were the movie and a sit com in Sydney. And while Seven news wasn’t sighted in Sydney (the presenter, Anne Sanders reminds viewers why she was replaced by Ian Ross weeknights), it slipped into 7th spot nationally, which should be encouraging. But it was still almost half a million viewers behind Nine.

But the big shock of the night and the one that probably did Nine in Sydney in particular, was the strong showing by the ABC’s docudrama series from the BBC which looks at the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World. It was on the man who gave London its sewers. Not a topic you’d think would grab viewer attention. But that it did, finishing fifth in Sydney and 6th nationally with 1.46 million viewers.

So two documentary style programs do well on Sunday night. And Ten’s first-run drama at 8.30 pm gives the movies another hiding. A lesson surely for Nine to ponder. Now for the week nights this week and how will Eddie rate in his last week at 5.30pm, and will the news nationally and in Sydney and ACA with Ray Martin, get done again by Seven?

Must be good to be able to boast about a ‘purple patch’ in ratings like David Gyngell did in the AFR Monday.

Is it knickers for Ferguson and bullets for Waley?

The whispering campaign against Jim Waley continued in the Sydney Sunday Telegraph for the second week in a row. Last week it was a speculation that Jim would be yanked from the Nine 6pm news in Sydney, this week its a titillating snippet revealing that “Nine’s rising spunk” Mark Ferguson receives knickers in the mail.

Starting “We can’t imagine Ian Ross or Jim Waley being sent knickers in the mail”, the piece attempted to highlight the age difference between Mark and older Jim and Ian, who used to be on Nine and is now on Seven. Ian is currently beating Jim in the ratings, and a Nine source breathlessly told the Sunday Tele’s gossipers that Mark Ferguson would “be the last person to admit it but he has a huge fan base- male and female”.

“Thankfully the pure cotton correspondence is confined to Fergo’s younger fans,” the article bleated in an attempt to emphasise Fergo’s appeal to young viewers. The older ones “coo’ down the phone, it said. Mark Ferguson reads the weekend news for Nine in Sydney, including the top-rating Sunday night news. The previous popular readers in the weekend slots were nonother than Ian Ross, and Jim Waley.

As Crikey revealed last week, the whispers from the Nine camp have started, all aimed at clearing the decks at the 6pm News in Sydney and at A Current Affair.

Elsewhere in the Sydney Sunday press, there was minor speculation about the performance of the news and ACA in the wake of the failure of Who Wants to be a Millionaire in the 5.30 pm slot brought the comment from the Nine camp that Jim Waley and Ray Martin were safe. Gentleman, with comments like the above I’d be terrified to hear of total support from the Nine camp.

Peter Fray

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