To lose one is no problem. Two? Hmmm, still not a worry but three,
there’s definitely something there. Four, a trend and a real problem.
Six? Well, six is a tidal wave and something to be addressed, not
wondered about by CEO David Gyngell.

Crikey has now identified six talented women in influential
positions at the Nine Network who have left in recent months. And over
at ACP, which is heavily staffed with women employees, gofers but fewer
executives, the higher you reach. At least four have gone in recent
months, four of note.

Is there a problem in the Packer
empire in the way the predominantly male senior management handle
women? They would answer no and point to the many women working away
successfully, but to lose that many talented and hard working people
who were willing to contribute to the company’s well being and
development, causes questions to be asked.

At Nine, four of
the six have gone to other jobs or are reassessing what they will be
doing. They are, Kim Anderson, Hilary Innes, Maree Slater and Wendy
Squires.

Now two more can be added to the list:

Lauren
Rudd, a talented and well thought of producer responsible for the
Animal Hospital series on Nine and the Discovery Channel and for
overseeing Nine’s broadcast of the New Year’s Eve Fireworks in Sydney,
which is part of its association with the Festival of Sydney, a
particular interest of Roz Packer; and

Kerry Roberts, not a
senior executive, but someone with the best show biz contact book in
the network, and possibly in any network. She was an asset for programs
like Today and a Current Affair in scoring and lining up ‘talent’. All
she apparently wanted was a secretary and David Gyngell or someone on
the third floor said no.

As already detailed separately
four women executives or editors have left ACP. Carolyn Lockhart is
retiring after running the Qantas magazine, but she was replaced as the
editor of Gourmet Traveller a few years ago by ACP (and now PBL) CEO
John Alexander for no apparent reason. As well Louise Upton editor of
Belle and Joan Roarty, the fashion editor of Harpers, have gone.

Miriam
Condon, the research boss of ACP has gone to a similar role at rival
Pacific Publications, owned by the Seven network. And the most notable
male (excluding Peter Yates) was Jim Rudder, the News and Current
Affairs boss of Nine who was hired and fired by Gyngell.

Now
the real boss of the company is wondering out aloud why have so many
women executives walked out of the Nine network. This is the biggest
challenge for Gyngell at Nine. He is still on the learning curve and
will be for a couple of years. The appointment of Sam Chisholm to the
PBL board was seen as helping him (and John Alexander), but Gyngell is
on his own.

He has some battles to win, which may not be
apparent from the outside. Advertising rates for summer will rise
sharply as demand is still strong and looks like continuing that way
into the early months of 2005. That’s still allowing problems to be
overlooked.

Wednesday night’s loss to the Seven Network was
a warning to Nine. It was probably its third best night of the week
after Tuesday and Thursday and Seven won it without any ratings tricks
and also won Sydney and Melbourne. They were big victories.

Nine Sydney is once again showing signs of being a weaker performer than Melbourne or Brisbane. The Nine News and A Current Affair are encountering turn-offs of viewers on some nights of the week, some large, some small, while rival Seven has had a turn on.

Sunday and Monday nights are basically Ten’s so long as it has Australian Idol. This week is week 40 of ratings. Idol will be in Ten’s schedule until week 48. Meaning no chance of 60 Minutes doing much better than it has been in recent weeks. Its audience is down and as Idol moves towards its climax, 60 Minutes will lose more viewers.

(And next year Ten will add the X Factor to Big Brother and American and Australian Idol in an attempt to dominate the Sunday and Monday evenings).

That
means continued pressure for Nine’s marquee Sunday evening program.
Nine’s iconic entertainment based current affairs flagship has all but
given up on 2004, is looking to 2005, when they know they will cop
another belting from the Ten network’s ratings powerhouses, Big Brother and Australian Idol. And if the X Factor works in the February slot already chosen by Ten to kick off its year, 60 Minutes is looking at what could be a miserable 12 months.

It is not that the program is failing, it’s just that with Australian Idol and Big Brother
running for more than half the ratings year, winning the 7.30pm
timeslot on Sunday evenings is proving tough. And hanging onto the
millions of dollars that Toyota pumps into the program each year will
be made that much more difficult.

Toyota is spending lots
of millions on being the main sponsor of the AFL. Its working its way
towards a sustained assault on General Motors for the number one slot,
and the car industry knows that after three halcyon years, 2005 could
very well be a year of ‘consolidation’ when sales slow and growth
dissipates.

These are some of the challenges for Gyngell. He also has to find decide on whether new hosts are needed for the Today Show, which seems to have narrowed the gap slightly on Seven’s Sunrise program in the past fortnight.

Also to be resolved are whether to replace Ray Martin at ACA
and Jim Waley in the Sydney News. Both are considered to be unlikely as
Gyngell wants to maintain some sort of stability in on air talent while
fighting Seven and the still strengthening Ten.

And with
the ratings of the program Joey fading on Thursday nights in the US for
NBC, Nine now has a bigger problem than it wants to admit to on Monday
nights.

Admittedly Joey has been up against Survivor on CBS, but it hasn’t held its own at all. No Friends, Joey, its putative replacement, not as good, no Sex and the City. With Ten ready with X Factor, Big Brother and the various Idols on Monday nights, Nine looks much weaker there next year than it did at the start of 2004.

But the most important is dealing with and understanding the loss of senior female employees from Nine.