When the decision came, Nine was stunned. Armando Nunez Jr, president of CBS Paramount International, told Jeff Browne and chief programmer Michael Healy at a meeting at Willoughby yesterday that Nine’s bid for the rights to CBS’s news and factual content – including Dr Phil, David Letterman and the US version of 60 Minutes – was well short of what CBS wanted. Result: after 40 years, the US network was moving its content to Ten.

Nine is saying that it didn’t want to keep the contract anyway, but that’s cheap spin and far from the hard, brutal reality of the Packer-controlled network. Nine’s spinners have tried to make a virtue out of the loss by saying that the money will be put into local programs. The reality is that there is no money at Nine to keep overseas production deals. And it will get worse next year as Nine’s ad revenues sag and viewers leave for the other networks.

Nine needs more local production for the 2007 schedule and beyond. It needs money for revamping Getaway and McLeod’s Daughters and creating new programs.

That’s what Seven was forced to do five years ago when Nine’s CSI, 60 Minutes and other US programs (like ER) were at their peak. Seven invested heavily in new local programs. It’s what Ten did last year when it was faced with no US product and had to address advertiser worries about its 2005 performance and the 2006 schedule.

It’s what any Australian commercial TV network or station has done when all else fails – invest locally. That’s why Nine didn’t try all that hard to keep CBS. Park Street wouldn’t have allowed Eddie to spend that money and invest in local programming. A decision had to be made. It’s a measure of how far Nine’s financial strength had fallen.

Nine will now have to source 20 to 25 new stories for 60 Minutes a year from non-CBS areas. Last Sunday’s lead story was a CBS interview (US 60 Minutes) with actor Russell Crowe, but now 20/20 on the ABC network in the US will be the only foreign source for Nine’s version of 60 Minutes.

60 Minutes at Nine has had a policy of two local stories every week and a buy-in (like the Crowe interview). That enables Nine to hold down the costs of each ep and to spend heavily on local stories. Nine will only retain the 60 Minutes brand (the clock… tick, tick, tick) and the name.

Nine is saying that there will be cost savings as a result of losing the CBS deal and that Ten’s costs will rise, which is sort of right on both counts. Nine’s costs will fall by the amount of the CBS contract (around $35 million a year from some estimates) and there will be negligible revenue loss but all Nine News programs will have to source vision, stories and ideas from elsewhere.

The extra material will have to come from Nine’s remaining sources: ABC in the US, ITV in Britain and the news services from APTN. The BBC will be an option, along with Sky News and CNN.

Besides the news, the big loss for Nine is Dr Phil, Nine’s most watched daytime program, which Ten will now drop into its daytime schedule between its morning program and Oprah at 1pm. That will make at least five hours of high rating daytime TV for which Ten can charge a premium.

Ten will also use The Late Show with David Letterman, possibly at 11pm after the late news and Sports Tonight. Then there are 60 Minutes, 48 Hours and other current affairs stories which Ten can use on Sunday mornings to expand the Meet The Press program into something that can take on Weekend Sunrise and the faltering Sunday program.

Peter Fray

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