There have been amazing scenes in TV land as the Ten Network managed to get the struggling Nine Network to offset some of the cost of Ten picking up the CBS news and entertainment contract late last year. That’s the very same contract Nine let slip as a “cost cutting measure”.

In reality it was a management stuff-up between programmer Michael Healy, Eddie McGuire and executive director Jeff Browne. Ten won it because it had the Paramount contract falling due and saw a way of putting the two together in a long term arrangement with CBS Paramount, who were surprised Nine lodged such a lowball offer.

Ten won with a price of around $4 million to $5 million a year but also made sure of the Paramount production deal. That left Nine without any CBS News content and without access to 60 Minutes and the CBS Sunday program among others.

Nine News and Current Affairs producers were flabbergasted that the CBS contract had been lost, especially Australian 60 Minutes Executive Producer, John Westacott.

Westacott faced filling 20 to 30 story slots this year at a cost of $90,000 to $100,000 a local story: that would mean a significant rise in costs, a tough ask when Nine is still cost cutting.

Somehow Ten realised Nine’s predicament and when the ABC also started wondering if any of Ten’s programs would be available for sale, Ten management came up with the idea of a tender, bids were invited and Nine lodged the highest bid.

All networks bar SBS bid. Nine won the rights to 25 stories a year for 60 Minutes  from its US counterpart, with one rebroadcast right on another Nine program. That will be cheaper than getting the reporters and 16 or so producers working on more local stories.

It is a form of sub-licencing which is common in TV. For example, Nine sub-licences The West Wing to the ABC and The OC to Ten. According to sources at Nine the network has seven days to secure a story after it airs in the US.

The deal will be more than enough to repay a substantial part of the annual cost to Ten for the CBS deal. It could be as much as $1.5 million to $1.8 million a year if Nine here uses all 25 stories.

So, because no one at Nine understood the importance of the CBS news deal, 60 Minutes has gone from paying nothing to access CBS 60 Minutes stories to paying at least $1.5 million or more a year – and paying it to Ten and not CBS.

An example of “programming for profit”; is this the mantra James Packer thinks will make Nine bounce back?

Peter Fray

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