SMH juices up Qantas executive incentives. As the byline shows, it took three SMH reporters to generate the sensational story that senior Qantas executives were to be showered with $91 million in cash if the takeover of the airline by the Macquarie Bank-driven consortium goes ahead. It was so good it made it onto a tight front page yesterday. The only trouble is that it was substantially wrong: the $91 million was really $67 million and that will come from the accelerated vesting of their share plans. The $36 million difference, which the SMH claimed the executives would get as cash on leaving the airline the day the bid completed, will in fact be rolled over into shares in the new business. That was laid out in the takeover documents which at least two of the three reporters had reported on. Qantas went on the offensive. Kevin Brown (Qantas’s HR manager) said that, as outlined in the Bidder’s Statement, APA had agreed to provide loans to the management team which would increase the value of their invested equity by up to 4.5%, depending on very stringent performance hurdles over five years. “Qantas executive managers are simply moving from one Long Term Incentive Plan to another,” he said. So how did the SMH handle this response? In a single bylined story on the bottom of the third page in the business section, 27 pages from where the original story had appeared. It was a good story ruined by poor analysis; after all $67 million in accelerated benefits, even rolled over into the new shares, is generous. Ordinary staff were shown none of this generosity. But the error undermined that. The way CEO Geoff Dixon and the other executives have been showered with benefits to stay on board is unedifying and a bit rich. — Glenn Dyer

Another Nine Network spinner has bites the dust. The departure of Stephen Woodhill, former Optus PR (and Transfield Services) as Director of Communications and Marketing for Nine is being announced via email. The “out of office” automated reply system announced today “I no longer work for the Nine Network” and recommended inquiries be directed to other people at Nine. There has been no explanation from Nine. He joins a long list of people including David Hurley, the former EP of ACA now assisting Nine News and Current Affairs boss, Gary Linnell; Chris Lacy, a former SMH finance journalist and columnist; the private PR firm Third Person and at least four other operatives over the last five years. — Glenn Dyer

First primetime casualty of 2007 – The Code. Nine has “rescheduled” its first primetime program of the year and we haven’t even finished the second week of ratings. The newly developed The Code, an observational police doco series at 7.30pm Monday nights, was flicked after just three outings. Its audience tumbled from just over a million for the first two eps to a low 971,000 on Monday night. With Nine showing the Oscars next Monday night, The Code won’t be back the week after (March 5). What’s Good For You will be returning in its place. The Code was shot with the cooperation of the Victorian Police and the Victorian Magistrates Bench. It was an average attempt to match the observation style developed by Seven with Border Security and The Force, which is shot in Western Australia with that state’s police force. In announcing the return of What’s Good For You, Nine said “The Code remains in production, with additional episodes commissioned for Nine, and this groundbreaking series will return to Nine later this year.” So it is being “rested” rather than “boned”. It won’t be back in the 7.30pm Monday slot which is too important; not unless Nine runs out of product. The statement leaves open the possibility that it won’t be seen until after ratings finish in late November. — Glenn Dyer

ABC considers more Differences of Opinion. There’s speculation that the ABC could add between one and three episodes to its discussion program, Difference of Opinion. It was down to run for 12 weeks and has rated so far 462,000 and 554,000 for the first two showings. But ABC TV sources say the extra programs are not linked to demand from viewers but it would seem Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope probably won’t be back till after June, about a month later than previously believed. The exact number of additional programs is flexible, according to ABC TV sources. — Glenn Dyer

Encore screening for Insight‘s Hicks special. SBS has decided to do a special repeat screening of last night’s Insight: Hicks On Trial. It will screen this Friday at 7.30pm (that’s in addition to the normal repeat times of Fridays at 2.30pm and Mondays at 2.30pm). SBS Management has decided to do the special repeat screening because of the strength of the program and the timeliness of the content. Last night, Insight averaged 201,000 viewers, while at 8.30pm, The Trial of Saddam Hussein averaged 210,000 for an hour and then at 10pm, doco The President vs David Hicks, (which is a repeat but wasn’t marked as such in the guides) averaged 233,000 for an hour and half. So did SBS management make the right decision? The President vs. David Hicks would seem to have more appeal on repeat than a fresh ep of Insight. — Glenn Dyer

Last night’s TV ratings

The Winners: Seven’s domination of the week continued last night. 15 programs had a million or more viewers. Seven’s Kiwi observational doco, Serious Crash Unit, was tops with 1.423 million (justifying the decision to make a local version), Border Security (the re-cut) was next with 1.421 million and Heroes at 8.30pm was third with 1.367 million and steadying. Seven News was fourth with 1.353 million, Ten’s House at 8.30pm averaged 1.338 million and Today Tonight was sixth with 1.273 million. Nine’s 7.30pm program, McLeod’s Daughters, averaged 1.146 million, Without A Trace (Nine, 9.30pm) averaged 1.120 million and Seven’s 9.30 program, Prison Break – On The Run averaged 1.102 million. Nine News was tenth with 1.082 million, A Current Affair was 11th with 1.073 million, Cold Case (Nine, 8.30) averaged 1.058 million; Spicks and Specks on the ABC picked up to average 1.054 million at 8.30 pm while Home and Away at 7pm averaged 1.049 million for Seven, ahead of The Biggest Loser at 7pm for Ten with 1.003 million. Temptation (Nine, 7pm) lifted to 949,000, Ten’s Medium averaged 919,000, The New Inventors, 854,000. House added 100,000 viewers over last week, which will make Ten happy. It needs a few smiles this week. Extras on the ABC fell to 686,000.

The Losers: Bert’s Family Feud averaged 520,000, Deal or No Deal on Seven, 755,000. Both average. The Con Test on Ten at 7.30pm, 719,000. Desperate and dazed.

News & CA: Seven News again won nationally and in every market but Adelaide. The News won by 271,000. Today Tonight won all markets and nationally by 200,000. Nine News and ACA weak in Sydney. Ten News averaged 824,000; the Late News/Sports Tonight, 471,000. Nine’s Nightline, 356,000 later in the night. The 7 pm ABC News averaged 921,000; The 7.30 Report down to 688,000. Lateline, 245,000, Lateline Business, 108,000. SBS World News Australia, 6.30, 199,000, 9.30 pm, 155,000. Dateline on SBS, 198,000. In the morning 7am Sunrise, 429,000, 7am Today, 258,000 (both down, the QM2 went Tuesday night).

The Stats: Seven won with a share of 31.3% (31.5% a week earlier) from Nine with 27.0 (26.6%), Ten with 22.4% (20.9%), the ABC with 15.0 (15.9) and SBS with 4.3% 5.1%. Seven leads the week, 32,9% to 25.6%. Seven won all markets bar Adelaide where Nine won. In regional areas Nine also won with a share of 31.8% for WIN/NBN. Seven was second through Prime/7Qld with 28.3%, Southern Cross (Ten) was third with 21.0%, the ABC was on 13.9% and SBS on 5.0%

Glenn Dyer’s comments: Another win to Seven. It will be happy the repeat re-cut of Border Security is doing well and Serious Crash Unit! Shows what happens when the topic is interesting and the story well told (hint, Nine’s The Code!) House was better and getting into its strike. It does mean worries for Nine when Ten returns Thank God You’re Here to 7.30pm Wednesdays. McLeod’s can’t lift at the moment, nor can Nine’s evening lineup overall. Just plodding around a million to a million one viewers. OK but no first prize. Tonight, though, Nine should do better with Missing Persons Unit and RPA from 8.30pm to 10.30pm. Getaway will struggle at 7.30 pm. It will also be interesting to look at the viewing levels for Seven tonight. Last Thursday they were very low from 5pm onwards. One-off or a bad night? Ten has The Biggest Loser, Saving Babies and the Law and Orders from 8.30 to 10.30pm. on SBS Inspector Rex returns. It’s a repeat. Wooof!

Peter Fray

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