Three directors, including chairman Lachlan Murdoch, more than doubled their share of the declining revenue of the struggling Ten Network in the 2011-12 financial year.
The related party transactions section of the annual accounts, filed late last week with the announcement of a $12.9 million loss for the year, show that Murdoch, Gina Rinehart ally Jack Cowin and James Packer were involved in four groups that snaffled more than 17.1% of the network’s lower revenue of $728 million in the year to the end of August. That was more than double the 8.6% share of the 14% higher figure in 2010-11 of $851 million.
In dollar terms, the amount involved in the four related party deals skyrocketed more than $50 million in 2011-12 as the network’s ratings, revenue and profits fell. The 71% or $52 million rise — from $72.9 million to $125.5 million — was explained on page 98 of the accounts.
The report said that “during the financial year the entities below entered into agreements in respect of the sale of program rights on normal commercial terms and conditions”. The list was Shine (Murdoch), News Corp (Murdoch), Fairfax Media Group (Cowin) and Cons Media Holdings (Packer). The amount involved was $125.4 million, up from the $72.9 million in 20110-11 — an increase of $52.5 million, or more than 72%.
Most of the amount would have flowed to News Corp and Shine (owned by News) because of programs such as The Biggest Loser and MasterChef (Shine) and Modern Family (Fox in the US, which is owned by News Corp — one of Ten’s major production deals is with Fox). Those three shows are among the best performing for Ten and the network’s ratings and financial results would have been redder without them.
But the disclosures about the size and growth of the related party transactions with Shine and Fox underline just how much Ten is controlled by Murdoch and his family. He has around 9.8% of the company’s issued shares and is chairman, and has another vote on the board with his right-hand executive, Siobhan McKenna, from his private company Illyria. The ACCC have never looked at the control News/Lachlan Murdoch has over the programming and content of Ten.
Ten can’t survive without those programming deals. MasterChef, Loser and Modern Family will be some of the cornerstone programs of Ten’s survival strategy.
The annual report reveals that Murdoch was also rewarded handsomely by Ten during the year in his Illyria guise. Not only was he paid $1.3 million for four months’ work as interim CEO, but Illyria was paid $800,000 for “professional services” for Ten’s operational review and cost-cutting that saw 60 jobs go in 2011 and upwards of $40 million or more saved (mostly by not pitching for another AFL broadcast contract). A further question here is whether that sum also included the cost of the services provided by McKenna.
The section on related party transactions also reveals another curious Murdoch deal on page 99. That $1.3 million and $800,000 gave a total payment to Murdoch of $2.1 million, down from the $2.6 million in 2010-11. That’s more than $4.7 million over the two years.
A related entity of LK Murdoch was paid $502,373 for television hosting services. The report says the related entity was contractually entitled to a significantly higher amount but volunteered to reduce the amount owed to the reported level. Which related entity could they be talking about? A scan through the files reveals that Sarah Murdoch hosted the turkey of the year called Everybody Dance Now, which lasted three weeks. That’s more than $167,000 per show. Lord knows what the real amount was.