Channel Ten chairman Lachlan Murdoch has rejected calls for CEO Hamish McLennan to step down as chairman of online real estate giant REA Group to focus solely on lifting the fortunes of the beleaguered network.
The Australian Shareholders’ Association called on McLennan to give up his non-executive chairman role ahead of Ten’s annual general meeting in Sydney this morning. Ten, whose share price is currently wallowing at 28 cents, finished an embarrassing fourth in this year’s TV ratings behind the ABC.
Mining magnate and Ten board member Gina Rinehart was a controversial no-show at the AGM. Hancock Prospecting chief development officer John Klepac, seated in the front row of the Wesley theatrette, was there in Rinehart’s place.
Murdoch defended McLennan’s performance, saying he had not demonstrated any lack of commitment and had given “200%” to his job at Ten. He also defended his own ability to juggle his Ten duties with board seats on 21st Century Fox and News Corp while running his DMG radio stations. Murdoch said the Ten chairmanship was his primary responsibility and he had no committee positions on the other boards so they do not take up much of his time.
During his opening address to the AGM (the meeting was still playing out as Crikey hit deadline) Murdoch delivered a surprise monologue on media regulation, saying a “holistic” approach recognising the convergence across different platforms was needed.
Despite its dire performance in 2013, Ten has never given up spinning its performance — sending out over 60 press releases this year. The push has been led by former PR boss McLennan and his chief spin doctor Neil Shoebridge; generally fawning coverage in the Murdoch press didn’t hurt either.
And so it was again today with the announcement — undoubtedly aimed to quell shareholder angst — with news Ten had poached the V8 Supercar broadcast rights from Channel Seven. McLennan is banking on premium sport — such as the V8s, Big Bash cricket competition and the Winter Olympics — to revive Ten’s fortunes in 2014.
But there was no spinning away from the disastrous results contained in Ten’s investor presentation: revenue is down 13% and earnings are down 49%. Only a big lift in ratings and earnings in 2014 will quieten the shareholders’ complaints.