The ABCs of viability: bad news for AFR, Zoo. This morning’s release of Audit Bureau of Circulations figures for Australia’s print newspapers and magazines show across-the-board print declines. But digital sales complicate the picture. If these are included, The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age all boosted their total circulation. But digital sales are, well, confusing.

For one, publishers are not currently required to provide them to the Audit Bureau, so the picture we have is incomplete. Presumably, publishers are only submitting their best performers to be counted, potentially vastly skewing how digital sales are doing on a company-wide basis. And, as Tim Burrows points out at Mumbrella, there’s little consistency in how digital subscriptions are bundled and priced. This can make direct comparisons difficult. For example, it works out cheaper to buy a print and digital subscription to the Oz than it does to subscribe just to the print version. And there’s the usual circulation rorts aplenty in digital — cheap, discounted subscriptions offered to students, for example, that can obscure the picture.

Fairfax does not reveal digital subscriptions for The Australian Financial Review. But, in the absence of resounding digital success, they must be worried about the sales of the weekend edition. The Weekend AFR is down 23.1% year-on-year in print. Fairfax’s major metropolitan titles tended to record larger print falls than News Corporation’s. The Age is down 17.9% in print, while the SMH is down 14.5%. But their digital subscriptions were healthy, leading to total circulation boosts of 19.1% and 26.1% respectively. The Australian dropped 6.7% in print, but grew its total circulation 4.2% with digital sales. A third (30.7%) of Fairfax’s subscribers are now digital — a figure significantly greater than News Corp’s 6.7%

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In magazines, Zoo lost the most readers. Its circulation is down a third (36.4%) year-on-year, selling only 32,000 copies a week. — Myriam Robin

New merger for Murdoch? There’s another multibillion-dollar deal on the cards involving the key Murdoch family company, 21st Century Fox. Hot on the heels of a possible $US10 billion reorganisation of its European satellite pay TV businesses, Fox is looking at merging its TV production arm, Shine, with industry giant Endemol, plus third production house Core Media, to produce a global production business. Endemol is already the No. 1 production company worldwide, and this move, if completed, would create a giant, rivalling or overshadowing some of the TV production arms of the big American networks.

Fox revealed the move in a statement in New York last night, saying it had started talks with private equity group Apollo Global Management (which also owns a big stake in Nine Entertainment Company in Australia). Subsequent reports say that Fox has in fact struck a preliminary merger deal with Apollo and all that remains is to create a joint venture (Apollo will have a majority stake) worth US$2 billion or more, according to the Financial Times. The move would take Shine off Fox’s balance sheet and separate it from the Murdoch empire. According to media surveys, Endermol had annual sales of US$1.7 billion in 2013, and Shine’s revenue was around US$900 million.

Endemol came to prominence a decade ago with Big Brother and was originally sold by founder John de Mol for 5.5 billion euros in 2000. It was then sold in 2007 for 3.4 billion euros to Goldman Sachs and Mediaset, the group controlled by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Apollo financed much of that deal and took control of the company because Endemol could not meet its debts; Apollo was the senior lender to Endemol and took control of the company by using its debt. Endermol and Shine would be the major production houses in the joint venture. Core Media is much, much smaller. From Apollo’s point of view it is a chance to get rid of the hard-to-sell TV businesses at a time when there are buyers driving up values (and overpaying). — Glenn Dyer

ABC cuts? Less Lilley, more Wheat St. Before we get too upset over the $36 million cuts to the ABC, understand they will be partially offset by savings in brown face paint and fuzzy wigs because Jonah Takalua probably won’t be back any time during the forward estimates. Despite a high-profile publicity campaign and an innovative binge view experiment on iView, the second episode of Chris Lilley’s new offering could only manage 287,000 viewers this week, down from 419,000 the week before. That’s less than half the amount that watched the first episode of Ja’mie: Private School Girl last year. Not very quiche at all.

Last week, would we have bothered with all the opinion piecescounterpointsonline discussions and hashtags if someone had travelled back in time and said “don’t worry, it’ll rate worse than a repeat of QI” before telling us to beware the cigar smoker, the one we call Hockey?

And all this collective brow furrowing meant we’ve missed one of the real TV successes of the year. ABC1’s The Gods of Wheat Street drew 458,000 and was the seventh most watched show overall during its Saturday night debut on April 12. Since then it has remained in the top 10 programs for the night and broke the half-a-million viewers barrier on April 26, with 512,000 people tuning in to the trials and tribulations of the Freeburn family. — Ben Anderson (more at Daily Review)

Front page of the day. Almost 250 people have been confirmed dead in what could be Turkey’s worst mining disaster, with more than 100 still missing underground …

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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