Don’t hold back. Ex-News Corp CEO Kim Williams gave the keynote address at last week’s New News conference on the topic “To adapt and adopt: the challenge for media futures in a citizen empowered age”. The sold-out crowd got quite the insight into what Williams thinks of his former employers — even if he didn’t say it directly. While some authors are coy about trying to sell their books, Williams didn’t hide from the fact that he wanted to move copies and his speech was only a taste of what’s in the book. While he didn’t name names, his scorching assessment of the way the Australian print media had reacted to the advent of the internet was obviously aimed at his old stomping ground at News. He lambasted the insularity of the Australian media and its tendency to cut down tall poppies. His assessment in the 45-minute lecture was not positive:
“Media was so often about stating the equivalent of, ‘you may watch this now’ or ‘you may now read and know this’. Those rules no longer apply. Companies must adopt collaborative models in how they work and, as essentially, how they connect. Many media companies have proved they are struggling to do so with diminishing revenues, audiences and creative workforces, which entrench dangerous diminishing spirals in each — this is most pronounced presently in all newspaper enterprises but it will affect all media in a rapidly increasing way. The digitally empowered genie is an unusually demanding one. You can never rest.
“Making a serious commitment to these changed consumer settings in the entire main sequence of the media value chain continues to be challenging but if companies don’t change in the tenets of their core values and behaviours the possibility of failure rises exponentially. It means reviewing the whole innovation process — making it faster and very much more customer-centric, while sometimes pursuing blue sky bets.
“Over the first two decades, from the advent of the internet and its wide consumer deployment, almost all print media companies, quite inexplicably, resisted the obvious: the need to respond to profound change. Their advertising model had completely altered where scarcity in print placement, which sustained good value, was turned on its head by the abundance of almost limitless supply in the digital domain. The two did not compute and to make matters worse the news product until recently, was provided on the internet gratis. Madness. Not the stuff of retrospective wisdom. Just an old-fashioned hard-nosed appraisal of what happens with rich incumbent businesses and their indifference to unwelcome market movements with an allied incapacity to adapt the corporate and commercial culture to radical new settings.”
Interestingly Williams was harsh on news services that didn’t keep up with the times but passionately defended the rights of Foxtel and HBO when questioned about Australians illegally downloading Game of Thrones. He said that audiences in the US must subscribe to see the program, so why shouldn’t Australians? Seems the Foxtel model of “you watch when we say” is still okay, even if the print-media model is outdated. — Sally Whyte
Opera, opera everywhere but not a note is sung. The Opera Ball was held at Sydney’s Carriageworks on Saturday night, and for $600-$700 a ticket, what did the Sydney operistas get? No Opera. Not a single aria. Lots of “modern” signing, but not a vowel of Verdi, or vibrato from Puccini, or a warble from Wagner. That caused some consternation. Fancy having a celebration of opera for Opera Australia’s heaviest hitters, and not a note sung in passion. Qantas had a table with former AWU national secretary Paul Howes and Qantas executive Olivia Wirth hosting. Seen at this table were Michael Stutchbury, the editor-in-chief of The Australian Financial Review (no doubt finding out how his fellow 1-percenters carouse), and Ticky Fullerton, host of the ABC’s The Business. No worries there about bean counter axes at the ABC. Or The Australian’s pale imitation of the AFR in this morning’s paper called The Australian Business Review. — Glenn Dyer
Murdochian deal done. It’s final, the Murdoch clan’s 21st Century Fox and Apollo Global Management — controlled by veteran US financier (and Rupert Murdoch’s mate) Leon Black — have finalised six months of negotiations and dealing to combine Shine, Endemol and Core Media into the world’s biggest independent TV production house.
So the companies which control Big Brother, American Idol, Minute to Win It, So You Think You Can Dance, The Biggest Loser, Deal or No Deal, The Voice and MasterChef will combine to be half-owned each by Apollo and Fox. Shine founder and chair, Elisabeth Murdoch leaves her role at the end of 2014, and the incoming CEO is former BSkyB executive Sophie Turner Laing.
The group’s businesses will operate in more than 30 markets and include 600 scripted and reality TV shows, the companies said in a statement issued on the weekend. Apollo had assets under management of approximately US$168 billion. It has a stake in Nine Entertainment in Australia. For Rupert Murdoch this is another in a long history of deals with Apollo’s who came to prominence at the old junk bond inventors, Drexel Burnham Lambert where he ran its 1985 cable TV business, and helped to sell the Metromedia TV station group to Murdoch, giving him the basis to launch the Fox TV network. In 2011, Apollo bought Core Media, which owns the Idol franchise. It took control of Endemol by buying its debt, and when Endemol could repay it, Apollo swooped; just as it and fellow fund Oaktree did with Nine in Australia.
The New York Times reported that one point there was talk about adding Peter Chernin’s Chernin Entertainment to the mix with Fox and Apollo. Chernin is the former COO of News Corp, prior to Chase Carey getting the gig. The three companies will continue to operate as separate companies. — Glenn Dyer
Tony and Rupert, sitting in a tree … Is there any limit to the fawning of the Abbott Government towards Rupert Murdoch? Not content with paying court to the octogenarian on every New York trip (Kevin Rudd was an earlier supplicant), now the country as a whole seems to be in thrall. Australia is hosting the G20 in Brisbane in November. The Abbott government, however, took the fawning a step further in Washington last Friday night at a G20 dinner at the Library of Congress, during the IMF/World Bank annual meetings (the fourth this year). The Financial Times reported, “At the G20 dinner on Friday night, the Australian hosts invited Rupert Murdoch, media tycoon, who also singled out Spain for praise, according to delegates present.” David Crowe in The Australian reported “a surprise speech from Rupert Murdoch”, but no detail of what his Lord and Master told the 80 guests. — Glenn Dyer
Channel Seven rolls out the hits. On Wednesday fortnight, October 29, the Seven Network will launch its programming and “business strategies” for 2015. Led by CEO Tim Worner the network will boast of jewels in its line up for next year. Seven has had several lean years with offshore product (with the exceptions of Downton Abbey from the UK, and The Blacklist from the US). This time around, Seven will have a couple of US hits to boast about, including the big one so far in the American 2014 season, How To Get Away With Murder, a scripted drama. It’s the highest-rating 10pm drama in US TV this fall. The other new hit is a comedy called Black-ish.
How To Get Away With Murder is a legal drama with a cast of thousands. Black-ish guest stars Laurence Fishburne, who is also one of a clutch of executive producers. Both are rating their socks off in the key 18–to–49 age demographic in the US, which is where programs have to succeed, even if they get solid figures in what’s called “Total People” in Australian ratings jargon.
The two have grabbed headlines with strong debuts. Additionally, follow-up viewing figures from personal video recorders/digital video recorders (PVR/DVR) have been very solid. The pilot episode of HTGAWM premiered on September 25 and had more than 14 million viewers on live broadcast, and over 20 million in total, with PVR/DVR viewing over the next seven days taken into account.
Black-ish also airs on ABC in the US. Last Wednesday, it had a total of 8.28 million viewers, the second highest 18–to–49 rating, and third highest share, which makes it a winner. It was second only to Modern Family on ABC which was its lead–in last Thursday. How To Get Away With Murder had 10 million viewers and a 3.1% rating in the 18-to-49 age range. It was second on the night after the NFL on CBS. But HTGAWM rates very high with delayed viewing on PVRs taken into account. The previous week’s audience was boosted 61% by delayed viewing. — Glenn Dyer
Front Page of the Day. The reaction to education activist Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize in Pakistan has been reported as “mixed” as some conservatives are suspicious of the West’s role in her rise to fame. While most would expect the award would be plastered across local media, the biggest mention of the accolade was actually made in an advertisement taken out on the front page of the Pakistan Observer by the Pakistan People’s Party. The paper’s editor has been quoted as saying, “she is a normal, useless type of a girl. Nothing in her is special at all. She’s selling what the West will buy”.