Shakeup at Dateline. This week saw SBS flagship Dateline celebrate its 30th anniversary. But it’ll start next year with a new EP, after long-running producer Peter Charley bows out. Promoted to his former role is Bernadine Lim, currently a producer with the program. Charley’s departure has long been rumoured after his contract wasn’t renewed by August, as Crikey reported at the time. We’ve previously been told the format of Dateline may be changing in the new year, but understand nothing concrete has yet been announced. — Myriam Robin

Exclusive watch. The Sydney Morning Herald had a cracking front-page exclusive this morning, revealing that George Brandis’ Foreign Fighters Bill would allow the Immigration Department to collect and store fingerprint and retina scans from people travelling through Australia’s international airports.

The story, by David Wroe, begins:

“Photographs of millions of Australians will be stored by the Immigration Department, and this ‘biometric data’ gathering could extend to fingerprinting and iris scanning under the Abbott government’s controversial counterterrorism laws.”

Wroe continues that “the department can also share the biometric information for ‘specified purposes’ … though it does not explain what these purposes are”.

And near the end of the story, the SMH reminds its readers that Immigration accidentally released the personal details of 10,000 asylum seekers earlier this year.

This is all starting to sound a bit familiar to us. Hang on — on October 8, a full eight days before the SMH’s “exclusive”, Crikey’s Bernard Keane wrote this article, “You can trust us with your fingerprints and retina scans, says Immigration”. Keane’s story begins:

”A provision of the ‘foreign fighters’ national security bill currently being considered by Parliament would allow the same department that accidentally published details of thousands of asylum seekers’ identities to collect fingerprint and retina scans of every person entering and leaving Australia without legislative approval, store them and share them across government, creating a treasure trove of personal data that, if stolen, could never be amended or overwritten.”

Too little, too late, Fairfax. So much for an “exclusive”.

Ads, ads, ads. I know I’ve said it before but, truly, this morning’s edition of The Australian Financial Review should be renamed The Australian Property Review, such was the dominance of property in the edition. A page-one pointer boasts, “Australia’s best property coverage” with “24 pages of news, deals and analysis”. But as we all know, that’s the stuff that fits around the real reason for the pages: property ads, and in this case, commercial property. No wonder the Reserve Bank is starting to get antsy about the boom in commercial property. Perhaps that’s why the AFR was a bit bashful this morning about a further four pages of property ads in the front of the paper, paying premiums for being on news pages (that’s if those old ideas still exist). That took the number of pages to 28, or a massive 38.8% of the edition proper, which was covered by a four-page wrap-around celebrating the new release of premium Penfolds red wines. That four-page wrap-around would have been a special deal between Fairfax Media and Penfolds, not the AFR. But the AFR had some other ads this morning — 17 in total, 14 paying (or 13 if you discount a full-page ad for a conference with which the AFR is partnering), and three our four house ads. Thank god for the commercial property boom! — Glenn Dyer

HBO expands its streaming content. HBO, the premium cable network owned by Time Warner, is going to join Netflix and a growing list of competitors in the streaming video business — news that was undermined a few hours after the announcement by a weaker-than-expected set of subscriber numbers from Netflix — its shares “cratered”, as some market commentators so elegantly described the 23%-plus plunge in after-hours trading.

HBO, which already operates a modest streaming service called HBO GO in several Nordic countries, will launch an expanded version in the US in 2015. Time Warner and HBO reckon there are 10 million or so American homes that don’t have cable or access to the cable channel’s products (such as Boardwalk Empire, Girls, and, in the past, The Sopranos). To access the new service, customers need subscribe to HBO. HBO did not provide any pricing guides or say whether the service will be offered as part of an internet-service package, as well as on a stand-alone basis. It will continue to be sold through cable and satellite providers.

But the market reaction to Netflix’s results was more interesting. Netflix is confronting some bad news, despite its profit beating expectations at US$59 million (96 cents a share), compared with earnings of US$32 million (52 cents a share) a year ago. From investors’ point of view, Netflix fell well short of its forecast of 3.69 million new streaming subscribers by adding a still impressive 3.02 million new members during the quarter. Netflix said it “over-forecasted” membership growth, and said new additions in the US were slower than a year ago due to a price increase the company recently implemented. Many subscribers have got rid of cable subscriptions because of rising costs. That is a big warning to HBO and Time Warner. Being a premium streaming service won’t cut it with potential customers if it’s too expensive. Many of those 10 million homes without cable are in that position because it’s too expensive, or they no longer want cable. Those points helped push the shares to more than 23% in afterhours trading. — Glenn Dyer

Ten’s grim prognosis. The sharemarket wasn’t to be fooled. As Ten Network CEO Hamish McLennan accentuated the positive and minimised the negative (those losses and write-downs, again) in a press release this morning, Ten shares sank to yet another alltime low of 18.5 cents (down half a cent from the previous low). That leads us to ask: where are those would-be bidders that The Australian Financial Review keeps telling us are out there, waiting for Ten?

Ten said in today’s release it has net debt of $85 million, and had repaid a $150 million loan. But how much cash is left from the $200 million loan from the Commonwealth Bank? Well, just $13.4 million, down $109 million from the end of the previous financial year. Now that will get investors worried again.

True to Public Relations 101 training, McLennan focused on the upbeat — how the network’s performance matched the reduced guidance issued in June (but not the licence write-down) and how Ten’s ratings are picking up as predicted (as they indeed are) and how Ten is the only network to lift its ratings in the key 25-to-54 age demographic. Any mention of the negatives was limited to a box at the start of this morning’s press release, and a paragraph or three in the body of the statement. There were the details of the second impairment of the value of the group’s TV licence in 18 months — a development forecast in August by Crikey.

And then there was the classic divert-attention gambit at the end of the statement where McLennan switched the media’s attention away from what was a rotten result by way of a call for the Federal Government to reform media ownership laws, the hoariest media chestnut of 2014. It is one that has been all but forgotten after the federal government closed up shop and decided to put the kibosh on media law changes after Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull lost his nerve.

Industry figures showed that Ten has made a slightly better start to its financial year, but September still saw a small fall in ad revenues booked through agencies and buying groups compared to a year ago. Rivals Nine and Seven saw a solid rise in September, reversing the weakness in July and August. — Glenn Dyer

Front page of the day. A possible breakthrough in the Madeleine McCann case, and a ghost child in a tree (whether these two are connected is as yet unconfirmed) …

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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