ABC lifts digital investment. ABC News Director Kate Torney says she welcomed discussion about whether the ABC was prioritising digital over “legacy” journalism, while at the same time announcing a 40% increase in the funding of mobile and online services over the next three years.

At a speech delivered yesterday afternoon at the University of Queensland, Torney’s first public appearance for some months, the news chief said she’d been inundated with calls and texts in early December. This followed the appearance of senior ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson at the Walkleys, where she criticised comments made the previous day by ABC’s news digital editor Stuart Watt.

“Yesterday, I was at the Walkley’s Storyology conference when the head of ABC digital — inspired no doubt by the presence of his digital idol, the head of Buzzfeed — referred to television and to radio at the ABC as a legacy that needed to be ‘dealt with’,” Ferguson said in December.

“It’s an interesting word, ‘legacy’, I think. You know that legacy is the word that Qantas uses to describe all those bits of the airline that aren’t Jetstar. The way I look at it, ‘legacy’ is what my fast-departing colleagues, with their years of broadcast experience, leave behind for those of us who still hold fast to the idea that the journalism we do on radio and on television is important.”

Ferguson’s comments, Torney said, were part of an “an incredibly important conversation about the future of the ABC”.

“Digital news. Quality reporting.  At the ABC, we bring these two worlds together,” Torney said. “The problem, though, was that the controversy at the Walkleys made these two things sound like enemies instead of partners. But I think this exchange — and the debate it generated internally and externally — is precisely the kind of discussion we need to have.”

To reach the audiences of tomorrow with ABC’s quality journalism required a radical reinvestment into the channels through which audiences increasingly consume news, Torney said. And this included increasing its investment in online and mobile services by around 40% over three years.

“Yes, the ABC does have a great tradition — dare I say it, a great legacy — the greatest of any media organisation in Australia, in fact. And an ABC that keeps on changing is an ABC that keeps on being meaningful and useful to the public, earning its place in Australian life. Our strategy is brave, but the greater risk is doing nothing and not investing in the new. That would result in a weaker, less relevant ABC, rather than a compelling, vibrant media organisation at the centre of Australian life — with a great future.” — Myriam Robin

Seinfeld’s money machine. All 180 episodes of Seinfeld have ended up on the Hulu streaming site in the US at a reported cost of US$130 million ($162 million), which will be a nice top up to the money-making machine developed by Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David and Sony. (Although the streaming deal is ’small change’ compared to the billions already generated by five re-syndications in the US since the program ended in 1998.)

According to US media reports, the cost is around US$700,000 an episode, around double the streaming deal Netflix made to grab the rights to Friends.

And speaking of Jerry Seinfeld, a good feature in the Financial Times on the future of Comcast, the huge US cable and broadband business that last week pulled its US$45 billion bit for Time Warner Cable, captures nicely a very sharp comment from Seinfeld on streaming video and existing TV businesses at a recent presentation on Crackle, Sony’s ad-supported online video service.

“”The TV networks are hoping you don’t figure out that they are over and there’s nothing special about it,’ he said. He said his show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which is returning to Crackle for a sixth season in June, attracted 100 million total views last month. “What is the internet? It’s a way of reaching people — it’s just television,” the FT reported.

In other words, the world’s richest comedian reckons there’s nothing special about free to air or cable TV. That’s a rather nice epitaph for old line media in all its forms. — Glenn Dyer

Where’s the UBS story, AFR? Well, surprise, surprise, not a mention in this morning’s paper of UBS touting a Seven West Media takeover to Telstra, as the paper reported yesterday in rather modest but still breathless fashion. (A page one pointer lifts the game somewhat.)

In fact, the UBS story was stunningly and noticeably absent from the report on page 19 of yesterday’s fundraising by Seven, designed to eliminate the embarrassment of those 2500 convertible preference shares which, if not made to go away, would have stopped Seven from paying a dividend or doing a share buyback (which would have hurt the 35% shareholder in Kerry Stokes’ Seven Group Holdings.

And why embarrassing? Because in those halcyon days of 2011 when Seven West was created in a $4.1 billion merger of Seven network and West Australian newspapers, the 2500 convertible preference shares (convertible into 100 Seven West shares for each preference share) had a conversion price above $6. And the Seven west share price was $1.35 or so, and no hope of climbing back between now and the April 20 redemption date in 2016.

Hence the issue yesterday, which was a way of getting the Stokes empire off the hook and raising some capital to reduce debt in Seven West (which will still be more than $900 million once the dust settles).

But the AFR, Seven or anyone else still did not explain yesterday’s story of UBS boss Matthew Grounds touting a bid to Telstra involving the takeover of Seven West Media. As far as the AFR is concerned, the story vanished. But over at the other Fairfax Media tabloids, columnist Lizzie Knight put some credence to it in her column this morning, writing:

“There were reports in the media that investment bank UBS had sounded out Telstra as a possible buyer of Seven. For its part, Seven said UBS was operating without a mandate. Maybe. Or maybe it’s a case of plausible deniability.

“It can be no co-incidence Seven’s move comes on the heels of arch rival Nine Entertainment’s recently announced sale of its Nine Live division  for $640 million — a move that has left it cashed up and in the game. Even if Nine doesn’t buy anything, it is an attractive target. At the very least it can afford to be more generous with its shareholders — say a buyback or improved dividends.” — Glenn Dyer

Ten’s dismal results To Crikey readers, the news that the struggling Ten Network is near the end of its tether, financially speaking, will not come as a surprise.

In fact, Crikey has charted the whole charade of the slowly collapsing sale process — started last October — as potential tyre-kicker after tyre-kicker vanished from the scene. And the takeover turned into a continuing discounting of the suggested deal price from 26 cents a share all the way down to 18 cents (Despite the market trading at 20 to 21 cents, where it is on Thursday morning).

But the release today of Ten’s interim financial report for the six months to February 28, tells us the network is on its last legs and urgently needs more cash. The sale has gone from a complete takeover, to a placement at Pay Day Lender terms from the Murdoch clan-linked Foxtel.

No one else wants Ten — not the major shareholders, the Discovery Channel, ITV, CBS or any of the groups the breathless media (The Australian Financial Review and The Australian) have rushed to tell us were sniffing around Ten.

That’s why it has thrown itself at Foxtel for a placement at 18 cents a share (for a 14.9% stake) and is looking to top that up to $100 million from shareholders. Will James Packer, Lachlan Murdoch or Gina Rinehart  put more money in? If they don’t, then Ten is a dead duck.

Ten’s announcement of another whopping write-down in the value of the Network’s TV licence in its interim financial report is merely financial realism at work. Given its uncertain outlook and the inability of its assets (the Tv licence) to generate cash, the company couldn’t avoid it.

In its statement to ASX this morning, Ten warned that it is nearing the limits of its $200 million loan (from the Commonwealth Bank) and will need to recapitalise if its share of television advertising revenue weakens in a volatile market. It also revealed a $264 million loss, having written down the value of its television licences by another $251 million.

Ten said that it could be forced to take emergency measures in the next year.

Front page of the day. The Courier-Mail is committed to being the least sensitive newspaper in the country.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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