We hear Karl Stefanovic asked for — and got — $4 million to stay at Nine rather than defecting to Seven. But the question is: what will he do at the network now?
The network has done a deal, though Stefanovic is away (being replaced by his brother Peter Stefanovic on Today) and so hasn’t yet put pen to paper. The sticking point is that Stefanovic, whose contract expires shortly, wants off the Today show. He’s sick of the years of early starts, although he and co-host Lisa Wilkinson have done quite well to close the ratings gap with Sunrise in recent months.
But there’s very little else Stefanovic can do at Nine — unlike Sunday Night on Seven, which has a host, Nine’s 60 Minutes is introduced each week by reporters, or a single reporter not on assignment. And besides, Stefanovic’s salary would wreck 60 Minutes’ finances and force cutbacks.
If he is getting as much as TV gossip says he wants, then he will have to be in prime time — which poses a problem. Nine doesn’t have a nationwide news program, and he can’t replace either Peter Overton in Sydney or Peter Hitchener in Melbourne as both are very successful at the moment.
He does host weekly panel show The Verdict, which is returning next year, but that’s not enough for his salary.
Barring the introduction of a late-night talk show or similar to keep Stefanovic occupied, that leaves one option for the star: A Current Affair, presently hosted, successfully, by Tracy Grimshaw. She’s the sole survivor from the glory days of Nine’s news and current affairs supremacy in the 1990s and early years of last decade, before it fell under the sway of James Packer and John Alexander (who is now on the Seven West Media board).
With Seven management still on a cost-cutting binge, it’s no wonder they baulked at the Stefanovic price tag. And despite speculation, Seven wasn’t about to resurrect Today Tonight on the east coast for Stefanovic, despite that being what some inside the network might have been thinking. The hour-long news that replaced it, aided by successful new game show The Chase Australia at 5.30pm, is getting Seven News back to parity with, or even in front of, Nine nationally, and lifting its performance in Sydney and Melbourne (though Brisbane’s 6pm news remains a problem).
So A Current Affair for Stefanovic it is. Nine could call his bluff, knowing that Seven wouldn’t pay it, and that would leave Stefanovic forced to drop his demands to get Seven back in the game. So, again, ACA it is.
The Stefanovic deal was negotiated by Nine’s new CEO, Hugh Marks, and has reportedly sparked a flurry of demand from other network stars for pay rises. That’s a bad way to start a career as a media CEO at a time when revenues are under pressure and profits even scarcer, even for a solidly performing network like Nine was this year under David Gyngell.