Michelle Guthrie’s plans for the ABC. Several months into her tenure, opinions about managing director Michelle Guthrie are still to solidify, writes Walkley-winning journalist Margaret Simons in a new Monthly cover essay out on Monday.

The essay, for which Guthrie declined to give an interview, raises concerns about Guthrie’s desire to have the ABC reach 100% of Australians. The BBC, Simons notes, aims for this by competing with Britain’s commercial broadcasters, airing popular sport, reality television and an FM-style Top 40 format on radio. Given the ABC’s constrained budget, Simons queries what this will mean for things like ABC Classic FM and Radio National.

A note that appeared recently on the ABC’s website outlining the organisation’s policies about repackaging the ABC’s content to third-party sources, Simons writes, was placed there at Guthrie’s request. Simons writes:

“Guthrie understands the new media imperative. Content is not the only thing that matters. Distribution is almost equally important. Already, the ABC is more porous than it was 15 years ago … Now, Guthrie seems to be saying, the ABC must become less a solid than a gas. Pervasive.”

The essay also notes Guthrie’s style, which is markedly different to her predecessor’s.

“Guthrie now circulates the chair among the executive members and instead sits with the troops and fires questions. One of her favourite comments is ‘Tell me why.’

“Among the executive members, opinions are divided as to whether the new style is refreshing and constructive or signalling an impending chaos.”

“’It reminds us that she is a lawyer by training,’ says one.

Myriam Robin

BuzzFeed splits into cats and news. Gawker closed on Monday of this week in the wake of its bankruptcy. A day later, rival BuzzFeed revealed it is splitting into two units, formally separating its news and journalism from the website’s entertainment and video content.

The company’s film studio, BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, and content such as lists and quizzes will be wrapped into a new unit, BuzzFeed Entertainment Group, to try to get more from digital videos (YouTube and Facebook are the major outlets).

But there is another imperative at work — BuzzFeed’s ambitions for US$250 million of revenue by this year has fallen badly short. It, like its analog rivals such as print and free-to-air and cable TV companies, have been left behind by the rapid growth in Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram (as well as Google) and the flow of ad revenues and eyeballs to them and away from the likes of BuzzFeed and Gawker.

The split was first reported by Vanity Fair in an interview with BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti, who followed up his comments with a memo to staff overnight Tuesday. In it he reportedly said the split would simplify operations and “allow us to be better at entertainment and better at news”.

BuzzFeed’s move is further evidence that pure online companies (the original “disrupters” for legacy print and TV) are not exempt from those same pressures dissecting the old-fashioned analog media companies. Others will watch and move to follow if BuzzFeed’s move strikes gold. It’s a recognition that being edgy and wholly online is no protection against the forces sweeping through media. — Glenn Dyer

News of the World had at least one interested buyer. An extract from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal feature on Vice’s future:

“[Vice founder Shane] Smith says he really got to know the younger [James]. Murdoch when Vice tried to buy News Corp’s News of the World tabloid at the height of its phone-hacking scandal, arguing he could use the paper’s notoriety to turn it into a new kind of international news outlet. The idea didn’t fly, but [Rupert] Murdoch ‘liked our cockiness,’ Mr. Smith said.”

Murdoch closed The News of the World in 2011. Also from that feature, the kicker:

“Everything’s f—d right now,” [Smith] says of the media industry. “That quite frankly is good for us, because otherwise we couldn’t get in.”

Nine dives, Southern Cross thrives. A tale of two companies today, looking at the contrasting 2015-16 results and outlooks for the next year from the Nine Network and its new regional TV affiliate Southern Cross Austero this morning. Nine’s earnings have headed south, as its “disappointing”ratings performance so far in 2016, weak revenues and one off costs ate into the bottom line. The network had already warned of the likelihood of an earnings slide a few months ago and that is what was unveiled this morning. Profit fell 7% to $120 million with earnings from television down 11% and digital profits up nearly 20%.

Nine’s overall revenue was down 6.5% to $1.282 billion, due to “challenging market conditions in free to air television and refocused digital business”, which is not expected to ease any time soon with Nine saying this morning that management expects to see the metropolitan advertising market to “be flat-to-down marginally over the full year”.

Nine CEO Hugh Marks said in a statement: “The ratings and revenue performance of our core free-to-air business was disappointing in the first six months of calendar 2016, due to a combination of the challenging ad market and poor programming outcomes.” In other words, Seven and Ten did much better than we did. And while Seven pointed to a 15% to 20% fall in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation in 2016-17 because of higher sports rights costs, Nine was more circumspect.

At Southern Cross, a more upbeat set of comments and presentation from CEO Grant Blackley — the man most tipped to replace Hugh Marks at Nine if the Nine board decides that new blood is needed. Nine already owns 9.9% of Southern Cross (at a cost of $89 million) and moved to a regional affiliate deal mid-year replacing the one with Bruce Gordon’s WIN, which now has a deal with Ten. Southern Cross is still Ten’s affiliate in northern NSW.)

Southern Cross said net profit rose 19% to $77.2 million and it expects “considerable growth” over the next year because of the impact of the affiliate deal with Nine. Revenue rose 5.1% to $642.3 million and debt fell to $340 million (down 33%). Nine also slashed its debt to $177 million from more than half a billion the previous year. — Glenn Dyer

TV Ratings. Nine surprised with a metro win last night from Seven, Ten and the ABC, but in the regions, it was Seven well in front of Nine, Ten and the ABC. Those rusted on Seven viewers in regional Australia are more influential than ever, even if viewing levels in the key 25 to 54 demo are down.

But a night of surprises and didn’t see that coming for Seven Nine won the metros with odds and sods, Seven staggered into a weak second as the souffle went pop;  Ten did OK thanks to The Bach, but Offspring has sprung a leak, while the ABC was held up by Gruen and Anh Do’s paint brush. In fact it was a night that at first glance looked moderately boring but ended up with a message or two, especially for Seven. Its procession to a win at the end of the year has gotten a bit rougher.

Just Desserts: Down, down, down (not the Coles song). In the metros it started out on Monday night with 1.081 million metro viewers, but last night had just 734,000. A 30% loss in three nights is the big signal for turkey, not dessert. Nationally, it has lost 400,000 viewers from Monday night’s 1.532 million to last night’s 1.122 million. Not good.

The Durrells: 684,000 metro viewers. Pleasant, very British, and delightfully expat eccentric, but didn’t really strike a bell last night. Nationally, 1.048 million,which is OK, but no Downton Abbey.

The Bachelor/Offspring: Bach steady (if too meat market/Seraglio). The Bach, 1.147 million nationally and 10th overall), Offspring 668,000 metro viewers (beaten by The Durrells) and 952,000 nationally, which is OK, but the list is noticeable. Nina is overstaying her welcome so far as the core audience are concerned.

The ABC’s Gruen got 927,000 metro viewers and the most watched non news program on the night. 1.260 million nationally and fifth. Anh Do’s Brush with Fame got 806,000 metro viewers and 1.177 million nationally. And to think he had another good idea for a series in him after being milked by Seven — and it was there, right in front of Seven — his talent as a painter.

In the regions the most watched programs were Seven News with 618,000, Seven News/Today Tonight with 518,000, Home and Away was 3rd with 511,000, The Chase Australia 5.30pm, 465,000 and RBT, 394,000.

In metro breakfast Today with 317,000 beat Sunrise with 291,000 viewers. The Olympic halo went quickly.

Tonight – whale wresting in the NRL on Nine, Baching on Ten, with Gogglebox Australia back. Seven has Selling Houses Australia – this is not new. It’s series five from the program that first went to air on the LifeStyle Channel on Foxtel. In other words, it’s a bit of cheap ratings Spakfilla for Seven on a low viewing Thursday night. Series five actually started in 2012 on Foxtel, so it is not exactly up to date. At least Gogglebox airs on Ten tonight, only 24 hours after it aired on LifeStyle where it topped the list watched last night with a very solid 238,000 people..

Gone: Life In Pieces (Tuesday night, Ten, 8pm), which lasted just one episode after bombing this week. It is out of next Tuesday’s Ten schedule with Australian Survivor growing like topsy to a third night (Sunday Monday and now Tuesday). — Read Glenn Dyer’s full TV Ratings.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.