channel seven
Ash Barty in her first round win at Wimbledon. (Image: Susan Mullane/USA TODAY)

Shares in Seven West Media hit an all-time low of 45 cents on Tuesday, only hours before its latest programming stuff-up emerged.

The network, which is 41% owned by Kerry Stokes, earned the ire of tennis fans for failing to screen Ash Barty’s first-round match at Wimbledon.

Barty is the first Australian female French Open winner in 46 years and the first Australian to win a tennis major since 2011. She is now world No. 1. She is a big deal and the decision once again raises the question of whether Seven’s blokey male management understands women.

Seven tried to have a bit both ways, concentrating on the all-Australian men’s clash between lower ranked Nick Kyrgios and Jordan Thompson. It would have been easy for Seven to mark Barty’s first game as the world No. 1 in an appropriate manner by screening every moment of the match, then picking up Krygios’ match. It sounds simple, it should have been, but not for Seven. 

Financial woes

Seven’s share price fell to the record low two days after it was expelled from the ASX 200, the index of the top 200 listed Australian companies by value. Back in 2011, the newly merged Seven West Media was worth $4.1 billion. As of Tuesday’s close it was worth less than $600 million. There is no single reason for Seven’s woes, though the perception of a blokey culture has done nothing to help.

Seven has solid programming, but this year those so-called rating stars (My Kitchen Rules and House Rules) have underperformed while a spate of duds such as The Super Switch has not helped market confidence in Seven’s management. These duds are undermining the best performance by Seven News for several years in metro and regional markets where it is now dominating rival Nine.

Advertising generally has hurt Seven. Last August’s forecast predicted a rise in earnings of 5-10%. The latest guidance for the year to June noted a fall of 5-10%. So Seven is doing it tough. And that fall has come on top of more than $30 million in cost cuts and the departure of well over 100 staff across the TV business, newspapers, magazines and back office.

And now the stuff-up over broadcasting the Barty match which again focuses unwanted attention on Seven’s management.

A gender problem?

Last week, Seven West told staff that Hamish Thomson was to leave Seven and its Sunday Night program after he allegedly told a female producer she needed a “good fuck“.

Thomson denies the incident and an internal memo from Seven said “after three challenging and successful years Hamish is leaving to explore other opportunities”.

Since the consensual affair between the company’s CEO Tim Worner and former employee Amber Harrison became public in December 2016, the company’s share price has slumped from a high of $1.15 in July 2016, to a low of 45 cents last week and ended the financial year on Friday at 46.5 cents. That story ended with a settlement but the 60% share price slump has had the value of the company fall by a billion dollars from late 2016 (Kerry Stokes lost around $410 million of that).

On top of the Harrison story there have been several other examples of problems Seven has had with female employees.

In 2017, Seven Adelaide cadet journalist Amy Taeuber was sacked shortly after making a sexual harassment complaint against an older male colleague. A recording of a mishandled human resources meeting with Taeuber was leaked to the ABC, where she wasn’t allowed a support person.

In the same year Seven reached a confidential agreement with Weekend Sunrise newsreader Talitha Cummins who had claimed she was sacked unfairly while on maternity leave.

Several high-profile female staff (such as newsreader Chris Bath) were dumped in surprising fashion — Bath had been at Seven for 20 years.

And now the stuff-up over the broadcasting of Barty’s match, which should have been a gimme. Tragic.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW