Alan Jones (aka The Parrot) might be quitting radio, but from the tenor of his exit comments he will still be around to snarl at his enemies from pulpits he has carefully nurtured at News Corp.
News of Jones’ departure saw the Nine Entertainment share price ease by just 2% — or three cents — in the half hour of trading from 10am (Jones’ retirement was revealed just after 8am), so it’s hardly had a cataclysmic impact on Nine.
Jones has had two media masters for a while now. Besides his breakfast program on 2GB in Sydney (and on relay to other stations such as the Nine-owned 4BC in Brisbane), he also pops up in the News Corp-owned Sky News. He has double headers with Graham Richardson, the tired ALP hack and former senator, and with Peta Credlin, the former chief of staff to Tony Abbott, who fancies herself as the heiress apparent to Jones in the right-wing ranting stakes.
On top of that he is a frequent writer (or rewriter of radio scripts) in News Corp papers, especially The Daily Telegraph in Sydney and The Australian nationally (the latter being largely the print version of the post- 7pm line-up on Sky News).
Jones announced his shock exit to breakfast show listeners this morning, telling them he would wrap up broadcasting on May 29.
“I’m not retiring, I’m just retiring from radio,” he said. He was retiring after advice from “medical experts” — perhaps surprising, given that he doesn’t always listen to other experts, for example on climate change.
But abandoning breakfast radio will allow him to sleep in (he reportedly wakes about 3am to start preparing for his show). Now he’ll be able to start the day a little later to prepare his contributions to the cast of after dark screamers on the ailing Sky News.
Continuing on the financially challenged channel will allow him to maintain a national voice and continue to insult whoever he pleases.
Although we don’t get financials from Sky News in the News Corp quarterly reports (it’s buried in the News Corp Australia accounts), the continuing fall in subscriber numbers for Foxtel overall has meant pressure on Sky’s revenues.
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The slump in advertising hasn’t helped in the past year or so and COVID-19 has only made the black holes worse.
Foxtel has lost more than 200,000 home subscribers in the past year to 18 months. That’s hit Sky News hard, so it needs to hold on to its core audience — the 50,000 to 90,000 people who tune in from 6pm.
Jones’ departure will cost Nine revenue from the breakfast slot — he has the highest ratings on Sydney radio, winning 226 ratings periods in a row.
2GB drive’s host, Ben Fordham, will replace Jones but will not command the same ratings and revenue dominance. Incidentally, moving to breakfast means Fordham is ruled out as a new host for Nine’s ailing Today show where Karl Stefanovic is struggling to hold on to viewers.
For Nine there’s an added problem: what will morning host Ray Hadley do? Will he stew over being overlooked again, or will Nine pay him more to remain in mornings and dominate? For that to succeed, Fordham has to hold on to Jones’ listeners and pass them on to Hadley, which is why Hadley has been as dominant in his time slot as Jones has been in breakfast.
The loss of revenue from Jones’ show will add to the pressures for Nine’s radio business at a time when COVID-19 has already caused a big hit, with April revenues down 12.4% in the March quarter.
But there will also be a big cost saving in lower defamation costs. Jones cost the former Macquarie Media upwards of $3.7 million in costs and damages to the Wagner brothers of Toowoomba over false claims made by Jones (and others) over the Grantham floods in southern Queensland in 2011.
Those huge costs forced Macquarie (which self-insured its legal and defamation costs) to provide $3 million in its 2017-18 accounts and $3.2 million in its 2018-19 accounts for legal costs. The damages awarded against 2GB and 4BC (two Nine stations) to the Wagners exceeded those provisions and helped cut Macquarie Media’s earnings.
Jones’ abuse of women and others saw social media campaigns against him with advertisers in his program targeted to the point where he moaned about being a victim. Twice between 2012 and 2019 Macquarie Media/Fairfax or Nine suspended ads on the Jones show over some of his comments.
He even complained about the treatment he was receiving from ABC’s Media Watch, ignoring the years of abuse and hectoring he has directed at politicians, business people, individuals and especially anyone who opposed him in rugby union.