Long ago, The Chaser declared war on News Corp Australia for its culture-warring, climate-change-denying ways.

Before they tricked News Corp into reporting on a fake petition about fairy bread being “cancelled”, the satirical publication’s team dreamed up a plan to help readers hit the company where it really hurts: its bottom line.

In 2019, The Chaser started cancelling subscriptions on behalf of people who were fed up with News Corp.

“Are you sick of that crotchety old billionaire Rupert Murdoch siphoning off your hard-earned cash each week?” The Chaser website asks.

“Are you sick of supporting a newspaper which gives airtime to climate deniers as the country burns down around you? Want to just cancel your subscription to The Daily Telegraph that keeps clogging up your mailbox, but can’t be arsed waiting on the phone for three hours?”

Participants use a simple web form to sign over their legal rights to The Chaser to act as a representative, who will then cancel their News Corp subscription on their behalf.

The Chaser tells Crikey that it has cancelled more than 2000 subscriptions since the scheme first started.

A bit of back-of-the-envelope maths using the Tele or Herald Sun subscription cost ($260 for a minimum yearly subscription minus promotions) means that losing a single year’s worth of subscription from each of these former subscribers would cost the company more than half a million dollars. Yep, $500,000.

Even assuming that many of those subscriptions would have been cancelled at some point, The Chaser’s scheming is almost certainly costing News Corp hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

The Chaser’s editor Cam Smith reckons these numbers are the tip of the cancellation iceberg.

“We generally notice upticks around times when News Corp have done something stupid, so the real benefit to us isn’t so much the unsubscriptions as it’s knowing which issues are actually costing News Corp money, as we can assume a lot more cancellations are being processed on their side,” he told Crikey.

News Corp cancellation en masse

Originally, Smith would phone up and cancel for each person individually. Then, in batches. Finally, News Corp took mercy.

“Eventually at some stage, someone more senior realised that we weren’t going away and for a while they let us send through a spreadsheet of names so that people could be unsubscribed in batches,” The Chaser’s Charles Firth said via email.

That changed towards the end of 2020, when they forced Smith back to cancelling over the phone again. (“My theory is they didn’t want too many unsubscribes in some reporting quarter and so they were trying to delay it as long as possible,” Firth said).

Is News Corp worried about The Chaser whittling down its subscriber numbers? According to a News Corp executive Smith met, they won’t care until cancellations reach 50,000.

So, The Chaser set a goal.

“The target is 50,000” Smith said.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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