News Corp's Siobhan McKenna on evolution and taking risks

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 2 October 2018

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Through its long history, News Corp has been in a state of constant transformation. From starting as one newspaper in Adelaide, it was transformed through geographic expansion and by entering new forms of media. In an interview with AdNews, group director of broadcasting for News Corp Australia, Siobhan McKenna, said the company's DNA comprises being strategic, forward–looking to new forms of media, and to evolve as the market evolves.

“Much more so than any other Australian company,” McKenna said News Corp is well–positioned to be in a constant transformation mindset, which she summed up as a “deep cultural value”.

“One has to be strategic, and that's another of News Corp's strengths,” McKenna revealed.

While execution capability isabsolutely essential, she believes one of the reasons News Corp has been in a constant state of transformation is because it has been led by the Murdoch family, “who are, by their very nature, strategic”.

“It has, through the leadership of Mr Murdoch, always been a highly strategic company, where bold strategic moves can be identified and pursued," McKenna said.

"It therefore has been a company that has been prepared to take risks.”

What have you been doing at News Corp?

Since I joined News Corp, we have merged Foxtel and Fox Sports, and bought Sky News. We now control these companies and have put in place an ambitious strategy to take their extraordinary sports, news and entertainment content to many more Australians. We are assembling a high calibre team of world–class executives to do this and I find it really motivating to work with talented and passionate people who are hungry for success.

What does success look like?
To be successful, the broadcasting businesses must draw upon the strength of our colleagues at News Corp’s other businesses in Australia, not only the newspapers, digital publishing and magazines led by Michael Miller, but also REA, led by Tracey Fellows. I think it’s easy to forget that News Corp Australia not only publishes eight of the top 10 newspapers read across the country, but we are the leading digital destination for news, food, lifestyle, property, style, sport and business.

See it first in-print

What’s the plan at Foxtel?

Foxtel has a long–term, stable customer base of 30% of Australian households. Clearly, we must continue to connect our customers to a premium entertainment product based on the most stable technology that aggregates the best content in the world. But, we also have to repurpose our content and create new products to appeal to the 70% of households who want something different. To do that, we have to change the way we think, so we act like a new entrant, like an attacker. I believe Foxtel has significant upside if we get this right.

Do you apply the mentality of being a “new entrant” to all areas of the business?

I would say that it's relevant in any; it's a mindset and a capability that needs to exist in any incumbent, in any industry, anywhere in the world. Once a company is incumbent, then it can lose its way in defending its incumbency. Therefore, for any incumbent, being able to have part of the business that acts like a new entrant is essential for longevity. 

Who do you work most closely with day to day?

Patrick Delany is leading the revitalisation of Foxtel. Angelos Frangopoulos has built Sky News into an influential voice and his team will seamlessly step up when he moves to lead Sky Arabia. Cathy O’Connor has attracted a formidable group of high performing executives to Nova Entertainment, and they have a well–known appetite for growth and innovation.

Who are your mentors and do you mentor people?
Lachlan Murdoch has been an inspiring mentor to me over the past 15 years. And more recently, I have benefited from Gordon Cairns' [Woolworths' chairman] mentorship. One key learning from both is the importance of maintaining a network of contacts, to value the connections and the contacts you make in business. The rewards from creating opportunities for other people to succeed are one of the best things about my work.

What makes a good leader?

A good leader inspires others to believe in a vision of success, and ensures they make the pragmatic, slow and steady changes to achieve it.

Illyria–owned Nova Entertainment’s diversification strategy has been fascinating - Red Room, e-sports deal, the arrival of Goat and Habitat. Is its strategy a prime example to other media owners?

At Nova Entertainment we have built enormous capability in our people and have a rock solid understanding of our audience. This strong core has allowed us to strategically build new businesses to deliver better outcomes for advertisers and listeners. M&A has its place, but organic growth has been a key to Nova’s enduring success.

What is the biggest challenge the sector faces?

Our greatest challenge in the media sector is to be agile in the face of technological and consumer behaviour change. But, while being responsive is important, we must remain confident that consumers do value content provenance; as content creators and content owners this will be our competitive advantage in the long run.

Is it tough to find top talent to embrace transformation?

People are essential in transformation because people can resist transformation. But, because News Corp has always been in a state of transformation, the people who work here tend to relish that challenge. In terms of finding leaders to lead through change, I don't think it's more or less difficult to find those people. I think there are lots of very capable executives in Australia and identifying them and giving them the opportunity to lead is always a pleasant thing to do because the right people always rise to the occasion.

What do you make of the media reform and subsequent market movement?

Having the regulatory settings updated for a contemporary media landscape where there are massive online offshore companies that don't really contribute to the Australian economy through employing people or paying taxes, is important.

In principle, the regulations changing is a good thing, but I don't expect those regulations will have much impact on the way the Australian media landscape looks because I don't see that being something that will impact me or the businesses I'm involved in all that much.

I think the far greater change has been the one that we have seen over the last 10 years with global behemoths. We call them 'FANG' — Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google. I think the dominance of FANG on the global media landscape is a far more profound and a serious change for traditional media companies.

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