Media will still have challenges to navigate after reforms

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 13 October 2017
Grant Blackley at Radio Alive 2017

Media reform is due to come back in front of the House of Representatives on Tuesday next week (17 October) which could seal the fate of the proposals put forward by Communications Minister Mitch Fifield.

Bosses of five major media companies stepped up to the plate to debate the impact those reforms could have on the media industry at the Radio Alive conference in Melbourne today, but unsurprisingly they kept their cards close to their chests. All on the panel were unforthcoming when it came to talking about specific changes or potential mergers that could come from the new media reform framework but while it could be seen as too little too late by some, all agree it offers some much needed progress.

When asked about the swirling rumours around merger talks between Nine, Fairfax and SCA, Hugh Marks, Nine CEO, was unwilling to to reveal anything.

“I think it's unlikely i'm going to be making a breaking news announcement on this stage … but I think the media reforms reflect that the world has changed,” he said.

Grant Blackley, CEO of SCA, was complementary on what has been tabled, although vague on any specific impacts.

“It gives the industry the opportunity to consider mergers and acquisitions that for 20 years have not been possible. Every person on this panel and every person in the industry will be looking at how that will influence their business, what would be the benefits, and the challenges.

“Will there be consolidation? Certainly but we’re only talking about media reform in radio, TV and newspapers so there is limited number of combinations. Some might desire scale, others might want a more organic approach, and others will look to collaboration not ownership.

“Did media reform deal with everything [the industry wanted]? No, but it did tackle the most critical issues that have been up for debate for 20 years and government should be commended on their efforts to get it through,” he said.

He added that despite the achievement, even when the full package is fully signed off by government, it won;t fix all the issues the industry faces. There will continue to be challenges that affect the industry and that major players will still have to navigate.

The future of Ten

The discussion turned to the fate of FTA network Ten, which is on its way to being fully owned by US corporation CBS, and the impact that change in ownership will have.

Blackley believes the new ownership is a positive thing for the industry and will “stabilise” the market and “rise all tides”.

“CBS is a large organisation. They don't enter a market just for the sake of it, they are here to make a dollar and will put the appropriate resource behind that,” he said.

Before CBS emerged as Ten’s new owner, it was long suspected that Ten would become part of the Murdoch stable.

Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp, which is owned by Murdoch, would not be drawn on any thoughts on the future of the network under CBS.

“CBS hasn't got Ten yet, but I think it's inevitable. We don't have any insight as to what CBS’s plans are. If you look at what they have done with Channel 4 in the UK they haven't changed it greatly,” he summarised.

When asked if News Corp would partner with Ten going forwards, despite animosity over the alternative deal that was on the table from Murdoch, he did not rule it out.

“We’d partner with anyone and have strong relationships with all broadcasters. The industry has changed and you can be sitting next to them one day [as a partner] and opposite them [as a rival] the next. It is inevitable and to compete in in a rapidly changing market you have to look at who you can work with the deliver scale of audience, data, tech and brand.”

Too little too late

Fox Sports CEO Patrick Delany, while supportive of the reforms package, believes that the moves are already too late, and that his company has already made long term decisions about the way it operates because reforms have not come soon enough.

Backing away from the EPL because it simply couldn’t afford to bid for the exclusive rights, is one example he cites, and says instead Fox Sports has decided to focus on “live and local” with an emphasis on Ausse codes rather than exclusivity of rights for international sports it would have fought hard for in the past.

“You’ll see unusual things from us like us peeling back from sports we would have traditionally gone for exclusively. Now, we can’t afford the exclusivity and we’ll combine with other [broadcasters].

Delaney also defended the $30 million funding boost Foxtel is receiving as part of the media reforms, calling it an “investment” not a handout from government.

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