Media

MediaRoom: Could StuffWorks replace StuffMe?

COMMENT: When the High Court turned down the StuffMe merger of Stuff Ltd and NZME last year, the prospect of MediaWorks stepping into the ring to link with Stuff became a real possibility.

Now, with Stuff's Australian parent, Fairfax Media, being swallowed by Nine Entertainment the rumbles for a Stuff-MediaWorks tie-up are growing again.

For the corporate engineers, there would be a few initial hurdles to negotiate.

First, the StuffMe partners have taken their proposed merger to the Court of Appeal, had their day in court and are awaiting their Honours' considered judgment - expected toward the end of the year. 

Second, the Nine merger with Fairfax also awaits approval - from the Australian competition regulator, the ACCC, which has set down three months for its initial consideration, and from the companies' shareholders.

Third, the merged Nine entity would be left with either its Stuff subsidiary (if the Court of Appeal denies the NZ merger) or a large shareholding in an approved StuffMe merged company.  If the latter, it would be impossible for that big media beast to be allowed to merge again with MediaWorks with its TV reach, Newshub digital site and the other half of the commercial radio market that NZME does not already own.

But if Fairfax Media was to direct Stuff to withdraw in advance of a Court of Appeal decision (possible but preposterous) or that court was to block the StuffMe merger, then a Nine-Fairfax combo would be left seeking an option for what to do with Stuff Ltd.

This column raised the question last week over Stuff's fate in the big Australian corporate power play. Since then, media business theorists have offered the view the new Nine would be open to selling or merging Stuff with MediaWorks, which is owned by the US debt giant, Oaktree Capital. Oaktree owned shares in Nine until last year and thus knows both transtasman broadcasters well. 

MediaWorks' board is chaired by Jack Matthews, a former senior executive of Fairfax Media and the MediaWorks chief executive Michael Anderson was a former Fairfax director. They have the advantage of knowing the Fairfax and Stuff businesses well.

Both the New Zealand media businesses need a partner. Stuff has made that clear in its dogged pursuit of the NZME deal. Stuff has the country's biggest news website and audience but a collection of newspapers and small new ventures with no broadcasting arm. MediaWorks has spoken of the existential risks it faces in a broadcasting policy environment in which the Labour-led government is bulking up RNZ and funding for NZ on Air, while leaving TVNZ to prowl the commercial markets.

A StuffWorks combo would have scale - with the Stuff website, the second-tier Newshub site, TV Three, MediaWorks' music radio revenue machine and the Stuff newspaper chain. Integrated sales and journalism arms could aspire to achieve the same gains as Nine and Fairfax hope to see in Australia.

StuffWorks would also face the concerns over plurality of news sources and diversity of voices that have bedevilled the StuffMe bid - but it would not have anywhere the same dominance online, would not double-up in newspaper markets and might arguably bolster the chances of competition in the talk radio market.

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The drums that have been beating for Newshub's Lisa Owen to be the next host of Checkpoint on RNZ when John Campbell exits peaked last week with Stuff.co.nz reporting she is likely to win the appointment.

Owen, host of Newshub Nation on Three on weekend mornings and co-host with Ryan Bridge of RadioLive's drivetime show, was an obvious contender for the Checkpoint job from the start. Her profile, standing as a political interviewer and reporting pedigree went before her. 

RNZ would not comment to Stuff on the selection process but it is understood an announcement could be as early as this week.

MediaWorks would be keen to retain Owen as it strives to shake up the low-rating RadioLive in a talk radio market in which the lion's share of advertising revenues fall almost by default to market leader NewstalkZB. The pairing with Bridge is still in its infancy and the network would likely regret what-might-have-been should she depart.

RNZ has indicated Checkpoint would remain hosted from Auckland and as a televised show on digital and freeview channels. Owen could be a seamless choice into such a dual-hosting role. Her hard-pressing and matter-of-fact questioning style could take Checkpoint back to the take-no-prisoners tone set by former host Mary Wilson.  

Campbell is set to leave RNZ next month for a presenting and reporting role at TVNZ. His executive producer on both Campbell Live at TV Three and Checkpoint, Pip Keane is remaining and her relationship with Owen would be critical if the appointment goes ahead.

[UPDATE: Having said all that, RadioLive is carrying an ad this morning in Lisa Owen's voice joking she'll take back the 'pants' from Bridge upon her return to the show. Either an old ad poorly timed or a signal?]

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Fresh from working his public relations wizardry on the failed Eden Park bid to hold a 'charity' concert for the Ray Avery LifePods, Exceltium director Matthew Hooton has had another client, law firm Meredith Connell pin its name to an app for the popular culture website The Spinoff. Meredith Connell has the Crown warrant for prosecutions in Auckland but its practice is broader than that and it uses Hooton for external communications advice. 

Being the Crown's prosecutor on things criminal, however, the first days of sponsorship presented a moment or two of angst for some at the firm with their name proudly appearing above an article outlining the best drugs being taken on the music festival scene this past summer. 

Matthew Hooton's client law firm Meredith Connell  has pinned its name to an app for The Spinoff.

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The country's leading proponent of paywall journalism, the NBR, has launched its new website - and as with all such technology initiatives has had to sort a host of problems, not the least keeping paying subscribers plugged in.

NBR had to update its 'welcome to our new website' message with a lengthy explanation of problems experienced since it went live and the fixes it had brought to bear. The welcome message listed numerous faults including people having trouble logging in and it noted one fault affected the users within some of its corporate subscribers' companies.

The site redevelopment - its first for nearly five years - was led by web developer Catalyst and was said by digital editor Chris Keall to have represented a "truckload of money" from owner and publisher Todd Scott.

The site was flashing an "Our website is temporarily offline" message at times on Thursday and as late as 2pm Friday, but came back online. 

"Sorry for the hassles and thanks for your patience," Keall wrote. "We're getting there." 

Newsroom.co.nz had its own technology issues as late as March 13 when, on our first birthday, our site was down due to problems with its host servers based in Melbourne, Australia. So we wish the smart new NBR site stability.

[UPDATE: The New Zealand Herald announces Monday morning that it has hired Keall - a key NBR editor and evangelist - to work on its Premium section which will be its first subscription paywalled content from late this year. Keall has been a tweeting buddy of Scott and a leader in digital journalism in New Zealand for years.]

The NBR website was flashing an "Our website is temporarily offline" message on Friday.

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It won’t hit the headlines like Lisa Owen’s decision will but there was a significant departure from MediaWorks last week. Tom Cotter has resigned from his role as chief information and product officer.

Cotter joined the company in 2014 and was responsible for a major rebuild of Mediaworks' digital platforms including 3Now and the Newshub app.

Before this he spent seven years at TVNZ where he was general manager of digital media. It's understood Cotter plans to take time out before seeking another job.

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