Media

MediaRoom: kicking the tyres at Three

Comment: In this week's MediaRoom column: is the fallout from the sale of Three going to produce a clone of NZME, NBR looks to downsize and the NZ on Air chief departs.

In the fortnight since MediaWorks announced it would put its television business on the block, investors and business advisers have been kicking the tyres about whether to kick the tyres of Three in the sales process.

At least two separate New Zealand-based business entities have been asking questions about the level of Three's losses and liabilities - and what it might take to keep the channel on the air.

Newsroom is aware of interest beyond conventional media companies and the likes of telecommunications or digital firms.

For MediaWorks, that interest has to move to registering an interest in the sales process, being conducted by investment bank UBS, and then to any interested parties not being too put off by what they learn in the due diligence phase from the MediaWorks dataroom.

Political interest in the shape of our media sector has been sharply focused by MediaWorks' big call to commence a fire sale of Three. Where before there was acknowledgment of the stresses private media firms were under, and a commitment from Communications Minister Kris Faafoi to refine a government view on the fate of publicly-funded media by Christmas, it has now become an urgent issue for senior cabinet ministers.

While government advisers weigh what support, or change of policies involving the state-owned TVNZ and RNZ, could brighten the prospects of private media businesses, another big corporate play has been mooted from Australia.

That move by Australian buyout fund Quadrant could tie the fate of MediaWorks, indirectly, to the future of our biggest news site, Stuff, and its stable of city and regional newspapers and digital businesses.

Under a possible scenario floated in The Australian newspaper's Dataroom specialist section on mergers and deals, Stuff could end up as a kind-of clone of its biggest print and digital competitor NZME.

NZME has newspapers including the New Zealand Herald and regional titles, and also owns the second-biggest commercial radio stable with brands like NewstalkZB, ZM and Coast.

The Australian's report says Quadrant's plan to buy the outdoor advertising company QMS Media - which in turn is a 40 percent shareholder of MediaWorks after a merger last year - could now see Quadrant take out the 60 percent of MediaWorks not owned by QMS. The new owner would break up MediaWorks' assets.

Interestingly, the newspaper speculates that Nine Entertainment, the big TV and digital business that bought Fairfax last year and thus owns Stuff, has been interested in buying MediaWorks' radio business. Not the television business, which is for sale, but the money-making radio business.

That would give Nine a New Zealand operation made up of Stuff and the former MediaWorks radio stations - to compete against NZME with its Herald and regional papers, plus NZME radio. 

Three's fate is not obvious in this sequence. It could be closed by Quadrant, or the current sales process concluded.

Quadrant, would hold onto the outdoor advertising business but extract some value from the sale of MediaWorks radio. It would give Oaktree, the current majority owners of MediaWorks, the clean exit from New Zealand media that it desires.

For Nine, it adds a profitable radio business to its unsellable Stuff operations and thus competes harder in a multimedia fight with NZME.

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NBR reviews staff and contractors

Business publisher The National Business Review is reviewing its business, with five to six roles affected as it changes its video product, NBR View.

NBR View used former TVNZ Breakfast host Rawdon Christie over the past year to conduct interviews of newsmakers, with radio man Grant Walker. An earlier attempt at a video presence on NBR involved 1News anchor Simon Dallow and former Close Up presenter Susan Wood, but their faces disappeared 18 months ago or more.

Publisher Todd Scott tweeted today he would miss Walker, who is a veteran of NZ radio.

Some junior staff jobs are also affected in the NBR's change of tack.

The editor-at-large and former editor-in-chief of the title, Nevil Gibson, is separately expected to end his long career around the end of the year.

Former Independent editor Jenni McManus has been on a contract training journalists at the paper and is also said to be coming to an end in that role.

NBR is a weekly business newspaper and a paywalled news website. Its paper has been affected, like all others, from a downturn in print advertising - so much so that in September Scott tweeted it had appeared one Friday without a single advertisement.

The business has also had a tense relationship in the past with advertising agencies, and has a limited presence of digital commercials, relying mainly on its corporate subscriptions.

At one point, Scott mused publicly about potentially making an offer for Stuff Ltd or Fairfax's Australian Financial Review, but neither have joined his stable.

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Wrightson moves on

Shockwaves continue to flow through the broadcasting and television industry.

Jane Wrightson, the long-serving CEO of New Zealand on Air has resigned and is taking up the long vacant, Auckland-based, Retirement Commissioner’s role.

Wrightson is leaving a key job in the media industry at a time when it is at a crossroads. The Government's changes to the way publicly-owned media (TVNZ, RNZ and Māori TV) is structured will likely impact NZ on Air in some way.

NZOA is responsible for about $100 million in contestable funding.

During her reign, Wrightson developed strong working relationships with nearly all of the senior broadcasting and media executives, and has a reputation for being scrupulously fair and a straight talker.

The local television production industry will be anxious about who replaces her. Wrightson’s consistent approach to funding has brought a degree of stability to an area that is subject to the unpredictable forces of ratings and platform disruption.

MediaWorks’ announcement that it might close Three if it can’t find a buyer has severely shaken the production sector. Wrightson’s decision to move on will be seen as a further blow.

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