MediaRoom: Hang on, magazines are on their way

In MediaRoom this week: the famous Bauer magazine titles are tipped for an early return, NZ First strikes again, this time over Māori media plans, and the latest online media audience numbers.

New Zealanders waiting by their letterboxes or supermarket shelves for their favourite magazines should be "very, very, very hopeful" of their return soon, says the former publisher who has them up for sale.

Bauer NZ and Australia chief executive Brendon Hill told Newsroom the sale of his magazines on both sides of the Tasman to Mercury Capital, announced on Wednesday, meant Mercury and Bauer would now be deciding who to on-sell the Kiwi magazine titles to in coming weeks.

The Mercury deal for the Bauer businesses was set to be finalised in mid July, said Hill, after regulatory approvals including a required tick here from the Overseas Investment Office. Mercury, founded by former Aucklander Clark Perkins, reportedly bought the Bauer magazines for between A$40m and $50m. Just last month Bauer had bought the titles of another company, Pacific Magazines, for $40m.

The separate sales process here for the NZ magazines including The Listener, NZ Woman's Weekly, Property Press, North & South, Fashion Quarterly, Next and Metro, was well advanced, Hill said, and all options were on the table for Bauer and Mercury, as its presumptive buyer, to consider.

"It will take a little amount of time to finalise these offers. There's a few people still doing due diligence, so there's a little bit left in that process, but hopefully not as far as mid-July."

Asked if that indicated there were multiple parcels of magazines being sold to different buyers, Hill said there had been "various parties, some bidding for the entirety and some for parts".

Bauer had remained in contact with people who had unfinished subscriptions for the magazines, which stopped publication in early April, and had advised that any unmet deliveries would be added on to resumed publication of the titles once they were sold. "And anyone could get a refund at any time they wished."

Separately, some former staff of the magazines have been able to register their interest with the sales coordinator, EY, in possibly returning to the titles under a new owner.

Hill said readers waiting for their magazines should be "very, very, very hopeful under different ownership of those magazines being back on the shelves."

Bauer had not been able to produce them due to the lockdown - and had awareness of the pandemic's effects on the magazine industry's revenues in Europe - at the time it decided to close and then sell the titles.

"It was always my intention to have these magazines coming back."


No, Minister

The latest report from the controversial review of the Maori media sector, Te Ao Pāpāho Māori, is a peculiarly personal document.

It is written in the first person by the Minister of Māori Development, Nanaia Mahuta, and its recommendation for one centralised Māori media 'clearing house' - widely criticised as ghettoising Māori journalism and ignoring the much-heralded plurality sought in mainstream media - stands in her name.

The 46-page document is dotted with Mahuta's voice: "I propose", "I will be seeking" and "I am keen to hear your views".

It followed consultation through 2019 and is an attempt to streamline the Māori media funded by the Government, including through the funding agency Te Mangai Paho."Te Mangai Paho currently funds a number of Maori news services. This is not sustainable in such a small ecosystem.

"The challenge is to formalise news aggregation into a service for the ecosystem, and ensure a wider capability to generate news and current affairs from the regions, to feed into the 'centre'," Mahuta writes.

Her 'objective" for Maori media news is "a more diverse, richer, quality news and current affairs" offering and she talks of better resourcing for the Māori media ecosystem.

But her recommended option of creating a single Māori news service within Māori TV, with iwi organisations funded to contribute into that central 'clearing house', has been strongly criticised by some Māori journalists and media leaders.

The idea of one news service for a whole people, a whole reo, diverse regions, priorities and viewpoints is highly unlikely to produce the diversity, even with more funding, that Mahuta seeks.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern attempted to play down the central clearing house aspect of all this, saying it had been misinterpreted and would not diminish diversity.

But, crucially, Mahuta's wishes seem to have run up against the opposition of New Zealand First in the shape of Cabinet Minister Shane Jones. When NZ First turns against this kind of proposal, the record over media issues shows it could be doomed. It is believed to be NZ First that spooked Labour over its pre-Covid plans to merge TVNZ and RNZ into one big public broadcaster. And NZ First is said to have run a second tranche of up to $50m Government bailout money for commercial media firms off the road.

Jones told Waatea News the Māori media shift consultation document released last week would soon disappear in the dust of electioneering. Moreover, he complained his party had not been briefed by Te Mangai Paho boss Larry Parr over the one-stop shop plans, and said NZ First had different plans for iwi radio and Māori broadcasting when it returns to power.

Instead, Jones suggested another "shift" - that of the Māori broadcasting portfolio into the hands of his party.  A personal response to a personal ministerial report.


Stuff retires, undefeated

Stuff, now under the ownership of its chief executive Sinead Boucher, has dropped the Nielsen monthly measuring system for digital audiences and will go it alone with a blend of bespoke metrics it believes will give advertisers and readers a better fix on its reach and impact.

Stuff bows out in the May Nielsen figures for unique monthly readers well ahead of main rival, and ahead of the Herald in the key audience target of Auckland. Stuff had 1.98 million readers to the Herald's 1.64m - it's largest lead since last August. The Herald's numbers had held up relatively well after introducing a premium paywall in April 2019 but lately Stuff has held much of its audience while has drifted back. 

Oddly, the much-debated Nielsen monthly figures showed no large bounce in May for either big site when internally they were reporting strong lifts in audience numbers through the Covid-19 period. Stuff apparently no longer believes the Nielsen numbers reflect its reach and the extent of engagement with its content. 

Other leading New Zealand media sites were still well up in May on pre-Covid days and 2019 -  TVNZ (1.5m) and Newshub (1.04m) are third and fourth (although TVNZ's sizeable OnDemand viewership inflates its number), then RNZ (694,000), the Otago Daily Times (404,000), The Spinoff (382,000),  and Newstalk ZB (333,000). Newsroom withdrew from Nielsen in late 2018.

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