Prime Media Group chief executive Ian Audsley is dubious that a deal between newspaper businesses and television networks would have enough newsroom synergies to help bolster media companies in a declining market.
Prime shareholders will vote in December on a deal to merge with Seven West Media, with interests on the regional affiliate’s register including Bermuda-based billionaire and WIN TV owner Bruce Gordon and The Canberra Times-owner Australian Community Media executive chairman Antony Catalano.
Conversations between Mr Catalano and Prime earlier this year included paying off the regional TV network’s debt in exchange for a 15 per cent stake in the broadcaster. The discussions did not progress to a formal offer, media sources said, with Prime’s debt already on track to have been paid down.
But sources with knowledge of Mr Catalano’s thinking said he still wants a deal of his own with the broadcasters, having acquired full control of newspaper group ACM from Nine Entertainment Co in July, and sees cost savings and efficiencies between the news titles and TV newsrooms.
The former Domain Group chief executive has described the terms of the current deal between Seven and Prime, with investors receiving 0.4582 in Seven shares for each share held in Prime, as “unfair”.
However, Mr Audsley said media organisations had to be “very careful about merging newsrooms” or sharing resources too much as country communities might then face the loss of unique voices and opinions.
“It is simplistic to think that meaningful cost synergies are available in a TV and newspaper newsroom combination,” Mr Audsley said.
“Nine has recognised the obvious synergy between TV and radio, but it seems they have elected not to attempt to turn a lemon into a lime with their TV and newspaper newsrooms.”
He said the regional network produces 35 bulletins and 140 news and weather updates with four bulletin producers and a total news and studio production team of 100 people from the Tweed Coast, regional NSW and regional Western Australia.
“Prime already has an incredibly efficient model,” Mr Audsley said.
He said the broadcaster wins local news “by a country mile in each of the markets our local news programs are broadcast to” with shares of 46 to 70 per cent of the 6pm commercial television audience in the year to date, reaching up to 90 per cent of the evening audience in some markets.
“So I don’t and I won’t take an economic rationalist’s approach to 6 o’clock news – I am not about to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”
Mr Catalano described regional media as being in a “crisis” this year and Prime chairman John Hartigan last week said the model “is broken”, with newsroom closures expected if there isn’t consolidation and major regulatory change.
Mr Audsley expressed doubt about the benefits of bringing newsrooms together as the broader skills do not match up with newspaper writing and filmed television interviews not seamlessly working together.
“Both newsrooms would have to rewrite and re-purpose the material to fit their respective formats,” he said.
“But Prime’s not about newspapers – we’re about holding the largest audience at 6pm to give our advertising partners the biggest possible launch for their products into prime-time viewing.”
He said he would be “open to a commercial discussion” with news organisations looking to fill out digital sites with video footage but was doubtful any were willing to pay enough for this content.
Source: Thanks smh.com