From HBO’s future to Meta’s content deals: Things to watch in Australian media this year

If the last few weeks of 2022 were anything to go by, Australia’s media sector could be in for a major shake-up in 2023.

With a number of major broadcast deals locked in until the end of the decade and millions of dollars flowing from Google and Meta into the publishing sector, we turn our focus on how the new year is shaping up for the local media operators.

From HBO’s future to defamation rulings: Australia’s media could be set for a shake-up in 2023.
From HBO’s future to defamation rulings: Australia’s media could be set for a shake-up in 2023.Credit:Nine

Cricket broadcast rights

Cricket Australia (CA) is the last major sporting body with a broadcast deal up for grabs and its efforts to secure a new seven-year agreement sent media executives into a frenzy in the days before Christmas.

In early December, all signs pointed to the highest bidder, Network 10’s parent company Paramount, locking in an agreement. But as this masthead revealed last week, incumbents Foxtel and Seven West Media have edged ahead as the preferred bidders. A deal with the incumbents will not only determine where cricket matches will be aired for the next decade, but it will also put an end to a Federal Court dispute between Seven and CA, and force Paramount to reassess its long-term content acquisition strategy in the market.

HBO’s future with Foxtel

In 2022, Foxtel focused on tying up long-term sports deals and repositioning itself as a content aggregator in the increasingly cluttered streaming market. In 2023, it will mostly be preparing to launch its smart television offering, while considering whether a public listing remains viable.

But there’s one looming deadline that it will soak up a lot of its attention.

HBO’s parent company WarnerMedia is back in the market and trying to decide whether to launch its own streaming service in Australia or do another long-term licensing deal for content when its current agreement expires in December 2023. The HBO deal currently sits with Foxtel and its streaming service Binge, giving the two platforms exclusive local access to shows such as House of the Dragon, Euphoria, The White Lotus and Succession. It’s effectively the crown jewel for any entertainment streaming service.


Foxtel will want to extend its deal, if possible, but it is expected to face competition from streaming rival Stan.

Meta’s battle against news outlets

In 2020, Australia passed laws that ultimately led to millions of dollars in content deals between news outlets and tech giants Meta and Google. The deals, struck with publishers such as News Corp Australia, owner of The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun; Nine Entertainment Co, the owner of this masthead and The Australian Financial Review; the ABC and Guardian Australia, ultimately led to large investments in newsrooms across the country.

The only problem? Meta almost certainly wants out once the three-year deals conclude in early 2024 and have made no secret of it. With negotiations set to kick off this year, media companies are likely to do anything and everything they can to renew these agreements.

Media reform

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has already outlined plans to overhaul a range of media policies, including rules that measure and determine the diversity of Australia’s media landscape.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland will have a full plate in 2023.
Communications Minister Michelle Rowland will have a full plate in 2023.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

She is also reviewing the laws that determine which sports should remain on free-to-air television, planning to introduce laws that ensure commercial television networks are easily discoverable and accessible on smart televisions and to introduce a local content quota scheme that would require global streaming services to make a certain amount of Australian programs.

Rowland wants most of these policy priorities to be implemented by the end of next year. It’s going to be busy.

Defamation nation

It’s not a topic that editors like to talk about regularly, but defamation is a huge financial risk for news outlets trying to break difficult and important stories. Two major defamation battles, both of which expect judgments in 2023, could have huge ramifications for the local media industry.

Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith is waiting on the outcome of his defamation case against The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times over a series of stories published in 2018. Roberts-Smith says the stories wrongly accused him of being complicit in war crimes and committing an act of domestic violence against a former lover.

Then there’s Lachlan Murdoch, who is suing independent news outlet Crikey for an article that described his family as “unindicted co-conspirators” of former US president Donald Trump following the deadly US Capitol riots in 2021. In late December, the media scion sought to expand his lawsuit against Crikey to pursue the chairman and chief executive of its publishing company.

Australian publishers have spent years lobbying for reform to defamation laws, which they believe are archaic, have failed to adapt to the rise of social and digital media outlets, and do not provide greater protections to reports in the public interest. The pressure on government is only expected to increase in 2023.

Advertising woes

In late December, this masthead wrote that senior media executives were battening down the hatches, preparing for a weaker-than-expected start to the year thanks to a softening advertising market. While media buyers were anticipating single-digit growth next year, the early signs are pointing to high single-digit decline in ad spending.

Advertising is still the way most media companies generate money. If the ad market continues to fall in the new year, it will limit how much media can bid on key broadcast rights, how much can be spent on new television programs, and how much money can be spent on newsroom talent and products. It could also lead to price increases on key subscription products, such as streaming services and newspapers.

Mergers & Acquisitions

The Australian media sector has not changed significantly in the past three years. Media companies looked inwards during the pandemic, wary of spending too much money in a struggling economy. There were some exceptions – the sale of regional broadcaster Prime to Seven West Media, and radio broadcasters Here, There & Everywhere, and Grant Broadcasters.

Ask any executive in the sector, and they’ll say more consolidation is inevitable: the question is who and when. All signs point to a tie-up between companies with television and radio assets or the integration of billboard advertising into a company that already owns a range of businesses.

Or perhaps the sector will finally see some consolidation among the streaming platforms.

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