Best of the Week: Faux pas, financials, BCS worship and the WFH debate (plus a request for some Slack feedback)
Welcome to Best of the Week, mostly written on an intermittently showery Friday at beautiful Sisters Beach, Tasmania, and wrapped up this morning as the sun rose on a terrific day.
Happy World Honey Bee Day. You keep fighting off those mites, fellas.
Today’s writing soundtrack: Leonard Cohen - Songs of Love and Hate.
Today: The looming AFL deal, Crikey’s legal stoush with Lachlan Murdoch, the brilliance of Better Call Saul, Nine’s unsung hero departs, how HT&E and Dentsu are faring, and a Foxtel faux pas.
Before we get into it, we’ll start today’s edition with a very specific request for feedback.
One of the ways I organise myself for writing Best of the Week is inside a Slack channel to which I am currently the only subscriber. Every time something interesting arrives in my inbox, whether breaking news, new data, ASX announcement or press release, I drop the file into the channel.
On some days, half a dozen interesting things occur, on others hardly anything at all. But by the end of the week, there’s a decent newsfeed of developments in our industry.
W’ve been thinking about how we can keep giving extra value to our paying members and build a bit of a community. So here’s a question: Would you find it useful having access to that Slack channel, and the conversations that might flow from it? I’d be interesting to know whether you use Slack already, or indeed whether you’d start using Slack in order to access that raw newsfeed?
Drop us a line to email@example.com, or comment below. Please and thank you.
And speaking of our paying members, please do consider subscribing to Unmade if you haven’t already. As well as supporting independent journalism, your paid membership gets you access to our paywalled content and discounts on our future events.
Let’s get to that newsfeed…
Monday: Crikey stands up to Lachlan Murdoch
The week kicked off with a classic case of the Streisand Effect.
The Sydney Morning Herald broke the news (with a little behind-the-scenes help from Crikey, I’m guessing) that Lachlan Murdoch’s lawyers have been in touch with Crikey’s owner Private Media over its commentary in regard to Fox News and boss Lachlan Murdoch. We covered it in the Start the Week podcast.
Unlike his father Rupert, Lachlan doesn’t take the view that there’s no need to issue defamation threats when you buy ink by the barrel.
The issue was a piece published by Crikey back in June about the hearings into the infamous January 6 insurrection in the US, and the culpability of Fox News in fanning the flames.
Initially the lawyer’s letter persuaded Crikey to take down the piece, but the legal letters continued. After the SMH and The Age revealed this, it was soon a trending story on social media.
Within hours (almost as if that was the plan) Crikey had reposted the article and was busily promoting it. Soon it had passed more than 100 comments on the original post.
For Lachlan Murdoch, the Crikey article got far more attention than it otherwise would have done. For Crikey, it was an entirely on-brand way of reminding its subscribers what it stands for (and perhaps a face saving way of doing a reverse ferret on having taken the article down in the first place).
There was another article on Monday which also generated a decent conversation too. Consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier, co-founder of Thinkerbell, wrote a guest post for Mumbrella making the case for working from the office.
His argument was for the happenstance of incremental random, tiny culture building conversations that only occur when you bump into a colleague on the way to the lift.
Ironically for somebody who mostly works from home in Tasmania (or whatever airport lounge I’m stuck in) I’ve increasingly started to agree that humans who work in organisations need to meet face to face.
For inexperienced people, a lot of learning occurs by osmosis, simply by sitting next to somebody who knows what they’re doing. I’m sure there’s also a direct correlation between getting promoted and the closeness of the relationship with the decision makers.
Sooner or later, the ambitious will return to the office.
Tuesday: Saul Gone
For a while, I’ve had a media routine which I’ve come to love. Sadly it’s now over.
Even as Unmade has begun to take off and I’ve found myself gradually staying longer at the desk of an evening, Tuesday nights have been sacrosanct.
Shortly before 6pm, I’d haul enough logs through to the lounge room to see me through the evening, and I’d light the fire. Then I’d pour a glass of red wine. I’d turn on my Fetch Mini and head over to Stan for the new episode of Better Call Saul, as soon as it became available.
And then, when it finished, I’d go online to Reddit, to read the reaction of the BCS community as the story gradually unfolded of how a criminal lawyer in Albuquerque lost (and belatedly found) his soul.
That night I’d fall asleep listening to the companion podcast in which the creators of this brilliant show would break down the story of how they made the episode.
They’d go into such intricate detail, that I’d often then rewatch the episode later in the week to see the tiny elements of craftsmanship I’d missed the first time round. It’s a fascinating way to use podcasts to amplify television.
It all came to an end this week. Fourteen years of brilliant television concluded in a low key but entirely satisfying way.
Given the obsessive nature of fandom, it was surprising to see that the conclusion was almost universally received with acclaim. How different it was to the legacy-destroying final season of Game of Thrones. Bravo, Vince Gilligan and co.
Tuesday nights will not be the same.
Wednesday: The ABC’s big get
It was also a big week of people moves.
Hatched Media hired greybeard Mike Wilson to chair its retail media-focused Sydney expansion. Retail media is a hotspot, and Wilson, cofounder of Naked Australia and more recently with Havas, has the connections to put the Melbourne-founded Hatched on the map in Sydney.
M&C Saatchi launched Micro Agency, headed by David Sutherland to, somewhat counterintuitively, tap into the marketer in-housing trend. More on that in future weeks.
And on Wednesday the ABC made the biggest appointment of the week, hiring Nine’s Damian Cronan as its chief digital and information officer.
It’s not fair to describe Cronan as underrated, because those who have worked with him rave about him, but the news was underplayed. Behind the scenes, Cronan contributed as much as anyone to Nine being the dominant local player that it is today.
He was the technical mastermind behind the seamless launch of Stan, back when it was a joint venture between Fairfax and Nine, and competitor services like Presto were undermined by technical failings. And he led the rebuilding of the technology and subscription platforms of Fairfax’s news mastheads as part of the mission that saved The Age and the SMH.
He’s a huge loss for Nine and a huge get for the ABC, which has fallen behind the commercial sector in keeping up with its changing audiences.
It was also a week of intriguing developments in the supermarket sector. The precursor came on Monday with news of Woolworths launching 60 minute delivery in Melbourne.
And then on Wednesday came even bigger news, which I think Mumbrella broke first. Lisa Ronson, chief marketing officer of Coles is leaving after little more than three years. I analysed that move in a seperate piece, so I won’t add to that here.
Speaking of under played, by the middle of the week, the scandal about Scott Morrison’s secret ministries was finally leading the news.
It was first disclosed in The Weekend Australian last Saturday, which ran extracts from the new book by its political editor, Simon Benson, and chief political correspondent, Geoff Chambers. But the angle, or its significance, was buried. The fact he’d quietly sworn himself in as an extra health minister in case Greg Hunt got Covid seemed like an intriguing detail but no more than that.
Now we know that it was five secret ministries, and some of his co-ministers were unaware, it’s easy to see the significance. But I must admit I read the article at the time and it didn’t seem like a huge deal. Even when the usual Twitter hate watchers of the ABC’s Insiders were moaning on Sunday morning that it wasn’t being talked about, it felt like the usual group of people determined to be unhappy with the show. For once though, they were right.
It raises a fascinating question which first arose in the US in recent months when a string of books by journalists revealed new details about Donald Trump’s presidency. When a journalist knows something major, what is their duty to the public, or even their primary employer, to reveal it immediately, rather than sit on it for months until their book is published?
Thursday: HT&E and Dentsu’s numbers revealed
We’re also well and truly into Australian financial reporting season now. Southern Cross Austereo’s results are on Monday, and Nine’s on Thursday.
The week’s winner was HT&E, owner of the market leading radio network ARN, which reported its half year results. The year-on-year comparisons were somewhat meaningless because of the acquisition of regional player Grant Broadcasters at the end of the year, but nonetheless they were good numbers, with revenue of $172m for the half and EBITDA profit of $48.5m. The early signs are that the Grant takeover will see greater profitability than the sum of the parts did before.
HT&E still looks like a company whose full value is yet to be unlocked. Although it’s sitting on a net debt of $78.4m, it also owns a stake in software group Soprano which had previously been valued at $149m.
Sticking with financial stuff, Mumbrella (it was a good week for them) dug up Dentsu’s accounts newly filed to ASIC. In tax terms at least, Dentsu has been losing money, recording losses of $30m in 2020 and $23m in 2021. It’s hard to see from the document whether that is profit shifting to a low tax regime, or if the company has been genuinely loss making.
Friday: The end of a big week for Seven and Foxtel
It’s been a hectic week for both Seven West Media and Foxtel.
The two companies are bidding alongside each other to retain their AFL broadcast rights. Paramount, owner of Ten and Paramount+, has also been in the running, with Nine showing interest in some of it.
According to a story posted on the AFR last night, we’re now at the crunch on a deal which will set the TV landscape for the rest of this decade.
According to the AFR, the deal is with the lawyers, and could be announced as early as Monday. Seven and Foxtel are in the “box seat” to retain the status quo, but there’s still a “small chance” Paramount could yet come in with a final blockbuster bid.
Speaking of Seven, the company announced its results this week. You can read my analysis via the link below.
And there was more from Seven. Just after its results release, it was announced that SWM is taking a stake in Antony Catalano’s newly formed View Media Group. For now, VMG is real estate focused (it owns the majority of Real Estate View). But given Catalano’s ownership (with Alex Waislitz) of regional publisher ACM, that could expand into other classified verticals in the future.
The Seven tie-in with the real estate play makes logical sense. Nine is aligned to Domain and News Corp to REA Media.
However, the scale of Seven’s investment was not disclosed. Given that SWM didn’t need to make an ASX announcement, it must be relatively small and probably involves a lot of contra.
And there was even more deal making activity from Seven. The AFR revealed that SWM is bidding alongside News Corp in a syndicate trying to buy WA TAB. It’s one thing to broadcast sport, but it’s another to be in the betting business.
It all makes the day job of broadcast television seem like a bit of a distraction. I hadn’t noticed just how much Seven’s breakfast flagship Sunrise has faded until TV writer Colin Vickery pointed it out.
Like I say, a big week for both Seven and Foxtel.
Foxtel boss Patrick Delany started the week (correctly) complaining about how the anti-siphoning laws are “stuck in a timewarp”.
By the end of the week, he was the one accused of being a dinosaur, after his ill-advised description of Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke as a “short, dumpy girl” at the premiere of prequel House of The Dragon.
The abject apologies that followed are not for a domestic audience. The comments (first reported by Crikey) reached Hollywood ears, with the help of the likes of Vanity Fair…
… and Variety…
Studios like HBO are protective of their talent. Such apparent disrespect lands badly. That’s significant because the HBO output deal is crucial to the continued health of Foxtel’s Binge streaming service.
The Unmade Index: Four days of falls
The Unmade Index of ASX-listed media and marketing companies dropped for a fourth day in a row on Friday.
HT&E was the standout. After rising by 8% on its results announcement on Thursday, it was up another 5.4% on Friday.
Time to let you get on with the weekend. I’ll be hitting the road shortly for the Tasmanian Wine Festival’s winter edition down in Hobart, before a lightning trip to Sydney on Sunday afternoon.
My colleague Damian Francis and I will be back on Monday morning with the Start the Week podcast.
Have a great weekend.