BOTW: Warriors of woke, or carving out a brand position?
Welcome to Best of the Week, for a final time in 2022.
If you’re still opening work emails at this late stage, you’re one of the few. Open rates fell all week, and by Thursday my sense was that most people were already done for the year.
I suggested the other day that the earlier than usual finish might be because of widespread exhaustion this year. Somebody posited another theory: Many agencies and companies who saw staff leave accumulate over the pandemic implemented a long Christmas shutdown to get the leave off their books.
Whatever the reason, happy Festivus for yesterday.
Today’s writing soundtrack: Deacon Blue - When the World Knows Your Name.
Today: Culture wars redux; the low key arrival of a big talent; and Ooh Media sells another asset.
There are rewards for sticking with Unmade to the end of the year. Namely, our end of year membership offer. Subscribe before Christmas for just $338 instead of the usual $650, and lock in that 48% discount for future years too. If you don’t do it today, it will never be as cheap again.
The longest day
Stick with me. I’ll eventually get to a point involving media, but I’m going the long way round.
As I started writing this at Sisters Beach, Tasmania, on Thursday evening, summer solstice had passed about half an hour before.
I was walking on the beach at the time, marvelling that living so far south means daylight stretching to 9pm at this time of year. Can it already be half a year since I was hustling out of the door at 3pm to get a walk in before darkness fell?
In recent days that walk has been accompanied by a sense of melancholy, mixed with wonder. There’s a reason.
A while back, I gradually noticed that at one of the most remote points of the beach I could see a line of rocks protruding from the water. I walked past these rocks dozens of times before I consciously considered them.
Then one day the tide was unusually low. It looked even less natural - a neat curve of rocks, stacked into a small wall, stretching for perhaps 100 meters.
Even then, I didn’t give it much thought. Back home, hours later, a thought flashed into my mind “Fish trap!”
Earlier this week, when the tide was low again, I went back, and got close.
There was no mistaking it. Those rocks had been laboriously placed there.
Where I stood, not a soul was in site, nor a single modern structure. There were no planes in the sky. Alone on the beach, it could have been any time in human history. The rocks could have been placed last week, rather than thousands of years before.
The Palawa people’s story was as fascinating and tragic of any of Australia’s First Nations. The Palawa settled Tasmania 40,000 years ago when it was a peninsula, and were later isolated by rising sea levels. They thrived until the British colonised Tasmania 200 years ago. Most then died through a combination of disease and violence.
I found myself looking back towards the treeline at the the edge of the beach. I could almost see the Palawa emerging from the trees, hauling the rocks down onto the sand.
That melancholy I mentioned comes from knowing how things ended up for the Palawa people once they met the British. There’s no denying who was on that beach first.
Which is a roundabout way of getting to Australia Day and Network Ten. Normally we wait for the Australia Day row until after everyone has slammed the ABC’s New Year’s Eve coverage. But not this year.
This week, the likes of the Daily Mail, The Australian and talkback radio were exercised by the decision of Paramount, parent company of Ten, to allow staff to choose not to take January 26 as a public holiday.
The memo came from bosses Beverley McGarvey and Jarrod Villani.
'For our First Nations people, we as an organisation acknowledge that January 26 is not a day of celebration.
'We recognise that there has been a turbulent history, particularly around that date and the recognition of that date being Australia Day.
'We recognise that January 26 evokes different emotions for our employees across the business, and we are receptive to employees who do not feel comfortable taking this day as a public holiday,'
Former Ten staffer Rob McKnight - who created Studio 10 before departing the network with some bad blood, later starting the entertaining website TV Blackbox -objected:
I weighed into a Twitter spat, which is rarer for me than you’d think.
Wading into a culture war on Twitter always makes me feel like I need a shower afterwards.
But the argument misses the main point in Paramount’s move. We face years of disagreement over the best date for Australia Day. January 26 has only been the choice for a few years, and as the anniversary of the day the British invaded it couldn’t be a much worse one for promoting unity.
However, not all Australians agree with that. In fact the polls suggest that most don’t. Yet.
And that’s the balance for Ten. Free to air television is about speaking to middle Australia.
But Ten is different. This move fits within its brand positioning. Over the last couple of years, the organisation has started presenting itself to the market as the most progressive network.
During the streamed Upfronts of the lockdowns, Paramount was the first of the major three networks to introduce a proper Welcome to Country. The other two quickly copied.
The Australia Day move is on-strategy for Paramount, which is the network targeting the youngest audience, which also skews the most progressive. The lazy trope of “go woke, go broke” has been applied to Ten because of its ratings struggles. I’m not sure the two are linked. Execution (and luck) rather than strategy is the factor there in Ten’s ratings woes.
Most major media companies - particularly those involved in news media - have a brand position. Sometimes it’s deliberate and sometimes its emerges through the alchemy of audience, proprietor and staff.
Media companies on the opposite end of the political spectrum to Ten see the biggest backlashes.
News Corp’s The Sun newspaper finally apologised this morning for a Jeremy Clarkson column for the UK tabloid.
In the column, Clarkson expressed a visceral level of hostility towards Meghan Markle over her Netflix series with Prince Harry.
The violent imagery was a reference to Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame scene in Game of Thrones. With that context left unexplained, Clarkson’s comments looked positively unhinged for anyone unfamiliar with GoT. In an already offensive piece, it was a failure of writing and sub editing to assume readers’ knowledge.
But the target was on brand. A large proportion of the British population has a problem with Markle, and many of them read The Sun.
This week, Piers Morgan, whose show appears on News Corp’s Sky News here in Australia, gave a fascinating interview to US commentator Kara Swisher’s On podcast. It’s well worth listening to.
Morgan was famously ousted from the top rating British breakfast TV show Good Morning Britain for refusing to apologise for his on air criticisms of Markle.
He should have been a barrister. In the podcast, he put the case alluringly well that he was entitled to his opinion and should not have lost his job over it.
And he also made the case for the performative element we hear from so many mostly right-leaning commentators. One of the problems I have with Sky News isn’t so much the views expressed by the commentators, but the fact that I doubt they believe all of it themselves. Morgan argues that it’s okay for commentators to exaggerate the strength of feeling they have about an issue in order to entertain.
If Ten can be performatively woke, why can’t the likes of News Corp be performatively anti-woke?
There’s bad faith on both sides of the culture wars.
Last night campaign group MFW (Mad Fucking Witches) began to attempt to stir up a consumer boycott against Seven’s advertisers for something which hasn’t even happened yet.
MFW argues that customers should boycott the likes of Coles, CommBank, Toyota and Optus because they advertise with Seven (like Woolworths, Westpac, Ford and Telstra don’t too). Seven may do a paid interview with Bruce Lehrmann who was accused of rape at Parliament House, says MFW. Not that Seven has yet announced any such deal. It’s a boycott of a hypothetical situation.
The point of MFW’s existence now is to campaign. So it looks for fights. Many of MFW’s posts have started to feel as primarily intended to stoke social media engagement, which is helpful when the organisation next asks its supporters for money.
Meanwhile, the impact of social media advertiser boycotts has faded anyway. The half life of a social media row now is the blink of an eye. And I bet those brands’ social media managers have barely blinked.
There’s now so much performance on both sides, that the substance of what is said has less impact than ever.
Welcome, Tosh. Hopefully you’ll be happy here one day
I saw an incredibly depressing Tweet this week.
Tosh Greenslade was one of the cast members of Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell. The show was one of the finest produced on Australian television. Everything about it worked - the quality of the writing was insightful and witty and the cast were tremendous performers. It was a show unlike any other in the world.
Very few shows delivered such high quality for such a sustained period.
Last year, Greenslade appeared on Wil Anderson’s Wilosophy podcast and it became depressingly clear he felt he was in a precarious position. After all there aren’t too many vacancies for character actors in weekly topical TV shows.
He was right, and the show came to an end back in September.
Greenslade has joined the world of advertising. He’s now a copywriter at Dentsu. He was actually announced as one of eight Dentsu hires back in October.
For most people that first job in adland is an exciting moment. For the talented Greenslade, it feels like a compromise, and the death of a dream.
I hope it works out for him.
Unmade Index: No Santa rally
It wasn’t quite the last day of the main trading year yesterday - technically the ASX is open next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday - but it was the last significant one. And the Unmade Index of ASX-listed media and marketing companies had one more disappointment to deliver, falling another 0.9% to 617.8 points. That’s down by 38.2% on the start of the year.
Yesterday saw audio group ARN’s owner HT&E fall by 1.03%, taking it below a $300m market capitalisation, the lowest in the company’s history.
With Southern Cross Austereo currently worth only $254m, it’s amazing to think it would be possible for a billionaire to pick up the two biggest FM radio groups, and still have enough change to buy 59 million Big Macs. Or perhaps what’s truly amazing is that Big Macs are now $7.55, or so my bank statement from midnight last night tells me.
Ooh Media slipped slightly yesterday, falling by 1.5%.
Yesterday Ooh announced it was selling its cafe and venue retail media network to small cap media company Motio for $2.35m.
Motio is headed by former long time Ooh staffer Adam Cadwallader. Effectively, he’s being paid by Ooh Media to take the network off the company’s hands, with Ooh lending the money to Motio on a four your repayment plan - and with interest only for the first year.
Motio’s share price rose by 21% on the back of the announcement. We’ll initiate coverage of Motio (ASX: MXO) on the Unmade Index in the new year.
Time to leave you alone for the Christmas holidays. I’m in Sydney as I finish this on Saturday morning, and about to head up the coast for Christmas.
Thanks for supporting Unmade by reading us in what was our first full year. Even more so, if you’re a paying member.
As I wrote in our readers update, startups are tough, and we had some ups and downs this year. On reflection, I think this was the hardest year of my professional life, so it’s good to still be standing at the end of it. I found out that I was lucky enough to have real friends and supporters in the industry.
We moved forward, and are well placed to start growing fast in 2023.
I couldn’t be more excited about our first conference, Remade - Retail Media Unmade. It reminds me a little of my early days with Mumbrella, trying to spot the next trend and to be first to talk about it on stage.
Sometimes it proved to be hype, and others something real. In the six months since the penny dropped for me about retail media - during my The Unmakers interview with the founders of Zitcha (if you listen you can pretty much hear the moment) - I’ve become increasingly confident that we’ve backed the right horse.
When we make our first speaker announcement early in January, I think you’ll understand why I believe that.
Our full publishing cycle only starts again after Australia Day, although I’ll gradually start posting earlier than that as the news cycle gears up.
For now though, have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.
Publisher - Unmade