Stubbornness of the social media spoiler; ridiculous readership numbers; a favourable wind for HT&E

The psychology of journalists who share movie spoilers - is it maliciousness or ignorance?; Why ARN's owner was the only one to beat a bad day on the ASX

Welcome to Unmade, mostly written while you were sleeping early on Tuesday morning.

A couple of pieces of housekeeping to kick off.

First, a word of warning that there will be significant spoilers about the James Bond movie further down this newsletter. There will be another warning before we get to them, but if you plan on seeing the movie, I recommend being careful how you scroll.

Second, for those who are not yet subscribers to the paid tier of Unmade, we’ve launched a special end of year pricing offer.

A couple of weeks back, we raised the annual price of subscribing to Unmade’s full content to $650. That means that those who failed to jump onto the initial price of $180 missed out.

However, until December 17, we’re offering a significant discount on the first year of membership - a saving of 74 per cent, which won’t ever be repeated. It takes the price back down to $169 for the first year, if you act now.

Only paying subscribers get access to all of our analytical posts and podcasts, including my narration of the audio edition of my book Media Unmade.

Get 74% off for 1 year

Our pricing approach might seem somewhat random. But there is a strategy behind it. I’ll be sharing that thinking in my next regular update on Unmade’s development, which is itself only available to paying subscribers.

In the meantime, please do use the ugly brown button above to lock in that price, and support independent journalism.

Bad day on the exchange (unless you’re HT&E)

Like the wider Australian stock market, Monday was not a great day for the 11 media and marketing stocks on the ASX. All but one were down.

Southern Cross Austereo - owner of the Triple M and Hit radio networks, and the main Ten regional TV franchisee - suffered the biggest fall, of 3.2 per cent, taking its market capitalisation back down to $550m.

Indeed, the only stock that was up within the 11 was that of Here, There & Everywhere, parent company of Australian Radio Network. With HT&E’s market capitalisation now up to $530m, it is threatening to overtake what had always seemed like the much larger SCA.

The most likely reason for HT&E’s jump is two updates it offered to the market last week.

First the company did the maths for investors on its purchase of regional radio operator Grant Broadcasters for $238m in cash, plus shares.

Along with the company’s sale of its $49m stake in Ooh Media, and the settlement of its fight with the Australian Tax Office over the sale of the NZ newspapers, the end result is that the company is likely to end up with a net debt of $113m after the purchase.

Based on a combined EBITDA profit of the two companies for the last financial year of $96m, that debt number is a tad high.

However, the investor update also reminded the market that HT&E owns a 24.9 per cent stake in mobile customer software company Soprano Design which it said was on course to meet its budgets. A deal for Soprano to be bought by the Oslo-listed Link Mobility Group, which would have been worth $139m to HT&E, fell over in October, but presumably could be resuscitated in the future.

Along with the return to month-on-month profitability of HT&E’s Hong Kong based out of home company Cody Outdoor, the numbers suggest that HT&E would be in a position to clear its debt, it it wanted to, within a year or two, just via normal trading.

And then at the end of the week, as an added bonus, there was an update on the sale of travel brand Luxury Escapes. Auctus Investment Group is now half way to raising the $90m it needs to complete the deal.

If Auctus gets there, HT&E will receive $23.2m for its stake in Luxury Escapes. This would potentially push the company’s theoretical debt level down to around $90m, below that annual EBITDA number of $96m. The markets like a debt ratio below 1.0.

Then there were ten

Incidentally, there was one other relevant update to the ASX yesterday - the big day for the deal for Seven West Media to take over Prime Media will be December 23. Both companies will hold simultaneous extraordinary general meetings at 11am that day. With a spot of Christmas overtime for the lawyers, that would allow the deal to be wrapped up before the end of the year.

The removal of Prime would mean the number of ASX-listed media and marketing companies would fall from 11 to ten.

Readership metrics

Yesterday marked the release of the second set of readership metrics since Roy Morgan Research became the uncontested provider of the data, following April’s axing of industry metric EMMA.

Much like EMMA, although the RMR methodology is industry standard, it’s nonetheless a head scratcher. You can read Mumbrella’s coverage here.

One that stands out for me is the Total News number for the Australian Financial Review, owned by Nine, claiming it has a readership of 3.504m across print and digital.

That seems to me to be a preposterous number. Shortly before they killed off the circulation audit in 2019, print sales of the AFR had fallen below 40,000. I’d be amazed if they’re still above 30,000 these days, although there is no longer any transparency about newspaper print numbers.

The AFR has a tight online paywall. Beyond the home page, all the content is available to subscribers only. It means that the only way to access AFR content, whether online or in print is for somebody to pay for it.

Roy Morgan’s readership data is gathered by survey, asking the public what they remember reading. The data from this panel is then extrapolated to deliver a number for the population.

With an adult population of 25m in Australia, the research suggests that in the case of the AFR, one in seven people have either paid to access the AFR, or somebody else has on their behalf.

That seems fishy.

I suspect that is a topic I will be returning to.

The psychology of spoilers

This is your spoiler alert warning. In the next few paragraphs are spoilers around the James Bond movie. I'd suggest closing the newsletter here, if you’re still planning to see the movie.

I can still recall the sinking feeling.

It was late at night in early October, and I was sitting on my couch in Tasmania, scrolling through Twitter on my iPad.

One of the quirks of the Twitter app on iPad is that there’s no missing an image shared with a post - it fills the whole screen.

So the first thing I saw was a screenshot, shared by a journalist from the Illawarra Mercury. It was of a Guardian article, but without the context I wasn’t sure what it meant.

The journalist was cross with The Guardian. It was, he explained, a spoiler about the death of James Bond at the end of No Time To Die, which was finally - after an 18 month delay, about to open in the UK. He was angry with The Guardian.

I felt crestfallen. It was going to be a simple pleasure, but I’d been looking forward to seeing the movie. With the Covid delays to the release date, for me it had started to symbolise a return to normality.

There’s no point in mentioning the journalist. He’s not well known, and I don’t particularly want to punch down.

I don’t get into many fights on Twitter, but I did compose (and delete, a couple of times) a reply. It seemed ironic that his response to seeing a spoiler, which had clearly upset him, was to share that spoiler and ruin it for others too.

Eventually I simply replied with “And thanks for sharing the spoiler, Ben.”

He was unapologetic. I no longer have the exact exchange, as he later deleted it, but it was along the lines that it was my own fault, as I should have avoided looking at the image when I saw he was complaining about a spoiler.

Unfortunately, I’d seen the image first. I replied that I’d already read ahead.

Again he was dismissive: “Huh. If you read my tweets before Guardian and Google. I guess I’m honoured.”

And so I moved on, eventually seeing the movie last week. It was terrific, but hanging over the whole thing was knowing what was coming at the end.

This by your way, is your final James Bond spoiler warning. I’m about to republish a spoiler.

And then history repeated itself in a much bigger way over the weekend.

Ten’s political editor Peter van Onselen, with a following of more than 180,000, pulled the same stunt.

He posted: “Spoiler alert: So my daughter just walked in the door having seen the latest Bond film, telling us it was disappointing because he dies at the end. Just thought I’d share that with everyone.”

Van Onselen is not stupid. He would have known that the use of the words “spoiler alert” without mentioning the subject would not be fair warning for people to stop reading.

The comments began to pile up, from people whose anticipation of the film he had ruined.

And he was just as unapologetic to his followers as the journalist who had spoiled it for me had been. They were asking for it by being on Twitter, he seemed to argue.

He sarcastically replied to one of those who remonstrated: “You’re right. This is a huge issue, this one. There are two solutions. Pay attention to the spoiler alert and show enough self control to stop reading any further. If too late for that, unfollow so you don’t make the same mistake in future. Up to you.”

In recent months, van Onselen has been something of a pantomime villain to many of those on Twitter over his support for his long time friend, former attorney general Christian Porter, who was accused of (and denied) an allegation of rape. In what was poor judgment given his conflict of interest, van Onselen accepted an invitation to appear on the ABC’s Insiders program where he defended his friend.

I wonder whether that opprobrium - which must have had an impact - led van Onselen to unconsciously treat anybody on Twitter as combatants.

And yet, a little later, just like the person who shared the spoiler for me, without apologising or admitting a mistake, van Onselen quietly deleted the spoiler.

I suspect the truth of the matter is that van Onselen did not set out to deliberately hurt anybody’s pleasure. I reckon he did not realise that the spoiler was for real. And then, backed against the wall, he was too stubborn (or possibly arrogant) to apologise. So later, he instead quietly deleted it.

It’s the only explanation I can think of that’s more charitable than the simpler one that he was malicious enough to try to spoil people’s pleasure for the sake of it.

Dr Spin: The minions in marketing

Dr Spin writes:

Dr Spin’s heart goes out to his colleague Paul McIntyre, executive editor of industry newsletter MI3, who is, it would seem, struggling to tell it like it is. Macca complained to his readers yesterday:

“Even in recent weeks the number of cases where Corporate Affairs types have muzzled and meddled is frankly frustrating and ominous for open, interesting and real industry debate. It’s probably tied up in the broader tap dancing that happens now with social media threads and even cancel culture – everyone is too freaked by potential fallout and nano-second risk that few say anything of note. Compliance is the order of the day. As Mi3 Editor Brendan Coyne says almost weekly now, the minions are taking over.

Dr Spin hopes that MI3 doesn’t let those corporate affairs types muzzle it for too long, and it tells whatever story it was attempting to. He’d hate to think that the minions would win.

As ever, please do let us know what you think to, or via the ugly brown button.

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Have a great Tuesday.


Tim Burrowes

Proprietor - Unmade