From taming ‘Big Tech’ to News Corp’s climate shift: The media moves that mattered this year
What a difference a year makes. Twelve months on from one of the worst years in history for the media sector, the strategic focus moved from cost cuts to growth. From battling the tech giants to new executives taking the helm, here are some of the stories that made waves this year.
Big tech battle
Australian media companies have fought for years to stop the bulk of local advertising dollars flowing to tech giants like Google and Facebook. But nothing could have prepared the sector for what would happen when the government’s news media bargaining code came into full swing earlier this year.
The code, which was created to force Google and Facebook to compensate media companies for use of their content, sparked a major backlash from the tech platforms due to fears it could set a precedent globally. As the world watched Australia introduce world-first legislation, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai went to great lengths to avoid it, threatening to permanently withdraw from the market and shut down key services in Australia
After a period of brinkmanship, things were ultimately resolved. Google and Facebook now have multiple multi-million dollar deals with Australian media companies including Nine Entertainment Co, the owner of this masthead, and News Corp Australia, publisher of The Australian and The Herald Sun.
Of course, not everyone is happy. While the biggest media companies have been able to strike deals with the digital giants, others like The Conversation and SBS are still left out.
Succession at Nine
The resignation of Nine chief executive Hugh Marks shocked investors at the end of 2020, and the search for his replacement was a drawn out one.
After board tensions simmered, Australia’s largest media company ultimately appointed Mike Sneesby, the founding CEO of its popular streaming service Stan, to the top job
It wasn’t the easiest of starts for Sneesby, who began his new role as Nine was hit by a major cyberattack. But he finished the year on a high, after extending a crucial rights deal with the NRL.
After a difficult few years, it looks like things are improving for Kerry Stokes-controlled Seven West Media. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics and several key programs including The Voice Australia boosted the network’s television ratings.
That, combined with a significant reduction in its debt pile, and its acquisition of regional affiliate Prime after a two-year battle of the billionaires, has put Seven in a much stronger position as it moves into 2022.
Twists and turns at News Corp
It has been a huge year for News Corp Australia and its pay TV company Foxtel as they reimagine what the future looks like. News Corp, which publishes The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun, will make a major move into the wagering sector in the early new year.
And that could very well coincide with an initial public offering for Foxtel, which has been a key focus for executives.
But few could have predicted arguably the biggest story involving News Corp Australia – its apparent shift on climate change demonstrated in a company-wide editorial series.
The campaign, which attracted global attention, ran in the lead up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, and was in sharp contrast to the years of climate scepticism promoted by the company and followed criticism of its coverage of the national bushfire crisis the previous summer.
The ABC’s year from hell
The relationship between the government and Aunty was severely tested this year. Two defamation cases, an external review into one of its most controversial programs that led to a review of its complaint handling system and a few crucial errors in its reporting – even ABC fans would say it’s been a tough 12 months.
The year ended with the resignation of ABC news boss Gaven Morris and a public sledge by ABC chair Ita Buttrose, who accused the government of political interference.
With a federal election around the corner, it is going to be a very busy and a very interesting 2022 for the public broadcaster.
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