$314 Million in the hole and the reorg’s not over yet. McKenna and Jennings next to face the firing squad?
Mediaworks, the owner of TV networks TV3 and C4, has announced a massive loss of $314 Million dollars (the biggest yet). The Network’s attributing $258 Million of that to a write-down associated with its 2007 acquisition of the business. Although a loss of this scale is unprecedented for the Mediaworks business it is nothing new for an organization, which like many has been smashed around by the recession after a hugely leveraged buyout in the height of the easy-credit financial bubble. The goodwill write-off symbolizes just how much of a premium Ironbridge paid for the Mediaworks assets. Still, with huge losses comes an even bigger demand to cut costs, and as Ironbridge execs have proved in the past, either Mediaworks Management toes the line, or faces the consequences.
Whilst most of the Mediaworks burden hails from large interest payments the company was also affected by operational restructuring costs associated with dumping its low-rating Breakfast rival ‘Sunrise’ a few weeks ago. In addition cuts across its Radioworks network (consisting of The Rock, more FM, The Breeze, RadioLIVE and more) happen on an almost annual basis. Speculation was rife in 2009 that the Board was looking to slice its Radio and TV businesses in two with some arguing the synergy between the two businesses was almost non-existent, with infighting between Radio and TV execs rife. Additionally if one of the divisions were to be sold, this could reduce Ironbridge’s debt burden and arguably obscure how much they overpaid for the group. But the decision was made to keep the two as one, in the short term.
On top of the substantial write-down and staff layoffs, Mediaworks’ flagship TV network TV3 has suffered at the hands of low ratings in the first quarter of 2010. Last year long time Mediaworks CEO Brent Impey fell on his sword after poor performance in the TV business prompted the board to ask him to make layoffs. When he refused he was cut loose (or resigned depending on who you believe). With that, former Channel 9 (Australia) <strike>axe-wielder</strike> executive Ian Audsley was employed on a short-term contract to do what Impey had refused. Audsley cancelled both Sunrise and ASB Business and announced the implementation of a new Studio Automation System that would replace floor crews with Robotic Cameras and eliminate control room staff (an additional 20 jobs to go). When all’s said and done programming executives are more optimistic for the remainder of 2010, with a new season line-up underway.
More Rolling Heads?
After butchering her side of the business Radioworks CEO Sussan Turner was rewarded with the role of Group CEO, overseeing both sides of the group with former TVNZ marketing executive Jason Paris to head the TV networks in the coming days. Still, the onslaught of new Management has many at the top questioning the competency of those below.
Mediaworks’ online division ‘Interactive’ (largely considered the laughing stock of the business, both internally and externally) is headed by former radio staffer Siobhan McKenna, the board and management alike are said to be frustrated by the lack of performance in what they consider the future and core growth category of the Mediaworks business. Two options are currently being tabled, firstly the idea of dismantling the Interactive business and redistributing control of each Brand’s digital presence back to the Brand itself (in other words TV3 would control TV3’s Website, The Edge would control theirs and so on) with both Radio and TV divisions sharing responsibility for advertising sales. This however is a close second to Management’s preferred option of finding a new more suitable head for the division, with Jason Paris paying particular oversight to the development of TV (specifically the OnDemand business) and insight for new ventures in the radio division.
Turner is also reportedly livid with ‘News and Current Affairs’ chief Mark Jennings who managed to absorb huge amounts of staff back into existing positions after ASB Business and Sunrise were cancelled, the argument being same cost structure, less programming. This comes off the back of a 3News reporter signing into a Prison as a relative of Clayton Weatherston, Campbell Live staff dressing up as Medal Thieves, his failure to gain an audience for Sunrise and losing high profile staff such as Rod Cheeseman and Kate Lynch to TVNZ. The trouble for Turner is who to replace Jennings with. Internally staff are impressed with the leadership of 3News Executive Producer Mike Brockie, but he is close to Jennings, and reportedly couldn’t be less interested in the role. Conversely producer John Hale is believed to be keen but he may be too polarizing, alienating several staff in the past, so perhaps Jennings is safe, for the moment.
The bigger picture in the coming months is the possibility IronBridge will offload the business altogether. IronBridge’s managing partner Julian Knights recently told Reuters it was looking to dump a number of its businesses whilst the market was hot but refused to include Mediaworks in the list only to say they were exploring their options. When prompted by the NZ Herald on the possibility of a profitable sale spokesman Kerry McIntosh said “We are facing a more difficult set of circumstances than we were at the beginning, but if the market continues to recover and we trade well we expect we will be okay.” That said, with a $91 Million payment in interest alone for the past year the prospect of a profitable sale might seem further and further away.