Alan Jones a ‘reminder’ Nine needs to be on top of its game: Hugh Marks

Nine CEO Hugh Marks has said 2GB host Alan Jones’ comments about New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern which have since caused an advertiser exodus of both his breakfast show and the station were proof that people in the media who are at the top of their game should suffer the consequences when they “fall down”.

Speaking to Mumbrella last week following Nine’s financial results, Marks said the demands were high on people like Jones and that they need to be at their very best at all times as a result. Nine owns a majority share in Macquarie Media thanks to its merger with Fairfax in 2018 and recently made a bid for the remaining stake.

“It’s part of our industry and the demands on us, or the demands on our people, to always be at the best of their game are heightened. When we fall down then we certainly suffer the consequences. It’s just a reminder to all of our people that we need to be on our game and we need to be at our very best,” said Marks.

Marks went on to say that Jones’ apology on fellow 2GB host Ben Fordham’s program showed that he “recognised he didn’t get it right”, but said that being better is important in the media industry.

Earlier this year, Nine launched a bid to become the full owner of Macquarie Media, an asset which has just posted some subdued results and recently gave its star presenter Jones a warning for his on-air actions. In the investor call following Nine’s 2019 financial year results results, Marks made it clear he felt Nine could bring a lot of value to the radio business if the bid goes through.

But that value wouldn’t come in the form of overhauling the business, with Marks quick to say he believes the existing strengths of a product need to be appreciated. Following on from the takeover of Fairfax, Marks said Nine quickly learnt the importance of staying true to what works.

“One of the things that’s certainly been a success of the merger with Fairfax is we recognised the strength of the Metro Media business and we celebrated that. We’re not going in there to try and impose a Nine-style or voice. We want to celebrate and invest in the voice that works for those businesses. And that same will apply to Macquarie Radio.”

Value could be found, however, in combining the admin and sales sides of the business to develop a cohesive structure and platform for brands. While the lines would definitely begin to blur between Macquarie Media content and Nine content, the overall plan would be to keep what works for both models and streamline the rest.

There’s no denying Nine seems to be having the better year out of the three commercial free-to-air broadcasters. While Ten is making inroads in its chosen audience of under 50s, Seven recently lost its year-to-date total people crown to Nine, which appears to be on track to take the win for the year. A series of successful programming choices from the beginning of the year, including Married at First Sight and Lego Masters, were matched with some older formats that still seem to work, The Block and The Voice. But how much pressure does that put on Nine for next year, when Seven is championing its Tokyo 2020 coverage and promising astronomical viewer interest.

“I think generally our schedule is performing pretty well. Yes, individual shows contribute to that, but it’s the schedule as a whole and while shows will have better years and not-so-good years, I generally think a lot of our programs are still early in their life cycle. We don’t need them to continue to grow, we just need a strong schedule focused on those to create demographic delivery,” Marks told Mumbrella.

Hamish Blake on the set of Lego Masters

The demographics is where Nine plays the hardest, with most of its promotion currently focused on the key advertising demographic of 25-54s. Marks said that clarity of focus will continue for the network going forward, and that ultimately it’s where the advertiser money is so it’s where Nine will position itself.

With such a successful year of his own, what does Marks think of the recent happenings at Seven?

Marks said he hopes Warburton can turn the tables at Seven, because the television ecosystem needs three fully-functioning members to work best in Australia, and that Seven’s strength in sport and news continues to be its guiding light.

And while the whispers had been around for a while, Tim Worner’s sudden departure from Seven took some by surprise. Worner undoubtedly left during a rough time for the network, giving new CEO James Warburton a tough hand on entry. Comparatively, Marks doesn’t have any major recent failures on the board, and Nine is performing better than it has done for a while. Having seen the savaging Worner got on departure, and the monstrous job left for Warburton, is there any pressure for Marks to get out while the going is reasonably good?

“Well that would be a scoop wouldn’t it? But no. For me, what interests me is really the future of Nine and what that will look like, and I feel like we’re only part of the way through the journey. I’m really motivated to continue that work, which is different to the programming stuff in television, it’s about the business. And in terms of where we are right now, there’s more to be done in the work between Domain and Nine and there’s a lot more to do in other areas.”


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