An open letter to the industry from a casualty of the Australian media bloodbath

Australian media was already in crisis before the wet-markets of Wuhan have provided the perfect PR-approved scapegoat for devastating decisions, argues a stood down member of the media. In this rallying cry to the industry, they demand better, bolder, braver decisions, before it's too late.

As a casualty of the recent Australian media bloodbath, I was asked this week what shape I saw Australian media taking in the future. I answered the question twice – once with what I hoped the media landscape looked like post-COVID, and then once more with perhaps a harsher, more accurate reality given the decisions being made by current leadership.

Despite the recent devastation to the media industry from said leadership, Australian media is not dead, yet. However, it is on the fast track to the grave at the hands of current decision makers.

The thirst for content remains strong amongst the Australian public as they search for quality, trusted sources of information. Ratings, sales, and engagement are up across all major publishing and media platforms. So why are so many big media organisations turning their backs on opportunities for the future by burning through brilliant talent and mothballing growing brands?

Make no mistake, the devastating decisions being made in the media industry are not a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst hiding behind a coronavirus mask, the financial positions and moves to slash costs by the likes of Seven West Media, Bauer, Ten and Buzzfeed are the results of years of mismanagement.

Businesses are hiding behind COVID-19 (Photo by Марьян Блан | @marjanblan on Unsplash)

Unfortunately for the bulk of the media industry, short-sighted business decisions are now being made by executives who don’t know media, don’t know their audience and don’t know the value of their brands. They know spreadsheets, and the wet-markets of Wuhan have provided the perfect PR-approved scapegoat for devastating decisions.

These leaders will also tell you that advertising dollars have dried up. Yet the reality is that these leaders don’t know how to sell the properties they own. How could they when they don’t know the value in their brands and talent? How can they when they don’t take the time to understand the industry they occupy? So far removed are the decision makers that they are only fringe members of an industry that is suffering at the hands of their ignorance and refusal to plan for the future. Any future. These are leaders that have been brought in to meet budgetary goals today, without any regard for forward planning.

As a result, quality content is being sacrificed to produce cheap reality TV, hubbed magazine teams, and grainy, iPhone-shot user generated content. Is it any wonder advertisers aren’t spending like they used to?

If we continue down this path, they’re unlikely to ever return.

Redundancies and stand-downs are being implemented across the board, and whilst our leaders think that removing the ‘personal’ element from these decisions somehow softens the blow, they are haemorrhaging talent and future earning potential. In the case of one such media organisation, recent cuts have been made so hastily and with such little insight into their own business operations, that all staff with knowledge of a specific commercial bookings platform were stood down, rendering the digital earning capacity of the business void in an age of mass digital consumption.

Media leaders would be well intentioned to investigate exactly what they’re losing in the long term for the sake of a saved dollar today. With the current level of reckless abandon, they
won’t have businesses to steward for much longer and these reactive measures can only be effective when there is an industry to react to.

‘Everything is fine’ (Photo by Ninety Eyes on Unsplash)

Our only hope at this stage is that either through current leadership, or rapidly instated new leadership, potential in media is recognised and a proactive management system is created. We’ll have to conduct business differently, but that’s been needed for almost 20 years. Competition needs to become collaboration, and brands need to extend beyond their pages, screens, and devices.

Huge potential alone lies in our unique position within the global media landscape right at this very moment. Australia is truly the lucky country, and in our current state, we are on the threshold of a return to a new normality months ahead of our British and American counterparts. For the media industry, this could mean an imminent return to full functioning capacity, presenting us the opportunity to produce quality content for the world.

And we have the talent and resources to do it. Or at least we did.

Sure, profits may not be free-throwing at first, but the current appetite for content can be used as an opportunity to reset and plan for future growth; both creatively and financially. One only needs to look towards the most successful media machine of the past four decades, Disney, for proof of concept.

When Robert Iger launched Disney+ in 2019, he did so knowing that the product wouldn’t turn a profit for Mickey Mouse Inc until at least 2024. However, it was a necessary, self-disrupting, investment in a new distribution model to secure Disney’s future.

Disney+ changed the game

Fast forward nine months, and thanks to an investment in quality content, creative partnerships and a thoroughly planned, proactive response to a changing media landscape, Disney+ is on track to turn profits by the end of 2020, four years ahead of schedule. All thanks to the actions of a leader immersed in his own product and industry.

“I’ve never seen such a good execution of the incumbent learning the new way and mastering it,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said of Disney and their venture into streaming. “To see both the execution and the numbers line up, my hat’s off to them. Great execution, clarity around brand and focus really makes a difference.”

The ‘Disney-ification’ of Australian media needs to occur, and it needs to occur quickly to save a much-needed industry.

It’s this exact informed leadership and proactive approach Australian media needs now, before it’s too late. Bold, educated leaders willing to make decisions for the future of media, not for today. And if our bosses aren’t brave enough to defy their spreadsheet overlords, then perhaps the most noble decision they could make is to hand over the reins to those who understand and believe in what they do. After all, the biggest saving will occur by cutting the big-wigs.

The marketplace is currently flooded with potential leaders, storytellers and creators, all fuelled by hope, insight and passion for an industry that is facing murder at their former employers’ hands.

My personal message and urgent plea to the leaders decimating our industry? Stop holding us hostage, and let Australians engage with the content they so desperately deserve, then you may have the chance to reap your financial profits.

The author of this piece requested to remain anonymous 


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