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News Corp’s Australian newspaper revenues fall by $350m – three times more than Fairfax’s drop

news corpThe extent of News Corp’s financial woes in Australia have been revealed for the first time in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US. The filing reveals that the company saw its Australian newspaper revenues fall by $350m compared to the previous year, a fall of 15 per cent. It also wrote down the value of its Australian newspaper assets by $1.4bn.

It is clear for the first time that the company’s revenues have fallen far harder than rival publisher Fairfax Media, which had been perceived by many in the market as the media company in the worst trouble. In the same period, Fairfax’s metro and regional newspaper revenues went backwards by about $120m, about a third of the fall experienced by News Corp.

The fall came during the short tenure of Kim Williams who abruptly left the company a month ago. New CEO Julian Clarke has already moved to reverse many of the changes to the advertising sales structure put in place by Williams.

Thanks to the split of the old News Corp into the two companies of the new News Corp – which includes the Australian business – and 21st Century Fox, the company is obliged for the first time to give greater transparency about how its Australian businesses are doing.

Because of the acquisition of the 50 per cent of Fox Sports it did not already own and better results in the UK, News Corp’s overall revenues were up slightly. But the annual report said: “These increases were partially offset by lower revenues at the Australian newspapers of $350 million, primarily reflecting lower newspaper advertising revenues principally due to the continued challenging economic environment in Australia.” Later in the report, News Corp disclosed that this amounted to a 15 per cent revenue drop in the year ending June 30 compared to the 12 months prior.

The $350m fall in News Corp’s newspaper revenues dwarfs the problems of rival Fairfax Media whose metro and regional mastheads saw a fall in revenue from $1.384bn to $1.263bn, a fall of 8.7 per cent, numbers published last month revealed.

News Corp’s mastheads include The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, the Courier Mail and the Herald Sun. Fairfax’s key newspaper assets include the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

In addition, News Corp spent $293m on restructuring last year while it also wrote down the value of its mastheads in the last quarter of the financial year which ended in June. The report said:

“As a result of adverse developments in the Company’s industry and challenging economic and market conditions, the Company may recognize impairment charges for write-downs of goodwill and intangible assets, as well as restructuring charges relating to the reorganization of its businesses, which negatively impact the Company’s financial results. In the fourth quarter of fiscal 2013, as part of its long-range planning process in preparation for the Separation, the Company adjusted its future outlook and related strategy principally with respect to its News and Information Services business in Australia and secondarily with respect to its News and Information Services businesses in the U.S. These adjustments reflect adverse trends affecting the Company’s News and Information Services segment, including declines in advertising revenue and continued declines in the economic environment in Australia, and resulted in a reduction in expected future cash flows. Consequently, the Company determined that the fair value of these reporting units had declined below their respective carrying values and recorded an impairment charge of approximately $1.4 billion ($1.1 billion, net of tax) in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013. In response to these challenging conditions the Company has reorganized its Australian newspaper businesses, and the Company recognized $293 million of restructuring charges in the year ended June 30, 2013, a significant portion of which resulted from its restructuring activities in Australia and the U.K.”

Later in the filing the company reveals that the goodwill value – the intangible value that cannot be tangibly measured – attached to its newspaper assets around the world has been drastically reduced from $1.17bn to $317m.

The filing will also give credence to those who claimed that News Corp was campaigning against the previous Labor government because it saw the National Broadband Network as a threat to Foxtel’s business model.

At the time News Corp and Foxtel – which is 50 per cent owned by News Corp – put out statements claiming there were business opportunities for Foxtel in the NBN. But the filing to the SEC said:

“Content owners are increasingly delivering their content directly to consumers over the Internet, often without charge, and innovations in distribution platforms have enabled consumers to view such Internet-delivered content on portable devices and televisions. There is a risk that the Company’s responses to these changes and strategies to remain competitive, including distribution of its content on a “pay” basis, may not be adopted by consumers. In addition, enhanced Internet capabilities and other new media may reduce the demand for newspapers and television viewership, which could negatively affect the Company’s revenues. The trend toward digital media may drive down the price consumers are willing to spend on the Company’s products disproportionately to the costs associated with generating content. The Company’s failure to protect and exploit the value of its content, while responding to and developing new products and business models to take advantage of advancements in technology and the latest consumer preferences, could have a significant adverse effect on its businesses, asset values and results of operations.”

And the report also referred to News Corp’s vigorous campaigns against former media minister Stephen Conroy’s proposals for media regulation, telling shareholders:

“On April 30, 2012, the then-Minister for Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy released the Final Report of a comprehensive review of Australia’s communications and media regulation referred to as the Convergence Review. In March 2013, legislation was passed in response to the Convergence Review that, among other things, reduced the license fees payable by FTA networks. Certain other legislative changes that would have had a significant impact on the way the Company operates its business and which would have limited its ability to acquire new businesses were proposed by the Australian Government, but withdrawn without becoming law. Any further changes in Australian media regulations could adversely impact the Company’s Australian businesses. However, the government that commissioned the Convergence Review lost power in the Australian federal election held on September 7, 2013.”

In total, the company reported an EBITDA profit of $688m on revenues of $8.9bn.

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