Nine ‘very interested’ in Macquarie Media talent opportunities

Nine CEO Hugh Marks believes there will be a number of opportunities for the broadcaster and Macquarie Media, arguing there are more similarities between Nine and the radio broadcaster than the Fairfax Media mastheads.

At the annual general meeting yesterday, Marks said Nine would operate as a “very interested majority shareholder” in Macquarie Media, should its merger go through with Fairfax Media.

Nine directors (L-R): Catherine West, Peter Costello, Janette Kendall, Hugh Marks, Samantha Lewis, David Gyngell

Currently, Fairfax Media has a 54.5% stake in the radio business, which owns stations 2GB, 3AW, 4BC and 6PR as well as sports network Macquarie Sports Radio. Should the merger be approved, Nine will have a majority stake. But since the initial announcement of the merger proposal, there has been speculation Nine would seek to buy out Macquarie Media shareholder, John Singleton, who owns 32.4% of the business. Mark Carnegie owns around 7%.

Marks said a combined Nine and Fairfax business would allow new opportunities for Nine to work with Macquarie Media around “talent” and “news”.

“Like television, it’s a broadcast business. It’s a broadcast business that is different – because radio content is different to television content, but it is in broadcast. It is fundamentally based around news, opinions and public affairs.

“There are certainly more similarities between Nine and Macquarie Media than perhaps there is between Nine and the Metro Media business. I think some opportunities for us to work together around talent – they’ve got a sports network they’ve just started up as their second network. No doubt there’s some cooperation we can do around that and hopefully build the performance of that network with them, and generate some additional revenues.”

“As one news business, there will be an opportunity for the news part of each of those businesses to work out ‘is there some way we can work together to our mutual benefit?’. So all of those things will come. It’s a great business, with some great people, delivering great results,” Marks said.

“It’s another independent, publicly listed company, so we need to respect that. But we will be working as a very interested majority shareholder in ensuring all of those businesses are successful for both ourselves and our shareholders and for the minority interests.”

But chairman Peter Costello remained coy around whether or not the broadcaster would buy Singleton’s stake: “We’ll let you know down the track.”

One of Macquarie Media’s best-known talents, is 2GB breakfast host, Alan Jones, who is on leave this week due to illness. At the last radio ratings survey, Jones had a a 17.5% share, down 1.5 points from the previous survey’s 19% share.

When asked whether 2GB star Jones had the support of Nine, Costello said Jones was a “very well known” and “successful” host.

“A large part of the value of Macquarie is it’s very well-known and successful hosts, of which Alan Jones is one.

“Obviously it’s in the interests of everybody, I think, who has shares in Macquarie, to have well-known, successful and rating winner commentators. So obviously, he’s a very valuable part of Macquarie,” he said.

Outside of Macquarie Media, Costello said he did not think shareholders were concerned with Nine’s investment in print assets, like Fairfax Media’s The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and The Australian Financial Review.

“You’ve got to remember this; Fairfax the company has a suite of assets, so we’re not just buying print. We’re merging in order to get an interest in Domain (digital), Stan (digital), mastheads (digital and print), radio and then community newspapers and New Zealand,” he said.

“Print is an important part, but we think we need to go heavily into digital if we’re going to be a profitable company in the future. We’ll really be focusing on all of the digital properties which will include digital mastheads.”

Costello also argued there was no public concern around the loss of the Fairfax Media brand.

“Nine is a very strong brand, and all the brands of Fairfax will continue. The real brands of Fairfax are Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Financial Review, Domain, Stan. The name Fairfax is not a brand that the public deals with,” Costello said.

“We want them to continue to be very strong, respected brands, that’s why we are interested in merging. Those brands will be around for a very long period of time, we hope they will be as familiar and respected are they are today, even more so.”

Marks added the publishing business – which he predicts will generate $500m in revenue annually – was hard to go and and talk about.

“That’s one in particular people will need to see us deliver on results. Obviously, Stan and Domain are a lot easier for people to understand the market segments,” he said.

“But it is certainly something that in this merger is a really interesting category that will come out of the business.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.