An opening for Hilary Barry in MediaWorks post-Mark Weldon rebuild
Hilary Barry must be persuaded to stay at TV3 at any cost as a "smoking ruin" is rebuilt, experts say.
Controversial MediaWorks chief executive of Mark Weldon quit on Tuesday night.
Milford Asset Management founder Brian Gaynor said the resignation of Barry, one of New Zealand's star broadcasters, was the moment MediaWorks, parent company of TV3, Four and numerous radio stations, really lost its mojo. It was not yet known whether the popular newsreader had signed on with a competitor.
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Gaynor said MediaWorks' private equity owners Oaktree were sharp operators, and would no doubt be considering making Barry an offer she could not refuse.
"It's doubtful that Weldon could have ever got her to stay, even if he offered much more, but I think if a different person came in, they might have a chance."
Gaynor said Oaktree would have replacement leaders waiting in the wings, although the new chief executive would face an "unbelievably difficult" challenge.
MediaWorks had always struggled, and was in a tough spot when Weldon joined.
"You try to do two things in his position; you try to increase revenue, and decrease costs.
"While Weldon's approach appeared to have failed, Gaynor said the moves he had made were not unusual.
"It's very much a burn strategy that he had. It has worked in the past for private equity companies."
Former editor and publisher Rick Neville agreed that the next MediaWorks boss will have a big job, saying most media organisation were adapting to cope with fast-changing consumer demands in the internet age.
"Media audiences are larger than ever, but customer expectations are driven ever higher by the immediacy of news and other information on the internet. People want more, and they want it faster," Neville said.
The content mix was also changing with celebrity culture and social media dampening demand for serious news.
"TV3, as it was previously known, developed a feisty, youthful brand of news content which appealed particularly in Auckland and to younger audiences. But breaking TVNZ's traditional hold on older, more conservative viewers, and regional New Zealand, proved to be a difficult struggle which impacted on ratings and therefore advertising revenue." Neville said.
"The MediaWorks group strategy to rebrand as Newshub, encompassing television, online and radio was brave, but in itself, unlikely to be a revenue circuit breaker in the short term."
Like other media companies, MediaWorks would have needed to take out cost, but there are ways of doing this without it becoming an HR and PR disaster. The company's management appeared not to realise this, he added.
"Whoever is running the show now needs to make a top priority of persuading Hilary to stay. Otherwise, a lot more viewers will be grabbing their remotes and clicking on any news platform but Newshub," Neville said.
Media commentator, Auckland Council candidate and one-time news boss at rival TVNZ, Bill Ralston described the current state of Mediaworks as a "smoking ruin".
Weldon handed in his resignation immediately after the launch event for Real Housewives of Auckland.
The show will be the first in a new joint venture with United States television giant NBC, a high note mentioned by Weldon in his resignation statement.
In an internal email sent on Tuesday, he also told staff MediaWorks had hit its first quarter earnings targets despite tough market conditions.
Ralston said Weldon had done some things right, like a push for online content and the formation of Newshub.
"But the wholesale loss of really experienced staff, people who would go the extra mile, is a tragedy."
Business commentator Rod Oram said there was "huge turmoil" in the media industry generally, and the Weldon saga was just one example.
"We can expect to see … ongoing knife-edge business here, as people try to work out how to re-invent media into profitable and sustainable businesses.
"What [Weldon] was wrestling with was what all forms of media are wrestling with - we mustn't lose sight of that."
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