Billionaires bankroll Ten's new direction Media Network sees digital future
Ten Network's programming ambitions will be funded by a $200 million loan guaranteed by three of its billionaire owners, as the free-to-air broadcaster declared digital was the future and pointed to early signs that its switch to an older market demographic was working.
Shareholders voted in favour of the unusual funding agreement at a lengthy and sometimes fiery annual general meeting on Wednesday, in which chairman Lachlan Murdoch backed Ten boss Hamish McLennan to keep his chairmanship of real estate classified company REA Group.
The Australian Shareholders Association had called for Mr McLennan to resign as chairman of REA, arguing Ten's turnaround required his full concentration.
But Mr Murdoch said Mr McLennan's digital media experience with REA Group would help Ten as it sought to preserve advertising margins in traditional broadcasting while seeking a high-yielding audience online.
Mr Murdoch said Ten's new digital platform, Tenplay, was "generating significant growth" for its online advertising revenue, and although it was early days it "would be remiss of us not to have a strategy".
And with free-to-air broadcasters battling "tremendous headwinds", Mr Murdoch urged the government to review Australia's media laws, arguing that the local content required of free-to-air broadcasters was at risk as online content stole eyeballs.
"In the converged media environment exactly the same content is often delivered across multiple different platforms - pay television, mobile, internet and free-to-air television - each of which is subject to a different level of regulations," he said.
"A level playing field across content rules, tax levies and diversity is vital to maintain the strength and competitiveness of Australian media and its ability to continue to invest heavily in local content."
Ten, the fourth-rating broadcaster behind the ABC, has battled low ratings, a weak share price and executive turnover.
Mr McLennan told shareholders that although Ten's ratings in 2013 were "unacceptable", there had been a positive response to the company's shift from the youth market.
"Since we shifted Ten's focus to people 25 to 54, we have seen growth in our audience in that demographic. It is early days but we have seen increases. Just as importantly, our advertising revenue has stabilised in recent months."
Ten, Fox Sports Australia and Foxtel this week announced a six-year, $241 million deal to broadcast the V8 Supercars motor racing series.
Mr McLennan said Ten was focused for 2014 on improving ratings, revenue and shareholder returns through premium sport, "event" television, premium drama, a 6pm family entertainment show, news and US content.
Ten shareholders approved a $200 million loan from the Commonwealth Bank, guaranteed by shareholders Mr Murdoch, Bruce Gordon and James Packer. In supporting the deal, the ASA said "financial freedom is required if the company is to survive, and yes, if the new initiatives and programming fail we could be handing over control of the administration process to people who own one-third of the company".