John Drinnan: The big questions after Mark Weldon exits MediaWorks

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CEO Mark Weldon might be out, but MediaWorks' radio operations are good earners and TV3 won't be going anywhere.

The big questions now are how MediaWorks will respond to the departure of Hilary Barry and Weldon. The media landscape is rapidly evolving but this challenge is immense.

MediaWorks has been out of kilter for a relatively long time and Weldon's "I'm the boss" management style has hurt the brand.

His expertise is in moving money, but the media industry is about relationships. Last year was a disaster. Weldon pitted himself against broadcaster John Campbell and others, and faced down a bizarre campaign to keep Campbell Live on air.

Now, there are signs of improvement. 3 News had been in the doldrums, but ratings perked up after it was revamped into Newshub.

The Dai Henwood gameshow Family Feud has done very well. And, perhaps most importantly, the Paul Henry Show has settled in and made some real inroads into the audience for Breakfast.

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Rating wars

Hilary Barry quits TV3 amid rumours she's heading to TVNZ

That is why the departure of Barry is the most significant to TV3. Barry is the perfect foil to Henry.

Now she is said to be in talks to join the opposition at TVNZ Breakfast. Henry could be excused for being annoyed.

There is no question that, along with Campbell, she has been the face of the channel.

Yet surprisingly, when she resigned last week, it was revealed that she was out of contract and free to go. Nobody had been keeping an eye on their star.

Former head of news and current affairs Mark Jennings - who had seen the MediaWorks board dismantle his stable of shows - also left at the end of the year with no restraint of trade, according to a source.

LA-based Oaktree was focused on making MediaWorks a sellable asset and, according to one source, was not concerned by press reports of ill-feeling and staff insurrection.

Chairman Rod McGeoch is based offshore. There have been widespread rumours that McGeoch is about to step down as chairman of the MediaWorks board.

MediaWorks sources told me that McGeoch is likely to be replaced by Jack Matthews - an American-born media executive who has the antithesis of Weldon's hard style.

Matthews was a pioneer in the New Zealand pay television industry. In this country he set up the Saturn cable TV system in Wellington and Christchurch.

Subsequently he worked in senior management roles for digital at Fairfax Australia and has been a company director in New Zealand.

He lives in Queenstown, close to Weldon's Terra Sancta Winery and, according to one source, has been supported by Weldon for his new place on the board.

Matthews has an inkling of the New Zealand media landscape and knows the digital challenges.

But Weldon dumped several old MediaWorks management people and the company lacks an heir apparent or staff who know TV.

McGeoch appointed Weldon and replaced managing director Sussan Turner, a former sales chief. She had kept a slow and steady hand on the helm, during and after the short-term receivership.

Weldon's appointment also led to the departure of Paul Maher, an ambitious former head of marketing at TVNZ who many had tipped to replace Turner.

Maher has a solid understanding of the MediaWorks' brand. Currently he heads the ad agency Ogilvy.

But the company is still bereft of TV knowledge. That is ironic since the board members include Julie Christie, the shoot-from-the-hip TV executive who formerly owned the food and lifestyle channels. Her former company Touchdown TV had produced many programmes.

MediaWorks sources said that when Weldon first started they had a cordial relationship with Weldon, although he knew nothing about TV. Christie sold the notion of reality-based programmes but, according to my sources, Weldon didn't always appreciate it.

On Tuesday night I attended the launch of the new Bravo channel, a joint venture with the US giant NBC taking over from Four.

Weldon is a businessman who takes care of his appearance, but he looked haggard. The reasoning behind his departure was that it had cost too much personally.

Ironically, given the widespread attacks against him for his management style, he donned the stage surrounded by Bravo signs. They were for the new TV station that will be a JV with NBC, screening US glamour show Bravo.

The event was the ultimate showbiz affair, with glamorously dressed contestants for the channel's new show Real Housewives of Auckland.

That marked his last day in showbiz.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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John Drinnan has been a business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s.

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