Matt Nippert is a business investigations journalist.

Matt Nippert: MediaWorks closing in on new CEO

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Weldon's tenure at the company was marked by a series of high-profile departures and an emphasis on entertainment programming. Photo / Dean Purcell
Weldon's tenure at the company was marked by a series of high-profile departures and an emphasis on entertainment programming. Photo / Dean Purcell

MediaWorks is inching closer to appointing a chief executive to replace the departed Mark Weldon, with both internal and Australian candidates understood to have signalled an interest in helming the radio and television network.

The office has been vacant since April, when former NZX boss Weldon suddenly resigned from the broadcaster in the aftermath of star newsreader Hilary Barry's shock departure.

In the days before his resignation, Weldon denied reports Barry was defecting to commercial rival TVNZ. She subsequently joined the state-owned broadcaster and is understood to be lined up to next year host its morning show, Breakfast.

Weldon's tenure at the company - which had previously collapsed into receivership in 2013, then been taken over by banks and later US-based vulture fund Oaktree Capital - was marked by a series of high-profile departures and an emphasis on entertainment programming.

The Herald understands two front-runners for the chief executive position are MediaWorks' chief financial officer, and current acting chief executive, David Chalmers and Australia-based media boss Michael Anderson.

Two other mooted candidates - MediaWorks radio boss Wendy Palmer and former Channel Nine chief executive David Gyngell - are understood to not have applied.

The company was unwilling to comment on the hiring process. "The CEO search process is ongoing and we are not at liberty to comment on candidates at this stage," a spokeswoman said.

The five-person board running the appointment process has also recently experienced turnover. Oaktree banker Jonas Mitzschke and former Fairfax Media executive Jack Matthews signed up as directors just before Weldon's resignation - and Martin Dalgleish resigned soon after.

Chalmers is a Weldon hire and was previously CFO and acting chief executive at Australian insurance comparison website iSelect. Anderson, whose link to the MediaWorks role was first tipped by the Australian Financial Review, spent eight years running radio group Austereo and serves on the boards of Fairfax Media and oOh! Media.

Sources familiar with the MediaWorks executive suite and boardroom said the chief executive search was complicated by both the infighting and the financial pressures that helped trigger Weldon's departure.

Weldon's new-broom style riled many within MediaWorks and led to several senior executives lobbying the board against him.

And Weldon's efforts to reshape the company also failed to immediately rev up a spluttering income statement, with figures disclosed after his departure showing normalised profits had halved on the back of a 10 per cent bump in costs associated with launching new entertainment shows.

Chalmers said last month that the television end of the business had caused most of the bleeding, but the radio side of the operation had more than held its own.

Challenges facing the company have only grown in the months since Weldon quit, with unprecedented consolidation seeing both Fairfax and NZME, as well as Sky and Vodafone, all revealing merger intentions, raising the prospect of MediaWorks being forced to compete against much larger rivals.

These concerns - one source told the Herald the pressure facing the company made some people see the top job as a "poisoned chalice" - are thought to be behind MediaWorks radio boss Wendy Palmer's decision not to pursue the top job.

The rumour mill had also gone into overdrive suggesting former Channel Nine boss Gyngell was in the mix following a recent sighting at Auckland eatery Prego. Those suggestions were bolstered with references to Gyngell's New Zealand-born wife and his previous working relationship with Oaktree when the fund owned - then floated - Nine between 2012 and 2015.

But sources poured cold water on the suggestion and said Gyngell wasn't in the mix, noting that even if he were sought after, MediaWorks would not be able to afford him: Gyngell made headlines in 2014 when his A$20m pay packet from Nine made him Australia's highest-paid media executive.

- NZ Herald

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Matt Nippert is a business investigations journalist.

A Fulbright scholar with a masters from the Columbia School of Journalism in New York, Matt has spent the past decade in newsbreaking roles at the New Zealand Listener, National Business Review, Herald on Sunday and the Sunday Star-Times before joining the Herald in 2014. His work has won numerous awards and he is the reigning Canon reporter of the year. His stories include horrific abuse at a state-run boys home on Great Barrier Island, malfeasance at South Canterbury Finance, systematic tax avoidance by multinational companies, and the sudden resignation of justice minister Judith Collins. Nippert has a regular sideline as a broadcast commentator and is one of only a few journalists who honestly enjoys numbers and spreadsheets. His PGP key is available on request.

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