Media: Ironbridge takes a front seat

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Ironbridge Capital is keeping a closer eye on its radio and television assets at MediaWorks as the media industry struggles to deal with the advertising downturn and company values fall.

MediaWorks owns TV3, C4 and radio networks such as RadioLive, The Rock, More FM, and The Breeze, and is Ironbridge's biggest single investment.

Ironbridge has put its own directors on to the boards of the trading companies where previously it had directors only on the holding companies.

In 2007 Ironbridge paid top dollar for MediaWorks at the height of the mergers and acquisitions fever.

Now - as with other companies which did big leveraged deals - the numbers won't be looking so good. At the time Ironbridge praised the MediaWorks management who had a reputation for frugality and aggressiveness.

Top talent like chief executive Brent Impey were given generous golden handcuffs.

Ironbridge stayed out of operating the companies but since the end of May that has changed.

This week Ironbridge director of New Zealand operations Kerry McIntosh confirmed the new approach to representation.

He said it was simply "an administrative issue" and in line with its other investments. "We were sitting four or five companies back," McIntosh said.

He declined to say whether the change was linked to the difficult economic environment.

McIntosh played down the impact from the receivership of the Queensland-based Riviera Boating company, which Ironbridge co-owned with another Australian private equity company, Gresham.

The joint owners had invested capital into Riviera but McIntosh said the money associated with the Riviera receivership was in a fund distinct from the investment in MediaWorks.

HARD TO BEAT

The New Zealand Film Commission is in no mad rush to replace its head of sales and marketing, Kathleen Drumm, who starts in September as head of marketing and industry development at Screen Australia.

Drumm will be joining Ruth Harley - another New Zealander - who was appointed head of the Aussie film body last August.

The two had a good rapport and will bring a Kiwi sensibility to the top of the Aussie film world. Harley's NZFC replacement Graeme Mason gave fulsome credit to Drumm, who has been a staunch promoter for New Zealand films at international film markets.

But there will be no panic in appointing Drumm's replacement. Mason, who hails from England, also has a background in sales and says he will be able to perform Drumm's role while working through matters facing the commission.

One issue that surfaced is related to the expectations for cultural content - whether public funding for the Film Commission should pay for international stories, such as a proposed project about Middle Eastern journalist Robert Fisk.

The question is whether taxpayers' main aim is nurturing the careers of film-makers, or funding the telling of New Zealand stories.

A similar argument applies to funding for television projects by New Zealand On Air. While there is clearly a cultural mandate, NZ On Air grants have become in large part an indirect subsidy to commercially struggling TV networks.

Mason doubted NZ On Air, which funds drama series like Go Girls and Outrageous Fortune, performed a more cultural role than the Film Commission, but said both were working toward the same cultural ambition.

The commission's role is in the limelight with the announcement yesterday that film-maker Peter Jackson is to lead a ministerial review of the commission to make sure it serves the needs of the local industry and community.

MUSTN'T GRUMBLE

What was the foundation for the Government freezing Radio New Zealand funding for four years? Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman has banned release of the independent base funding review for Radio New Zealand, raising the option of political spite against a broadcaster once accused by Nats as being "Radio Labour".

The independent review found RNZ was underfunded for sustaining current services and limited in its ability for future investment in infrastructure assets. I hear the report shows severe under-funding. It's not that RNZ deserves carte blanche - all media are in downturn - it's just that this Government seems biased to commercial TV.

RUCK ME

Richard Hammond will have to be careful in the rucks, with Telecom signing a four-year deal with the All Blacks that will take it through the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Special emphasis will be on Telecom's new XT mobile network.

The new deal follows a hiatus of eight months after the old deal with Telecom lapsed. Telecom retail boss Alan Gourdie did not discuss numbers, but with sponsorship revenue so tight expect Telecom to have secured closer links with the ABs, including interactive marketing.

New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said Adidas and Iveco remained top sponsors, while Telecom was on the next rung with Lion Nathan.

So the boys are fine for mobile phones, and a beer. But Ford is negotiating its sponsorship, so they will be looking for a sponsor to get them from A to B.

FERRET FILES

ACP has gone back to the future with a makeover of Metro that sees the Auckland magazine returning to a bound A4 format.

The bigger format introduced in 2002 will appear for the last time at the end of June.

The large format had been welcomed by advertisers who enjoyed the bigger treatment. But CEO Paul Dykzeul says he has never been happy with it and the stapled large-format pages looked similar to newspaper liftout titles - such as Canvas and Sunday.

There was an issue with how the larger format was treated at the point of sale.

The revamp - which Metro editor Bevan Rapson insists will offer a substantial serious read - will see the return of the prematurely-retired gossip columnist Felicity Ferret. Rapson declined to identify the author, but said it was not former Sunday Star-Times gossip writer Bridget Saunders.

PLUNKET RATS

At the other end of the editorial scale, National Radio Morning Report host Sean Plunket will provide a monthly political column for the Auckland magazine. Plunket has only lived in Auckland briefly - when he fronted the short-lived TV show Under Investigation.

Plunket fell out with Radio New Zealand last year when it insisted he was not allowed to do side jobs - or "rats" as they are known in the media trade.

Long story short, Plunket threatened to leave, then signed another deal. Yesterday, he said RNZ was relaxed with his Metro column.

MESSY BUSINESS

Fairfax restructuring is taking a toll among its Auckland business staff. Several business staff at Fairfax were told this week they were being combined with Auckland staff attached to Business Day.

At print time three business reporter roles had been disestablished, though no confirmation was available through Fairfax. The Independent business weekly - which has been championed by Fairfax New Zealand's departing chief executive Joan Withers - survived the latest cuts.

The Sunday Star-Times, which won best business section in this year's Qantas Media Awards, was not affected.

TOON TRIALS

The Herald On Sunday has switched cartoonists. Peter Bromhead is replacing Trace Hodgson who has been with the paper since its inception in October 2004.

HoS editor Shayne Currie said that as well as the main editorial drawings, Bromhead would contribute small drawings that would brighten the paper.

Currie said - no offence to Hodgson - it was time for a change.

Bromhead, who was dropped from the Sunday Star-Times immediately before winning a lifetime achievement award, was pleased as Punch, having "only been two weeks out in the cold". Presumably Hodgson isn't so cheery.

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