Top commentator leaves Sky for World Rugby after salary talks break down; Sad news for an independent and respected media business; Big TAB ad agency account up for grabs; Analysts, investors delve into NZME’s operation; two big bylines leaving Stuff; Former RNZ star linked to political party.
New Zealand rugby sevens legend and TV commentator Karl Te Nana - a class act, on and off the field - has resigned from Sky TV and will take up a new broadcasting role with World Rugby.
And while he’s excited about an expanded and more creative broadcasting career - encompassing commentary and production - he also confirmed to Media Insider that discussions had broken down with Sky over salary.
“Yes, I was disappointed that I had to leave - there are reasons behind that,” said Te Nana, who has been with the broadcaster since 2006.
He said he had reached a point in his career where “I thought I deserved a certain amount” but Sky was not prepared to meet that expectation.
“Business is business ... I have to look after myself. We couldn’t come to an agreement.”
But he was excited to be joining World Rugby from February, and helping forge a pathway for indigenous broadcasters.
He will continue to be based in Auckland, with scope to commentate at global tournaments - including the likes of World Cups and Sevens competitions - while also following a more creative path, especially from a Māori and Pasifika viewpoint, as an associate producer.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to do that with Sky.”
He said while “it’s going to be daunting”, he felt the responsibility for creating a pathway and being true to himself. “Sometimes you have to go through the mud to get to the roses.”
He paid special tribute to fellow Kiwi Steve Jamieson, World Rugby’s executive producer, for his new role.
Te Nana scored 113 tries for the All Blacks Sevens team, and won a Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2002, in a rugby career that also spanned NZ Māori, Super Rugby (Chiefs and Highlanders) and NPC (Wellington and North Harbour) appearances.
Sky paid tribute to Te Nana as a “great talent”.
“Clearly World Rugby had a more attractive remuneration package for KT, and all I can say is that we’re pleased his skills and experience are being rewarded on the global market,” said chief corporate affairs officer Chris Major.
“We have loved having him on the Sky Sport team as a commentator and presenter.
“KT’s authentic and engaging style, including the way he holds himself as a proudly Māori broadcaster and role model for many, brought an innate ability to put people at ease and tell a great story, and he will be missed. His passion and skill for bringing te ao Māori to broadcasting and the workplace has helped pave the way for the future success of Māori and all of our talent here at Sky, and we are grateful for his contribution.”
Te Nana told Media Insider that he would miss New Zealand fans on Sky TV: “I appreciate all the love and aroha from fans in New Zealand.”
His voice will still be heard, when broadcasters take World Rugby commentary feeds from matches.
Media firm in liquidation
Sad news in the world of independent media - a respected family-owned business has been placed in liquidation, with the future of three trade magazines and 13 staff in doubt.
“It’s hideous,” said a “distraught” Marketplace Media owner Simon Little. “It’s an absolutely hideous time at the moment for me.”
His father, Bud Little – a legend of the magazine publishing industry – set up Marketplace Press in 1984, while Marketplace Media was incorporated in 2009.
It published three trade magazines - NZ Hardware Journal, Wares and NZ Outdoor Power Equipment.
Simon Little said the Covid pandemic and advertising market downturn had led to strong economic headwinds.
“I’ve been running the company for 30 years and then Covid hit and that was a bit of a bother and then my dad died.”
Bud Little died in late 2020. He received a magazine industry lifetime achievement award in 2014 and paid tribute to Simon during that speech, saying how proud he was of him and his sister on the way they had taken over the business.
“We had a good little company going but the [advertising] market just turned. We had 13 staff, and we were all engaged, everyone was happy,” Simon Little said.
The pandemic – and the requirement to have people working from home – was a big challenge, he said.
“We always used to come into work, and we’d have a lovely day, but then Covid hit and the market turned down and everything turned to shit, to be honest.”
He said supply chain issues following the pandemic had impacted some of his biggest clients and their advertising spend. “I won’t name them, but they said we just can’t afford to do this anymore. It’s been a tough struggle.”
He said NZ Hardware Journal averaged sales of 3500 copies; Wares 2500, and NZ Outdoor Power Equipment 1700. “They are good magazines. They are rock stars.”
The business also ran two major awards ceremonies each year – the Wares Awards and Hardware Industry Awards - which he also described as rock-star events.
EY’s Rhys Cain and Larissa Logan have been appointed liquidators following an Auckland High Court order on October 26. The applicant creditor is Great Eagle Hotels, owner of the Langham Hospitality Group which operates the Cordis hotel.
A woman who answered Simon Little’s phone initially – and described herself as a friend – said the company owed the Cordis about $2000.
She said all staff had been looked after, apart from one who was owed $4000.
However, Cain said the company’s director “has not yet fully responded to our requests for information and he failed to attend a meeting with the liquidators, as required by s261 of the Companies Act 1993.
“We are currently investigating the financial records of the company to check for potential assets and creditors.”
The liquidators’ first report is due no later than November 30. Creditors have until February 27 to make claims.
“Simply put, the details have not yet been provided to us [by the director] as they should have been and we are still hunting,” said Cain.
Little, who told Media Insider he was working collaboratively with the liquidator, said he did not know if the company’s three titles would continue. “I hope they do.”
He said he had no idea how much money was owed but he was a good boss and all staff “have been taken care of”.
“We’re fighting headwinds, I’ve paid everyone and everyone’s happy. Happy days.
“I’m just going under.”
He said he would never be involved in media again.
“I’m sick of the media business. I’ve been doing it for 30 years and I’m sick of it now. No, there’s no bloody way at all.”
MediaWorks appoints new Outdoor exec
MediaWorks on Friday morning announced the appointment of one of New Zealand’s most experienced outdoor advertising executives to head its own outdoor division.
Recently departed JCDecaux country head Mike Watkins has been appointed MediaWorks’ Outdoor chief executive and will join the company’s executive.
Current Outdoor director Brad Morgan has been appointed Outdoor chief operating officer.
MediaWorks CEO Wendy Palmer said the appointment reflected the importance of outdoor advertising in the company’s portfolio.
However, the appointment also comes amid much speculation as to whether that part of MediaWorks’ business might be sold, as the company battles financial challenges. The company has previously insisted there are no “imminent” plans for a sale or a slicing up of assets.
According to a MediaWorks press release, “Watkins spent the first 25 years of his career in many of New Zealand’s leading advertising, design and film production companies, including Generator, Meares Taine, M&C Saatchi, Designworks and Film Construction. In 2016 he jumped the fence to media, taking a role as general manager of APN Outdoor, which was later acquired by JCDecaux”.
Watkins said he was joining MediaWorks “at a pivotal time for the industry”.
“It’s a dynamic area, with some big contracts up for tender, new asset formats and offers emerging, alongside the continued rise of programmatic. MediaWorks is primed to capitalise on all these opportunities alongside its radio and digital growth and I am thrilled to be part of the team to do this.”
Former RNZ star’s political move?
Former RNZ Midday host Māni Dunlop has been linked to a move to politics.
She is considered a front-runner for a role with Te Pāti Māori which - with an extra four MPs joining leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi - is on the hunt for as many as 20 additional support staff.
Dunlop would be considered a shoo-in for a top comms role within the party, but it is understood she may even be a leading contender for a chief of staff-type role.
Dunlop, whose farewell from RNZ hit headlines following comments made by her then partner, former Labour MP Kiri Allan, did not respond to messages yesterday.
TAB media account up for grabs
Media Insider understands at least four advertising agencies - including incumbent MBM - are in the running for the TAB media account.
Other names in the mix are OMD, EssenceMediacom and an Australian agency, Atomic 212°.
It’s been a massive year for the TAB, with international betting agency Entain taking over its operations in a deal that will reportedly inject hundreds of millions of dollars into horse racing and sport.
Then Racing Minister Kieran McAnulty described the announcement in May as “one of the most significant days in New Zealand racing history. This deal will reverse falling revenues for racing and provides certainty over the coming years”.
In a Q&A with NZ Herald racing editor Michael Guerin in June, Entain Australia CEO Dean Shannon confirmed the TAB brand would remain, but undergo a refresh.
“The TAB brand has trust and loyalty with many Kiwi customers. We will focus on giving the brand a refresh when we release the new betting app and platform early next year,” he said.
He also teased a new brand aimed at a broader, possibly younger, sporting audience.
“We definitely will see a second brand, to offer choice to the customers to ensure more betting stays onshore and contributes directly back into the racing and sport industries. We need to dig a bit deeper and understand why customers are betting offshore so we can ensure we have a local offering which truly meets the needs of customers.”
NZME’s open day for investors
NZME - publisher of the NZ Herald and therefore this column - opened the hood of the business to investors this week, unveiling a new, three-year strategy which chief executive Michael Boggs has clearly laid out as a blueprint for not just stabilised earnings but a digitally-focused growth business.
NZME continues to concentrate on its three key pillars - publishing, audio and OneRoof, its property portal which turned five this year. It’s the latter that has the biggest potential to supercharge the company’s revenue and earnings growth, especially as the property market recovers.
NZME was publicly listed in 2016 and may have felt some heat in those early years for not giving investors enough insight into the business and its strategies.
That, surely, would not be a criticism today. The level of detail revealed by NZME this week is quite extraordinary in many areas - I suspect competitors will be poring over the investor pack as much as shareholders and analysts.
Certainly, the market seemed to like what it heard. Shares rose seven cents, to 90 cents, on Wednesday and remained at that level on Thursday. Analysts at Forsyth Barr believe the company is undervalued, with its “blended spot valuation” for shares at $1.25.
The presentation reiterated the difficult economic climate and confirmed a downgraded Ebitda forecast for the year of $57m-$59m (down from an earlier guidance range of $59m-$64m).
But it also delved into some specific and intricate operational challenges and opportunities, some of which were picked up on by analysts in the Q&A session following the presentation.
Digital subscriptions - corporates v individuals
The company has 221,000 subscribers overall in its publishing business, including 179,000 digital subscribers. This includes nzherald.co.nz, Viva Premium and BusinessDesk subscribers. Of the 179,000 digital subscriptions today, 123,000 are digital-only (the other 56,000 are print subscribers who have activated a digital subscription). NZME is aiming for 190,000 digital-only subscriptions by 2026.
NZME believes the total addressable market for digital news subscriptions in New Zealand is one million, and that there’s also a big market of expat Kiwis - 1.5 million of us live overseas - who could also be targeted.
Jarden research head Arie Dekker probed NZME executives on NZ Herald digital subscriptions, noting “reasonably subdued growth” in more recent times and questioning whether the business would be willing to ditch lower-yield corporate subscriptions in favour of higher-yielding individual subscriptions.
Chief digital and publishing officer Carolyn Luey said in the Q&A session that growing audience and audience engagement continued to be a key focus for nzherald.co.nz - this would open up more advertising inventory for clients and act as a bigger funnel to capture future subscribers, she said.
Her presentation outlined a number of strategies, including editorial mix and presentation, stronger use of data in editorial decision-making, and new editorial content and product initiatives.
NZME chief executive Michael Boggs told Media Insider the corporate v individual subscriptions debate was a focus.
“That is the key thing that got spoken about - they were concerned that the corporate subs could be cannibalising the individual subs. So it’s getting that balance right.
“A large corporate really has an all-you-can-eat [arrangement]. So let’s make sure that they’re either paying appropriately for that or it’s not an all-you-can-eat [arrangement] for everyone in the organisation, so that others may want to buy an individual subscription. [It’s] getting that balance right between price and volume.”
Boggs believed journalistic topics such as New Zealand innovation, climate and the environment could attract expats for digital subscriptions. “Or, actually, just connecting back to New Zealand on what’s happening from a heritage perspective.”
There is still an opportunity for the Herald - whose digital presence is strong in its traditional North Island print footprint - to penetrate the likes of South Island markets more strongly.
The company has been investing in more journalists over the past several years in Canterbury and a new journalist started in Dunedin this month.
Coast and Hits a radio focus
The biggest focus for NZME in its audio business - like the other two pillars - is in digital, and specifically, the rise of digital listenership (through the licensed iHeart radio platform and podcasts) and digital revenue.
But there is still very strong revenue in terrestrial radio and one of the biggest challenges for the business in recent years has been building its music stations’ market share. NewstalkZB is a juggernaut in the talk market - in fact it’s the biggest radio station in the land - and now NZME is putting a renewed focus on building listenership for The Hits and Coast especially.
A slide in the investor day pack reveals the market position of those two brands, and where the company sees the opportunity to try to eat away at MediaWorks’ lead in the terrestrial music market.
This week, it was announced former ZM breakfast host Megan Papas would join The Hits’ Jono & Ben breakfast show, while NZME is also casting for a new Hits afternoon show following the departure of Laura McGoldrick.
“The biggest focus for us is that digital audio component,” says Boggs. “With broadcast, we think we can continue to maintain audience and continue to grow share.
“The digital audio is about 7 per cent of our current [audio business] revenue - we want to grow that substantially and the biggest component of that will be our podcasting.
“We have 1.1 million people come to our podcasts every month at the moment and, versus our main competitor, we have a 70 per cent market share on digital audio. So we’ve got a really compelling proposition to take to our audience and our advertisers.”
NZME has been touted as a possible buyer of MediaWorks’ outdoor business, should that ever go on the block. It is one scenario being speculated upon as that company battles financial headwinds.
“We are always open to opportunities,” says Boggs, reiterating that as a public company, any such move would need to be announced to shareholders first. “We watch what’s happening out in the marketplace. Opportunities may well present themselves.”
Asked if he thought there would be opportunities, he said: “I’m not sure; it will be up to the shareholders of those businesses, I guess, but we’re doing all we can to win in the market without them.”
He believed there would be fewer media companies in the next 12 months, but whether that was fewer smaller companies or fewer big companies was difficult to predict.
“It’s a really difficult environment for some of the smaller players in the market but again, we’re not actively out looking to acquire or merge with other organisations. We think we’ve built a strategy that allows us, with our organic growth, to continue to grow.”
One Good Text
This week, we speak to Are Media general manager Stuart Dick, a magazine publisher whose business has renergised a suite of New Zealand titles - including the Listener, Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Day - that looked like they had gone for good in 2020, when Covid hit and Bauer left the New Zealand market.
TVNZ structural change
TVNZ has confirmed it is restructuring part of its senior leadership team.
Media Insider understands as many as 13 roles may be impacted, with a proposal - according to one source - to reduce 23 roles to 10. It is not known if other newly created roles might spin out from that.
A spokeswoman would not comment on the specific proposal.
“We’ve made changes to TVNZ’s executive team and we’re now proposing changes to our executive team’s direct reports.
“We’re happy to talk about any changes once they’re made, but not in advance of this happening.”
Two big bylines signing off from Stuff
Two of New Zealand journalism’s best-known bylines will sign off from Stuff in the next two weeks.
Eugene Bingham, who has also had long and successful stints at the NZ Herald and TV3, leaves Stuff today. He has resigned to pursue some specific journalistic projects and to freelance.
Todd Niall, with a similar storied career including more than 30 years at RNZ, leaves Stuff on November 30. At 66, he is retiring - not that he will be short of pursuits. “Time for new adventures like grandparenthood, travelling, chasing new tales of the Trekka and of course another America’s Cup. It’s been a privilege,” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter) last night.
He has a deep fascination for the Trekka, New Zealand’s only mass-produced, locally-made vehicle - about 2500 were built in Auckland between 1966 and 1972.
Neither resignation is related, and both have made their own choices.
But their departures will be a blow for Stuff, which - as Duncan Greive of The Spinoff reported last week - has seen a number of editorial staff leave to go to RNZ in recent times, including Kirsty Johnston, Dana Johannsen, and Eloise Gibson.
“There’s a lot of movement in the whole industry,” says Bingham, who started at the Herald in 1991. “I’ve resigned - it’s not a redundancy situation or anything.
“I think if I don’t go and do it now, when will I ever? I thought it was time to branch out.”
He said there was a lot of great work occurring in the industry.
“It’s exciting, the extent of the many ways of telling good stories. For myself, I’ve worked in newspapers, online, TV, and podcasts and each of those brings different ways of telling stories. There’s so much innovation going on, so many different platforms and outlets. It’s a hell of a long way from when we started, isn’t it?”
He has also been studying te reo Māori, and believes there are new journalistic opportunities in that space. “It’s a really interesting time to be a journalist.”
- Editor-at-Large Shayne Currie is one of New Zealand’s most experienced senior journalists and media leaders. He has held executive and senior editorial roles at NZME including Managing Editor, NZ Herald Editor and Herald on Sunday Editor and has a small shareholding in NZME.