‘Why did it take so long to get rid of Alan Jones?’ Nine probed at AGM
Shareholders threw some sticky questions at Nine’s leaders at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) this morning around alleged collusion with rival Seven West Media, allegations in the News Corp press about CEO Hugh Marks’ personal life, and Nine Radio’s talent.
One shareholder asked: “Why did it take so long to finally get rid of Alan Jones from 2GB? How much did we pay him? And how much did the advertising boycotts and defamation actions cost shareholders?”
Jones fronted Sydney’s 2GB Breakfast program for almost two decades, consistently topping the ratings, agitating politicians and generating headlines.
Mounting advertiser disquiet over inflammatory language and sexist rhetoric, however, became increasingly problematic for the broadcaster. An advertiser boycott hit Nine Radio as a result, which CEO Hugh Marks has since conceded hurt the business.
Jones announced his retirement in May.
Today, however, neither Marks nor chairperson Peter Costello would be drawn on exactly how much Jones was paid on exit, nor how much he cost the business.
Costello avoided specifics on the defamation part of the shareholder question, instead painting court proceedings, settlements and actions as a reality of modern media businesses.
“Look, defamation is part of being involved in the media. I want to make this clear. We have high standards, and we don’t want to publish anything that is untrue. It is possible sometimes to publish things that might be true, but can’t be proven to be true, that are defamatory. And in those circumstances, you do run into defamation cases. Where we have wrongly defamed somebody, my view is we should try and correct it as soon as possible. Where it can’t be corrected, or where we maintain our position, we will defend the journalism involved,” he said in response to the question.
“Some cases can be expensive. But the nature of those cases, the duration, when they are actually paid out if in fact you lose them, or even if you win them when you pay your own costs, we make provisions for that in our accounts. These are not significant in the overall returns that we announce.”
Jones and radio stations 2GB and 4BC spent millions on defamation payouts, with one case brought about by the Wagner family in Queensland costing over $3 million in 2018.
Costello then threw to Marks on the question of talent, however he also did not directly address the question of timing or costs.
Instead, he focused on Nine Radio’s transformation, and the need to prepare the business for the coming half century.
Marks: Nine Radio’s transformation has been incredibly successful
“Obviously when we completed our acquisition of the minorities in Macquarie Media, one of the things that we gave consideration to was, a bit like we have with the rest of our businesses, what is the next 50 years of that radio business?,” Marks said.
“That consideration required an understanding of both the existing mix of talent that was on the network and potential future options, as well as what we felt were likely to be the revenue outcomes of all of those changes. Now that required quite a bit of consideration, obviously discussions with a number of people including those talent, and the implementation of that plan.”
Marks contended that the transformation had paid off.
“I think the work that was done by Tom Malone and his team to reset the schedule of the radio networks was incredibly successful for what was a very delicate exercise, and if you look at the most recent radio surveys, obviously hugely successful in terms of audience outcomes. And we anticipate that that success in audience outcome will translate to improved revenue over the future years. So I think it’s been a major achievement from Tom and his team and that radio business over this year.”
Despite the audience gains and Nine’s belief the strategy and repositioning has worked, the business again conceded that the financial results for the radio business in the 2020 financial year weren’t up to scratch.
“The results from Nine Radio were disappointing, with the 78% decline in EBITDA [earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation] highlighting the issues Macquarie was facing. What is pleasing, however, is the clear growth in share we have seen over the past couple of months, as the restructuring we have implemented begins to impact,” Marks said in his opening remarks.