2 May 2016

Mediaworks CEO claims board's backing

4:33 pm on 2 May 2016

Mediaworks chief executive Mark Weldon says he still has the confidence of the company's board after an hours-long meeting today.

Mark Weldon

Mediaworks CEO Mark Weldon Photo: Creative Commons

There had been rumours Mr Weldon would step down after top newsreader and presenter Hilary Barry resigned on Friday, the latest in a string of high-profile resignations and redundancies.

However, Mr Weldon has just left the meeting in Auckland, saying it was a "good meeting" and that board chair Rod McGeoch might have more to add.

When asked if he still had the confidence of his board, he replied, "I think so".

The chief executive flew in from overseas for today's board meeting, which followed the news of Barry's resignation.

She was the latest in a long line of broadcasters and journalists to leave the company during restructuring since Mr Weldon took the helm in August 2014.

Long-serving news chief Mark Jennings left earlier this year and broadcaster John Campbell - who later joined RNZ - left last year after his popular prime-time show, Campbell Live, was axed.

Hilary Barry

Hilary Barry resigned last week Photo: Twitter: @Hilary_Barry

Many senior executives and managers have also left or been made redundant, and recent news reports have described a mood of near-mutiny inside the company about the way it is being run.

Former TV3 journalist Paula Penfold told Morning Report today she understood staff turnover was higher than at any point since TV3 was founded in 1989.

"It used to be a place where they prided themselves on their culture, and that has changed drastically," Ms Penfold said. "People are either unhappy and leaving of their own will, or there are many, many others who have been given the flick".

The shake-up of a cash-strapped company

Mark Weldon, a former head of stock exchange operator NZX, is part of the management group which took over Mediaworks after it went into receivership in 2013. He was charged with restoring the company's finances so the banks which formerly owned it could get back some of their money.

Chairman Rod McGeoch said the aim was to restore revenue and profitability.

Mr Weldon, Mr McGeoch and fellow board member Julie Christie - a reality TV entrepreneur - set about cutting costs and reshaping the company. They put a new emphasis on entertainment programmes.

News and current affairs shows, including Campbell Live and 3D, deemed to be underperforming, were axed and their staff let go.

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John Campbell's show Campbell Live was axed, along with investigative programme 3D. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

In a joint venture with gossip columnist Rachel Glucina, Mediaworks launched a celebrity website, Scout, and a partnership with Australian entertainment company Nine Live was set up.

Millions were spent on an integrated multimedia newsroom and a new brand for the news operation - Newshub - was introduced in February this year.

The axing of news shows caused a backlash from TV3 viewers, and raised concerns about damage to Mediaworks' reputation and its corporate brand.

But last November the board gave Mr Weldon a new contract to continue on as chief executive and global investment company Oaktree Capital injected fresh funds in Mediaworks.

The investment firm behind the broadcaster

Since April 2015, Mediaworks has been owned by Oaktree Capital, often referred to as a vulture fund (an outfit investing in financially weakened or 'distressed' assets). It has been taking a closer interest in Mediaworks lately.

Recently it appointed two new directors to Mediaworks, including former media executive Jack Matthews. It has also established a new constitution for Mediaworks, which set a limit of $2 million on discretionary spending by the management.

So far, the radical changes wrought at TV3 and its new media ventures are not thought to have improved the company's financial performance.

A plan to raise TV3's sagging prime-time ratings fell apart when Mediaworks failed to secure public funding for a new local daily soap opera.

However, the company's radio networks - including The Rock, The Edge and Radio Live are thought to be profitable.

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