Is Stuff stuffed? New Zealand’s media turmoil


The broadcaster says it is looking for other avenues to drum up profits, but the trajectory of these numbers is unlikely to change,. The business is still listed as “for sale” and has found it difficult to drum up interest even though it is the country’s most popular website outside of Facebook and Google, sources close to the business said.

“They’ve tried everything. It’s just not big enough to compete with telcos and other businesses like that,” they said.

“Private equity has no interest [in buying the business]. There wasn’t even a $1 bid … There’s no way to make it leaner. The newspapers need to consolidate to at least be able to cut some costs to survive. There’s not the scale to survive on subscriptions – it’s going down the gurgler.”

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NZME, the publisher of The New Zealand Herald, is now back in the fold with preliminary discussions to persuade the government to allow a “Kiwishare-style” model that would ring-fence editorial and protect Stuff’s independence. Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi told Stuff in November he had “spoken to nearly every media company in the last 12 months because they are all worried about survival in the future”.

The NZ Herald publisher told the NZ Exchange on November 19 that “there can be no certainty at this stage that these discussions will result in any transaction”.

And with the regulator blocking the last merger saying it would reduce competition and increase the concentration of media ownership, the question remaining is whether Stuff is, simply, stuffed?

“If they’re [NZME] not allowed to buy Stuff I don’t know what they’ll do. It’ll all become unsustainable,” one source said.

However, media executives with knowledge of the New Zealand market said the issue is not specifically one Stuff is facing alone with most media companies grappling with the same problems.

Many of the issues facing the publisher are familiar to media watchers in Australia. The tech titans have swallowed up a growing portion of advertising revenue and brand budgets, journalism remains expensive to produce while audiences are increasingly heading to other avenues online for their content including global providers, and digital giants often face fewer regulations forcing traditional publishers to compete on an uneven playing field.

There are also questions hanging over what the future holds for the major television broadcasters in New Zealand.

MediaWorks, owned by US private equity firm Oaktree is selling its TV arm amid criticism government-funded Television New Zealand competes directly with its channels like Three.

MediaWorks chief executive Michael Anderson has described 2019 as “by far the worst year” for the business since he took on the role in 2016, with television revenues falling following a $5.5 million loss in 2018 (an improvement on 2017).

The New Zealand government is believed to be gearing up for an announcement before the end of the year relating to broadcast policy, which could include restricting some of the public broadcaster’s channels from hosting advertising.

Whether the government will also budge on print news remains to be seen. “If nothing happens before Christmas there will have to be drastic change in the New Year,” one media source said, adding “It’s a real problem for New Zealand’s democracy”.

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