Don Groves is a Deadline contributor based in Sydney
If Lachlan Murdoch harbors hopes of a return to a senior executive role at News Corp, his stewardship of Australia’s Network Ten may not be helping his cause. The half-year ratings released Monday show the combined audience shares for Ten’s three networks — flagship Ten and digital channels One and Eleven — fell to 19.9%, down from 21.9% in first-half 2011 and deeper into third place in the market behind leader Seven (30.4%) and Nine (27.9%). Since Rupert Murdoch‘s scion took the reins of the network in late 2010 (initially as interim chief executive, then as executive chairman), the value of his 9% stake acquired for $A128 million has plummeted by 47%. And that was before he coughed up a further $35.7 million in June when Ten raised $200 million by issuing new shares.
When News Corp splits into separate entertainment and publishing companies next year, one Australian media analyst expects Lachlan to take a seat on the board of the publishing unit, which will include News’ stakes in dominant Australian pay-TV platform Foxtel, Fox Sports and realestate.com.au. The analyst, who asked not to be identified, said, “I think Rupert will want Lachlan to be his eyes and ears on the ground here. Lachlan is a director of News Corp but apart from his time as acting CEO of Ten he has operated more at board level.” Another analyst also doubts Lachlan plans to return to the News Corp executive fold, suggesting his first priority is to “rejuvenate” Ten. Given his investments in Ten, the DMG Australia radio network and Funtastic Australia (a distributor of toys, sporting and confectionery products), it’s difficult to see how he could juggle that and an operational role at News. Also, Lachlan, who is 40, and his family are happily ensconced in Sydney, which probably rules out any move to New York for the foreseeable future.
He has his work cut out for him at the network. In June, Ten said its TV advertising revenues dropped by 12% in the three months ending in May and that it did not expect its 25.8% share of ad revenues would improve in the near term. The network’s once-powerful MasterChef franchise lost viewers this year and The Biggest Loser Australia and new reality series Being Lara Bingle underperformed. Ten is hoping for a ratings revival with The Shire, a hybrid drama/reality show set in Sydney’s south, produced by the Australian arm of Shine, the company founded by Lachlan’s sister Elisabeth. The premiere episode aired Monday night, drawing only a fair 941,000 viewers in the capital cities — roughly the same as Seven’s The Amazing Race and just behind ABC-TV’s documentary Australian Story.
(Photo: Getty Images)