1 May 2019

Canberra Times offloaded by Nine in $125m deal

| Genevieve Jacobs
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The Canberra Times will change hands once again. Photo: George Tsotsos.

The Canberra Times will change hands once again after being sold off as part of the Nine/Fairfax media merger. Former Domain real estate boss Antony Catalano and Thorney Investments are part of a company that will pay $115m for the Australian Community Media and Printing group.

The group includes multiple regional mastheads and assets that Nine boss Hugh Marks described as “non-core businesses” which the company would dispose of in order to focus on “high growth digital assets”. The deal includes a further $10m in ACM advertising over the next three years.

Nine has announced cash proceeds from the sale are expected to be around $115m, of which $10m will be paid in 12 months, and the sale is expected to be completed by 30 June of this year.

Commercial relationships will remain intact for the time being and content sharing arrangements between the ACM mastheads and the major metropolitan titles will continue, meaning The Canberra Times will continue to derive a substantial part of its content from The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Financial Review for now.

The Audited Media Association of Australia reported in February this year that its December 2018 audit saw circulation for most major print publications fall by around 10 per cent for the 2018 calendar year.

The Canberra Times suffered an 8.9 per cent circulation decline in the 2018 calendar year, falling to 13,808. Weekend falls were particularly sharp, as the Canberra Times slumped 10.8% to 20,881 on Saturdays, and 14,126 on Sundays. The decline continues an established pattern for the newspaper.

While there’s been much speculation that the ACM group would be further broken up for resale depending on the purchaser, media analyst Tim Burrowes of the Mumbrella media analysis site says the Catalano deal could prove worthwhile for The Canberra Times.

“The most strategically important things for Nine in the Fairfax acquisition were their share in the Stan video streaming service, the radio assets and Domain”, Burrowes says. “They made no secret of the fact that they weren’t very interested in regional assets like The Canberra Times.

“Nine didn’t see these as bad assets, necessarily. The argument was that with the right owner they could thrive at the right price and the Canberra Times deal looks like a bargain to me. Run it profitably for a few years and you’ll pay yourself back, so you can see why private equity with the right partner would find it attractive”.

But, Burrowes says, while the finances could add up nicely, how that’s achieved in regional print operations is an entirely different question. “When private equity is involved, obviously one route to profit is to cut costs and jobs, so the early conversation would be whether the group’s plan is to grow profitability and revenues or to cut costs.

“If the plan is to build an engaged audience, that would mean continuing to invest, which would probably be quite a good outcome for staff. Catalano has a background in journalism, he understands audiences and investing in the product. Ultimately it’s better to be owned by someone who actually wants to own you”.

Burrowes doesn’t think that anybody has really worked out how to do the kind of strong grassroots journalism that he believes is a service to democracy and the community. He says that represents a massive cultural gap in the Australian media market.

The Canberra Times still has enormous power as a recognisable masthead even while it’s in decline. There’s a level of familiarity and support. But if you were launching a media company, why would you want to start with a print product? This deal is a bargain because print is a deeply unfashionable asset. It will take a few more years to know if it’s really a good deal”.

Local media insiders believe Catalano is likely to make substantial changes to the ACM structure and The Canberra Times. The digital space will be critical as the new owners examine whether to retain the print edition or take the masthead digital only, at least on weekdays.

Are you concerned about the future of The Canberra Times?

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Down from 39,000 in 2002. Smaller news papers have closed down at less than 15,000 sales.

Minister Barr will no doubt be pleased at the decline of Canberra Times; less people working to scrutinize developer deals that reduce public assets, space and amenity in Canberra.

Nine are not going to let the Canberra Times continue to provide paywalled smh and age articles without its own paywall… ouch

Capital Retro10:03 pm 30 Apr 19

News costs, opinion is free.

HiddenDragon6:07 pm 30 Apr 19

“Are you concerned about the future of The Canberra Times?”

Not exactly losing sleep over it, but the CT certainly has a role to play in a town which is effectively a one (and a bit) party state with a unicameral legislature, and a generously resourced government propaganda machine.

Stephen Saunders5:59 pm 30 Apr 19

Thanks for this, Genevieve, as the Canberra Times appears to have a news embargo on its own sale, which is kind of weird.

As a former 25-year contributor to CT, I ditched them when they recommended votes for Turnbull (dead wrong) and Hanson (dead wrong) in 2016. To rub salt in the wound, they have been doggedly re-running Hanson’s single-issue anti-rail platform for the past 30 months.

I’m not wildly optimistic the paper can be retrieved from its sales cellar, but it’s also true that the only way is up.

I think the new management should get rid of some of the dead wood and the publication of material deliberately designed to anger people. For example last Saturday they published a piece by Crispin Hull supporting the reintroduction of death duties. And the Saturday before that they published a letter from someone supporting the vegan protests and the invasion of farms.

They’ve effectively cut their own throat over the past few years. I sent them numerous letters pleading with them to move the paper to the sensible centre or else I would cancel our subscription which was three times as expensive as our sub to the Daily Telegraph. They refused and we cancelled the weekday sub. The renewal came in the mail today and I’m almost certain we will cancel it across the board.

I don’t agree with the assessment that the CT has enormous power. People in Canberra stopped reading it and taking it seriously a long time ago. The RiotACT, the Reddit Canberra group and the Canberra Facebook groups have taken over for the dissemination of news and the CT is now a bit like those old analog and plasma televisions cluttering up landfill.

Capital Retro5:41 pm 30 Apr 19

They don’t even include the “Weekend Magazine” supplement which is about the only thing worth reading in the SMH and The Age.

This alone could save the CT.

Capital Retro3:07 pm 30 Apr 19

I hope the new owners bring back the “free classies” and Daryl Dixon’s weekly commentary.

Also, some printing adjustments to ensure there are no creases through the crossword page.

While the’re at it, more news and less lefty comment would be good.

Considering the extent of the ‘righty’ commentary seems to be telling us all about what Labor is going to do, with no plans for themselves, the major sources for news remains leftist.

Or did you mean you want more alt-right content ;P

I agree with you on the free classies and local commentary though 🙂

Capital Retro5:38 pm 30 Apr 19

The source of the lefty comment is mainly churned stuff from the SMH and the Melbourne Age; most of the “out of town” letters to the editor are also grafted from the Sydney and Melbourne papers. The CT editorial people must think its readers are stupid to think we would believe people from interstate actually buy the Canberra Times and then send in letters to the editor here in Canberra.

Lately, there has been less, thankfully, Trump hate news too. I can’t understand who would even bother to read about Trump.

And don’t confuse “what Labor is going to do” with “Labor saying what they are going to do”. Two entirely different things.

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