Network Ten’s newly-installed boss James Warburton started the year by hiring Mike Morrison as sales director, despite reservations in some quarters the former Y&R Brands man had no experience in TV sales.
In February, Nine Entertainment Co’s chief financial officer Pat O’Sullivan resigned after more than six years in the role, to be replaced by former Aristocrat chief financial officer Simon Kelly.
New format Excess Baggage was shifted to digital channel Go from the main channel after struggling against Ten’s The Biggest Loser.
Ten hit the headlines again, this time getting into trouble over plans for new ‘dramality’ show The Shire, which was based on Jersey Shore and drew ire from locals who claimed it would misrepresent their community. However, the show bombed, pulling in under 250,000 viewers.
In April, Nine launched a new network called Extra, featuring paid-for advertising content.
Ten launched its own home shopping channel called TVSN, a joint-venture with TVSN, in September, on the digital spectrum.
But the surprise ratings hit of the year was Nine’s The Voice, which gave the network its first ratings week win in 18-months when it launched in April, averaging more than two million viewers a night in its first three outings. It claimed the title of ‘highest ever rating light entertainment program’ since OzTam’s induction in 2001, with 4.5 million tuning into the final in June.
The long-awaited Convergence Review landed in April and drew fire from the TV world, calling for higher local TV quotas from “content service enterprises” which did not include companies like Google and Telstra, leading to accusations it placed “undue regulation” on broadcasters.
That same month Foxtel tied up its merger with Austar. The $1.9bn deal meant that one single provider now services the whole of metropolitan and regional Australia.
Mike Morrison suddenly quit as sales director of Network Ten in June, and was replaced by ex-PHD boss Barry O’Brien, a move which raised more eyebrows in the industry.
In August, following a dismal post-Olympics run when several new shows including the soon-to-be canned Everybody Dance Now failed to catch with viewers, Ten’s long-serving programming director David Mott fell on his sword, and was eventually replaced by Beverley McGarvey.
GPY&R chairman Russel Howcroft was appointed in September to lead operations outside Sydney.
Pay-TV continued its upward trajectory, with figures released in August showing it had increased its annual revenues by 10% to $424.4m, taking share from the free-to-air networks.
Fox Sports and Nine nailed-down a $1bn deal to take on the rights to the NRL.
Nine’s credit worries were finally ended in October with a deal which saw two US hedge funds take over the broadcaster, turning round its fortunes and giving it the “strongest balance sheet” in the television market.
Just hours later, Ten announced it had lost $12.9m over the course of the year, courtesy of its ratings decline. But, at the network’s upfronts for 2013, chief executive James Warburton said Ten would not “curl up and not compete”.
Seven axed Australia’s Got Talent in October despite featuring it in its upfront schedule, as The X-Factor continued to perform and was bought-up by Channel Nine.
News Limited increased its presence in pay-TV with the acquisition of James Packer-controlled Consolidated Media Holdings, giving it a 50% stake in Foxtel with Telstra, and 100% of Fox Sports.
A bid by Seven Group Holdings boss Kerry Stokes was rebuffed by the competition commission because of concerns of dominance for Seven when bidding for sports rights.
Olympics boom and bust
The Olympics proved to be a case of boom and bust for free-TV and pay-TV, with Nine attracting protests from viewers but Foxtel’s eight dedicated channels hovering up plaudits, and record ratings.
Unfriendly time-zone differences had signalled the London Olympics would not be the ratings blockbuster previous games had been, but Nine still performed well, dominating the fortnight.
However, viewers were left angry by the constant spruiking of new shows like the Howzat! Kerry Packer story and the return of Big Brother in too-frequent ad breaks, as well as unusual choices of sports covered.
Channel Nine also took the opportunity to launch its new social-TV app, Jump In, although it had only limited functionality and no adverts on it.
Conversley, Foxtel’s eight live streams and 24/7 highlights attracted the largest ever audiences for pay-TV in Australian history, with peaks of over one million viewers across the channels.
Foxtel’s iPad app that allowed people to watch highlights and streams on the move earned it the biggest plaudits, and paved the way for a new Foxtel Go app later in the year giving subscribers a number of live and highlights channels on the move.
Opinion: Petra Buchanan, ASTRA CEO
2012 has been a year of significant change in the broadcast sector at large and subscription television (STV) in particular, with the merger of Foxtel and Austar. Through it all, STV has continued to be the innovation leader in Australia, delivering quality, timely and sought-after content through different digital devices and multiple screen options.
The Convergence Review provided a backdrop to this dynamic and changing environment. And we await the Government’s reply, holding firm to the belief that a commercially viable and sustainable Australian content production industry underpins a healthy broadcast sector.
The consolidation of Foxtel and Austar has led to leadership changes, new channel launches and strides forward in new applications and technology available to viewers. The launch of exciting new channels like Fox Footy, FX, A&E and Soho meant that, in addition to greater choice and convenience, subscribers are also provided with more in-depth commentary, analysis and programming.
STV continues to bring Australian audiences great content through landmark partnerships. Foxtel signed an agreement with HBO that will see it providing customers with exclusive first run HBO series, miniseries, comedy specials and documentaries, including viewer favourites such as Game of Thrones, Girls and True Blood, as well as access to HBO library content. Also, Foxtel recently completed its acquisition of Premium Movie Partnership to offer a better movie and premium drama product to subscribers.
In 2012, STV continued to provide subscribers with great Australian and international content including Foxtel’s comprehensive coverage of the Olympic Games. It was acclaimed for its use of multichannel platforms, and for popular shows like Sons of Anarchy and Boardwalk Empire now being fast-tracked just hours after US premieres.
New devices and apps are shaping how consumers view and engage with TV content. The recent launch of Foxtel’s Go iPad app, which streams 21 channels live, is testament to this. The ongoing growth in take-up of Foxtel iQ and Foxtel HD means Australian audiences recognise the value, quality and convenience of those products. Also, the continued rollout of Foxtel on the Telstra T-Box and X-Box360 has given new audiences the opportunity to embrace great programming.
The mainstay of this evolution is great content that engages viewers. ASTRA recently released production investment figures indicating STV platforms and channels invested $667m in Australian content in 2011 to 2012, a 13% increase over the same period last year. Deloitte Access Economics also estimates that the overall direct contribution made by STV to the Australian economy was $1.4bn last financial year and at least $7bn since the start of STV in 1995.