Seven CEO James Warburton has denied priming Seven for sale, saying he has “absolutely no intention” of selling the network.
Speculation has been rife for some time about a possible Seven and News Corp merger, and it’s not unreasonable to assume Warburton may be fattening the network for sale, considering his history of doing just that.
In June 2018, Warburton sold APN to JCDecaux for $1.12 billion; a major shakeup for outdoor advertising in Australia.
Speaking to B&T at the time, Warburton said he while he was tasked specifically with “reinvigorating” APN, he admitted he is “a salesman first and a CEO second”.
It would then make sense Warburton is set to do the same for struggling Seven.
At the start of the month, Seven axed its Sunday Night current affairs program. The current affairs program, which went head-to-head with Nine’s longstanding 60 Minutes, had struggled in the competitive Sunday evening slot.
Then, earlier this week Seven offloaded Pacific Magazines to Bauer in a $40 million deal. Last week, Seven announced it will merge with Prime Media Group and sell its Western Australian radio assets (Redwave) to Southern Cross Media for $28 million.
However, Warburton told B&T he has no intention to sell Seven. He said: “I am not fattening [Seven] up to sell it. I don’t know why people assume that.”
Warburton also admitted selling APN was never the objective but the “offer was extraordinary”. He said: “As a CEO you have a responsibility to say ‘hey, you know, take it, take it!'”
A turbulent period
Speaking at Seven’s upfronts event in Sydney on Wednesday, Warburton conceded the network had “lost [its] way”.
“We’ve been weak, inward-focused, tired and stagnant. We’ve had a string of poor programs and failures,” he said, adding it’s been “disappointing”.
“We’ve not lived up to our own expectations,” he added.
He also said Seven’s competitors have “had it easy” due to the fact the company hasn’t had a clear strategy or focus.
However, he said: “From here on in, we’ll be fierce.”
Warburton’s “tough” gig
The new CEO said he’s been brought on to execute a content-led growth strategy, transform the company, streamline the business and improve the balance sheet.
He conceded that “tough decisions” need to be made but told B&T: “You don’t get these jobs because things are going great. You get them because it’s a challenge.”
Warburton also said it was “ludicrous” Australia remains one of the few countries in the world where national audiences are split based on regions.
“No more,” he said. “One place, one audience, one brand new fresh and vibrant go-to-market offer.”
Promising to invest in big shows and big talent, Warburton said: “I wouldn’t bet against us.”
“We will be fresh and relaunch our brand. We won’t let [our partners] down. We are Australia’s most superior and brand-safe platform all in one place, and we guarantee outcomes.”
Seven in 2020
Seven announced its content-led growth strategy for the next 12 months, delivering opportunities for its partners, underpinned by new and rejuvenated primetime offerings, and technological innovations CODE 7 and 7CAP.
Seven’s coverage of Tokyo 2020 is set to dominate Australia for the 30 days of the Olympics and Paralympics, forecast to reach 21 million people on broadcast and up to 5 million on 7plus making it the biggest digital event ever, and Australia’s most-watched winter and summer sports, AFL and Cricket, will prove to engage Australia all-year round.
The industry’s worst kept secret was also confirmed with the announcement that former MasterChef judges Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan are set to join the network for yet another cooking show.
And, as expected, George Calombaris isn’t on Seven’s 2020 menu following his well-publicised staffing indiscretions this year. However, Preston and Mehigan won’t be replacing Pete and Manu on MKR, instead given a new show (alongside Manu) to be called Plate Of Origin.