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Flash in the pan or money-spinner? Murdoch pins hopes on news streaming service

·8-min read
<span>Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP</span>
Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP

Rupert Murdoch may have turned 90 this year but his news empire continues to grow. A week after announcing a new UK TV channel, TalkTV, and a Sky News program starring Piers Morgan, his Australian empire will next month unveil a dedicated news streaming service called Flash.

Flash – which had the working name of NewsFlash – will be offered alongside Binge and Kayo as a one-stop shop for news junkies wanting access to 20 news channels for an expected price tag of $10 or under.

With its linear Foxtel service already owning the rights to global and local news channels CNN, Sky News, Fox News, BBC World News, CNBC and Bloomberg, Flash has a number of brands on board but needs to get more news services signed up to be an attractive offering. The ABC has yet to be convinced it is worthwhile.

Whether there is a local market for a paid news service when the ABC news channel already provides a free one, and catch-up news is available 24/7 from channels Nine, Seven and 10, remains to be seen. Some industry observers are highly doubtful it will fly the way the entertainment and sports services have.

Sources say viewers will be able to choose between watching a live stream or a highlights package and, like other streaming services, an algorithm will learn your news preferences.

The Foxtel boss, Patrick Delany, says Flash will offer “a new way to stay informed about politics, business and local and international events”.

The streaming business is certainly booming but is there space for a third product? While Foxtel has struggled to remain profitable with its high-cost cable service, Binge and Kayo have driven subscriber growth and paid streaming subscribers have increased by 155% to more than 2 million last financial year.

Never wrong for long

Meanwhile, the West Australian had an international scoop about Murdoch this week when it published a juicy headline: “Morrison meets with Rupert Murdoch in New York”.

The headline for the West story said “Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has met with media mogul Rupert Murdoch in a private dinner in New York.”

The only problem was it wasn’t true. Morrison met with the News Corp chief executive, Robert Thomson, because Murdoch wasn’t available.

The story was quickly corrected, but the headline remained on social media posts and cached on Google.

Readers who clicked through to read the whole story from social media posts were told it was Thomson who hosted Morrison, but those who saw only the headline on social media got a completely different impression.

Facebook cold shoulder

Facebook has confirmed it won’t be making a commercial deal with SBS or the Conversation under the news media bargaining code, months after News Corp, Nine Entertainment, Seven West Media, as well as smaller publishers including Guardian Australia and Australian Community Media signed deals.

While they won’t spell it out, the social media platform says neither outlet has the right kind of content, reach or engagement to make it viable.

Three lifestyle websites – Broadsheet Media, the Urban List and Concrete Playground – have already been refused a deal on the basis they were not newsy enough.

The head of Facebook’s news partnerships for Australia and New Zealand, Andrew Hunter, said there are types of news content that can best deliver value for publishers and for Facebook.

Related: How the Australian and the IPA’s attack on the ABC went horribly wrong | The Weekly Beast

“Our commercial deals are based on a range of factors, including the type of content developed, and reach and engagement,” Hunter said. “We’re continuing to engage with publishers to support them with how they can benefit from free referral traffic, monetisation products, and other initiatives and investments.”

Peter Lewis, the director of the Centre for Responsible Technology, has called on the government to intervene on behalf of the smaller publishers.

“Facebook’s decision flies in the face of the news media bargaining code’s core proposition, that Facebook was an advertising monopoly that should be required to compensate public interest journalism for the content,” Lewis said.

“Refusing to recognise the value of academic journalism and multicultural broadcasting says a lot about Facebook’s commitment to fact-based public interest journalism.”

Labor’s communications spokeswoman, Michelle Rowland, also questioned why Facebook won’t do a deal with “one of Australia’s most trusted news platforms, particularly for ethnically diverse communities”.

Booze flash

We can all agree that a high court decision, a leadership spill or an earthquake constitute genuine breaking news and as such probably deserve a breaking news alert from the news app on your mobile phone.

There is nothing like a news alert to get one’s attention.

But the Australian has given the news alert a commercial makeover of late and readers of the Oz have snapped to attention only to be told about the latest deal from the Australian’s Wine Club.

The Australian told its readers in a recent news alert that they were “blessed to be able to offer a divine deal on divine Clare Valley wines”.

It is no coincidence that a former editor of the Australian John Lehmann is now the paper’s commercial director and managing editor, as well as a wine columnist. Lehmann quit journalism some years ago to become a wine maker before returning to Holt Street as a reporter, but he has retained his passion for wine.

Behind the Wine Club push is, of course, the drop in revenue from News Corp’s news media division, which includes the Australian newspapers, in last month’s global financial results for the year to the end of June.

Last month revenue plunged by 21%, from about US$2.8bn to about US$2.2bn, according to figures released by Thomson.

Australian newspaper ad revenue fell by $90m because News closed a string of regional and suburban papers, and due to “continued weakness in the print advertising market, exacerbated by Covid-19”, the company said.

Strewth blunder

The Australian’s Strewth editor, Alice Workman, has apologised for a story published in Wednesday’s paper about Kristina Keneally’s plans to move to a new home in the safe south-west Sydney seat of Fowler.

“Keneally and hubbie Ben are mulling over their migration options, now that the couple’s three children have moved out of their northern beaches home,” Workman wrote.

But Kristina and Ben Keneally’s second child Caroline was stillborn in 1999, and Labor’s deputy Senate leader has spoken publicly about her personal loss and the issue of stillbirth in general.

She even established a Senate select committee on stillbirth research and education, and wrote about her loss as recently as last November.

Under Correction Corner, Workman wrote: “In an item about Kristina Keneally’s move to southwest Sydney on Wednesday, Strewth incorrectly stated three of the Labor senator’s children had moved out of home. While this is the case for her two sons, her daughter Caroline was stillborn. We apologise sincerely for any hurt this may have caused.”

But the article contained more than the hurtful reference to the Keneally children. It contained information about the location of her home which the Senator asked the Australian to remove because it could pose a threat to her safety. The Asio director general, Mike Burgess, has publicly stated in hearings that Keneally is a target for some rightwing extremist groups. The entire piece has now been removed.

SMH apology

On Friday, the Sydney Morning Herald did some grovelling, apologising to Prof Raina MacIntyre, head of the biosecurity program at the University of NSW’s Kirby Institute, for an article published on 24 July.

We won’t go into the detail of her complaint, but suffice to say the Herald said it sincerely regretted any suggestion MacIntyre had “acted dishonestly in expressing her comment about the AstraZeneca vaccine”. “It apologises for any hurt and damage to her esteemed academic and professional reputation this has caused,” the apology said.

Same old tune

Just weeks after it was reported News Corp Australia would end “its longstanding editorial hostility towards carbon-reduction policies”, the Australian has accepted a half-page paid advertisement from climate denialists headlined “The Great Climate Furphy”.

On page 9, the Climate Study Group, an unincorporated group of seven Australian conservative men that was formed in 2009, called on the government to cease subsidising renewables and not impede new efficient coal power stations.

As well as placing ads in the Oz, the group has issued reports and submissions to the Australian government rejecting the science of human-caused climate change.

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