The Nine and Fairfax Merger – the fallout for PR professionals

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It was the news that shocked the Australian media community—the announcement that Nine and Fairfax are merging together to create a joint venture, becoming Australia’s largest media powerhouse, known as Nine.

In order to wrap our heads around the merger, we’ve dived into what this means, how it will impact on media consumers, and what it means for the Australian media landscape, PR professionals and their clients, moving forward.

The merger will see Nine Entertainment Co. and Fairfax Media Limited combining television, online video streaming, print, digital news, radio ventures and real-estate advertising under one roof.

Nine will be the dominant shareholder with 51.1% and the board will consist of six directors, with three from each media organisation. The combined business will be headed by Nine Chief Executive Officer Hugh Marks, and the new board will be chaired by Nine Chairman Peter Costello.


What the merger means for Nine and Fairfax

Although it has been called a ‘merger’, Nine holds a larger share and has acquired Fairfax and its portfolio of newspapers, radio, real-estate business Domain and its share of online streaming service, Stan.

The merger has been criticised by the industry as a Nine takeover and questions have been raised about ongoing editorial direction.

Stan, created in 2014 and launched in 2015, was originally owned as a 50/50 venture between Nine and Fairfax investing $50 million each into the Australian streaming service. Under the new Nine, Stan and its content will be 100% owned and facilitated by the company.

This may strongly impact what content Stan will produce in the coming years and how Nine will implement their current programs through the streaming service.

Domain will also pay a massive role in the merger, with plans to connect the online real-estate platform with one of Nine’s leading programs, The Block. This will also lead to more targeted advertising, moving from the online digital new sites into television and with more advertising comes more money.


The repercussions of the merger

With company mergers in the current media landscape, there is always the consideration of job loss.

With Nine taking ownership of Fairfax, the employees would all be wondering where they fit into this new venture and whether their job still exists.

Nine and Fairfax have said the merger would deliver an annual saving of at least $50 million over the next two years.

The $50 million question is whether some of the money is made up of Fairfax journalists’ wages.


The legacy of Fairfax

In the announcement of the merger, there was talk of the legacy of Fairfax and the role they have played in Australian media over the last 180 years.

Fairfax is the mother company to many of Australia’s newspapers and online news sites including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review, Brisbane Times, and The Canberra Times.

Will these newsrooms merge working spaces with the local Nine television studio offices? Will the content displayed across all former Fairfax newspapers and sites be the same content we see every night on Nine television? Is there so much talk of Fairfax’s legacy because Australian journalism as we know it will be changed forever?

There are just so many questions that remain unanswered.


Commentary to Date

The announcement has garnered a lot of commentary to date.

“The old rivers of gold that used to be the print publications are now the digital rivers of gold.” – Nine CEO Hugh Marks


“The ability to leverage the great audiences that we have and the marketing inventory that we have, to grow Stan, to grow Domain, as we have done within a publishing context but to broaden that out into TV is something that everyone will benefit from.” – CEO Fairfax Media


“To be fair, Nine has invested heavily in news in recent years—including regional news—and its reputation is generally good.” – Paul Barry, Media Watch


“But I’d just say, though, that the ability of two businesses like that to be able to consolidate will put them in a stronger position to compete and, I think, in a stronger position to support quality journalism, whether it is in print or online or on TV.” – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull


“Our changes to media law are giving the opportunity for Australian media organisations to look at how they can make themselves the strongest they can be.” – Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield


“It’s a brutal end for Fairfax – but media is changing, and we can change it for the good.” – Guardian Australia’s Editor Lenore Taylor


“The merger of Australia’s second biggest free-to-air TV network with the second biggest newspaper publisher will result in a $4 billion-company that is second only to News Corp in size and impact.


That will put pressure on its media rivals, particularly the other commercial free-to-air networks, Seven and Ten.” – ABC Senior Reporter Anne Barker



What does this mean for PR professionals and their clients?

The media landscape is constantly evolving, diversifying, and refining its offer in a bid to attract and keep paying customers. PR professionals constantly monitor media movements and follow journalists as they move around news rounds and fulfil more general reporting duties. The changes will keep the PR industry on their toes navigating the new gatekeepers to editorial delivery.

PR professionals will be monitoring what happens to the 160 regional newspapers where Nine has no presence or interest—will they survive the merger? Will regional communities be cut out of the media landscape?

Concerns about media homogenisation are also valid in a landscape with little diversification of voice. Will Fairfax start to sound like Nine? Will media stories picked up by editorial teams be limited by whether or not they align synergistically with the Nine brand?

What is the future of investigative collaborations, such as the one between Fairfax and the ABC, which resulted in the Royal Banking Commission? Will the Fourth Estate be able to fulfil its duty and hold government and the private sector accountable for the betterment of society when the Fourth Estate appears to be shrinking? Only time will tell.


It is hard to know what the future holds for this new venture but Australia’s media and PR world will be watching closely to see what happens next.

Words by Hannah Palmer

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