New Zealand sale announcement highlights TV's struggles

By NICK PERRY | Fri, October 18, 2019 12:59 EDT

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand broadcaster MediaWorks on Friday announced it plans to sell its struggling television business, leaving hundreds of workers wondering if they will still have jobs if a buyer can't be found.

The move also raises the possibility the country of 5 million people could be left with just a single state-owned broadcaster to report most TV news.

The announcement highlights the struggle that traditional TV networks have been facing against the rise in popularity of streaming services such as Netflix.

The company said it wants to focus on expanding its radio and billboard advertising businesses.

MediaWorks chief executive Michael Anderson told The Associated Press that the small market in New Zealand meant it had been hit particularly hard by the global disruption to traditional media. And he said the government over the years had allowed state-owned Television New Zealand to become the nation's dominant player, which had eroded the ability of rivals like MediaWorks to compete fairly.

He said news of the sale plan was "very unsettling" to its 600 or so employees, but that the company expects to find a buyer. He said he was traveling the country to reassure staff that, for now, it's business as usual. He said the board would reassess its options if a buyer can't be found.

Anderson said he thought that from a cultural perspective, it was critical the network continues because of its role in promoting a vibrant democracy through its journalism as well as developing other local talent such as comedians.

Former anchor Hilary Barry said she was feeling "incredibly sad and concerned" about the announcement.

"There are so many talented and genuinely wonderful people there," she tweeted. "I just want to give every one of them a giant hug."

Richard Harman, who runs the news website Politik, tweeted that if the network closed, it would return New Zealand television journalism "to one complacent mediocre state broadcaster."

Kris Faafoi, New Zealand's minister of broadcasting, communications and digital media, said his thoughts were with MediaWorks staff "in these uncertain times" but that the decision to sell was a commercial one and he didn't want to intrude on that process or comment further.

MediaWorks is owned by Los Angeles-based private equity firm Oaktree Capital Management. Anderson said the sale was a board decision and not a directive from Oaktree, and that the company hadn't been forced into selling for a financial reason such as being in danger of breaching bank covenants.

In its most recent financial statement, MediaWorks posted a 5.5 million New Zealand dollar ($3.5 million) loss in the year ending December. Overall revenue was up slightly over the previous year to NZ$305 million.

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