How many people does it take to run the Ten TV network? Or rather, how many chiefs?
The question came to mind with yesterday’s announcement (ending the worst-kept secret in TV) that adman and Gruenpanellist Russel Howcroft is to be executive general manager, from February of next year. Ten’s statement said: “Based in Melbourne, Mr Howcroft will be responsible for Network Ten’s operations in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. Network Ten’s station managers in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth will report to Mr Howcroft. He will join the company’s executive team, reporting to Network Ten chief executive officer James Warburton.” So no work experience there.
This is one of the few examples of a network executive getting the gig after being on TV. Eddie McGuire was the most recent example at Nine. Eddie was ”chequered” along with his $5.4 million a year salary. Howcroft is a comparative bargain at a rumoured $1 million a year.
But Howcroft’s move to Ten raises the question about the number of chiefs and Indians in the network’s management ranks. There’s Lachlan Murdoch, chairman (non executive), but holder of nearly 10%. That makes him a bit more than non-executive. James Warburton is CEO, Jon Marquard is commercial director. He’s a Murdoch appointee, joining in November last year. He was appointed chief operating officer in March 2012. He also represents Ten on the boards of FreeTV Australia, Freeview, IAB Australia and zeebox Australia. Marquard sort of replaced Kerry Kingston, who had the chief operating role under chairman Nick Falloon and CEO Grant Blackley. Kingston stepped down last year after the COO job was moved from Melbourne to Sydney.
And there’s one more happy camper to come on board the good ship Ten -- the network needs a top programmer. Bev McGarvey is filling in after being No. 2 to David Mott, who quit a few weeks ago. An outsider with a reputation will cost a fair bit of money, more than what Howcroft is said to be receiving. It is the most vital job in the network, and will add more than a $1 million to the payroll.
It’s all a little top heavy, especially given Ten’s revenue and profit pressures and the current ratings slide. And there’s a troubling lack of TV knowledge and smarts from the production and content side, as well as a worrying over-dependence on advertising with Warburton, sales boss Barry O’Brien, marketing director Tony McMaster and now Howcroft all knowing a huge amount about ads and marketing and very little about how TV works. Neil Shoebridge, the corporate affairs head, is a former journalist (marketing and media) from The Australian Financial Review.
News director Anthony Flannery is the most experienced TV professional among the top executives, along with Jon Marquard, who spent a long time at Fox Sports. But that was on the commercial and legal side and not production and content creation and generation.
One TV industry veteran remarked yesterday the Howcroft hiring is another example of how Warburton has surrounded himself with people who have no TV experience when that’s the very thing that he needs to turn Ten around.
Meanwhile, will Howcroft continue on Gruen Planet? The question should really not be asked. You would have thought that the new gig at Ten would take up so much time that he wouldn’t be able to spare the time to fly to Sydney to record the program. And you would have though Ten’s current ratings and financial position was so fraught that you would have expected one of the first things Warburton and Murdoch would have told Howcroft, no more TV on other networks, your time is ours.
And then there’s the ABC. According to reports in the Fairfax Media this morning the national broadcaster doesn’t see any problem with Howcroft continuing: However, an ABC spokesperson has indicated that all signs are positive that he will remain with the program. “He is with us for this series, which finishes in October, and while we haven’t confirmed the line-up for next year, our understanding is there is no reason to think he won’t be able to continue with us.”
Well, hasn’t the ABC or the program’s producers Zapruder’s got any pride? Do they really want to be promoting a key executive from a rival network? It’s time for changes at Gruen anyway. There will be an election version next year. Howcroft won’t be able to do that because its a busy period for everyone. And, isn’t there just the tiny conflict of interest involved in having as one of your stars a senior executive from another TV network. Judging from the past few eps, Dee Madigan, who was on this week’s ep, is more than a capable stand in for Howcroft.