‘Profound disruption’: Nine chair Catherine West faces cultural reckoning and TV ad exodus

Source: The Australian

Nine’s new chair Catherine West faces dual challenges of “profound disruption” across the media industry and an overdue cultural reckoning within the broadcaster, a leading expert says.

West has been thrust into the spotlight after long-standing chair Peter Costello resigned suddenly on Sunday, following allegations that he assaulted a News Corp journalist at Canberra airport.

Online video shows Costello coming into close contact with the reporter before laughing at him – just weeks after he signed a letter acknowledging allegations of toxic work culture within Nine.

The former Treasurer denied wrongdoing, but the incident only added pressure to his already at-times controversial tenure.

Catherine West

Nine’s new chair Catherine West. Photo: Nine

Queensland University of Technology Professor Anna Potter said West has a tough job taking over a troubled company, and will need to work towards improving its workplace culture.

But an earnings turnaround is also key as Nine’s broadcast and publishing arms bear the brunt of a huge slowdown in advertising.

“There’s a need for a huge cultural shift at Nine,” Potter said.

Catherine West steps in

West has been deputy chair at Nine for less than a year, but has been on the board since 2016.

The 25-year media industry veteran was previously an executive at Sky in the United Kingdom and holds other board roles, including ASX-listed Monash IVF and Peter Warren Automotive.

West is also the chair of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), and a director of the Sydney Breast Cancer Foundation, according to a public profile that’s circulated by Nine.

In a statement, West thanked Costello for his tenure as chair, referencing a cultural review.

“We are committed to ensuring, through our cultural review and other actions announced last week, that issues will be appropriately addressed,” West said in a statement to the markets.

“We want to ensure our people can feel proud of our company and colleagues and work.”

Toxic culture

Nine is reviewing its workplace after a turbulent month dealing with sexual harassment allegations against former executive Darren Wick, with reports of widespread organisational failures. 

Costello had signed an internal letter circulated only weeks ago committing the broadcaster to improving its culture, which made video of his altercation with the reporter even more damaging.

Potter said allegations of inappropriate behaviour at Nine, particularly towards women, will need to be a key priority for West across the legacy media organisation.

“There’s saying you’re going to do something about the culture, and then there’s actually doing something,” Potter said.

Financial performance

West’s other major priority will be shareholders, who have been bidding down the value of the broadcaster this year after a series of disappointing financial results since the pandemic.

Shares in Nine Entertainment have sunk more than 30 per cent since January after revenue growth stalled in the 2023 financial year and earnings took a dive, particularly in television.

Corporate records show that television earnings plummeted 20 per cent, while publishing – the arm of the company that includes newspapers The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and Australian Financial Review – dipped 8 per cent.

“The group had a pretty shocking result overall,” Potter said.

“All commercial broadcasters are getting smashed.”

Potter described “profound disruption” across the broadcasting landscape as advertisers abandon television in favour of online, with the size of the ad market halving since 2006.

The business has responded by investing in local streaming platform Stan, which is showing rapid growth, but Potter says it’s unclear if “any of that equates to profit” over the medium term.

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