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Nine’s news chief ankles

Web has recently cut more than 50 jobs

SYDNEY — News topper Max Uechtritz is the latest casualty as terrestrial web Channel Nine continues to shed staff in its struggle to beat rival Seven in the news game.

Recruited from pubcaster the Australian Broadcasting Corp. just 15 months ago, Uechtritz said he is ankling to “pursue other interests.”

So far so cordial, but his was the latest in a cost-cutting purge of more than 50 jobs at Nine that has seen staff axed from the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane stations. The timing of the cuts coincides with the end of the financial year June 30.

Job cuts follow the departure in May of former chief David Gyngell, who hired Uechtritz, but they also come at a time when Nine has seen its position as consistent ratings leader challenged by rival terrestrial web Seven.

Earlier this year Seven had megahits with U.S. imports “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” and a local success with celebrity ballroom-dancing skein “Dancing With the Stars”; net won the first eight weeks of official ratings. Nine made an aggressive comeback with shows such as “Supernanny USA” and the broadcast of Oz TV kudos the Logies.

But the real battleground has been news, where Nine has been the undisputed leader in recent years.

In the ratings survey released on the day Uechtritz departed, Seven once again defeated Nine — with 1.5 million viewers across the web in the crucial 6-7 p.m. news slot against 1.43 million for Nine — and it now has won in news ratings for nine of the past 13 weeks.

Victory must be sweet for Seven news topper Peter Meakin, a longtime Kerry Packer staffer before defecting to Seven, but the station cannot rest on its laurels. With the “Housewives” and “Lost” seasons coming to an end, Uechtritz’s replacement at Nine will be looking to score some serious ratings points in the news race.

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