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Seven drops shows

Oz net's belt-tightening follows Nine's lead

SYDNEY — After recent savage cost-cutting at Kerry Packer’s top-rated Oz Nine Network, its nearest rival, Kerry Stokes’ Seven Network, has cited budget concerns in announcing plans to drop early morning news bulletin “Sunrise” and 24-year-old mid-morning newsmag “11a.m.,” with daily half-hour chat show “Denise” said to be next.

News of the shows’ demise, costing at least five jobs, followed Seven’s announcement of a projected material drop in the network’s second-half earnings, expected to be down substantially from last year.

Ad dropoff

This is the network’s second warning of declining profit this year, fueled by a dramatic slump in the Oz advertising market over the last six months despite continuing strong national economic growth.

Market forecasts for the No. 2-rated broadcaster’s upcoming fiscal year net profit now range between $A35 million ($23.2 million) and $27 million, compared with $53.7 million last year.

However, the network insists it will not be instituting a Packer-style staff and programming purge, opting instead for wholesale network restructuring rather than just trimming around the edges.

Meanwhile, it’s not all gloom at the Olympic network, which has just successfully executed a major staff-poaching coup from the rival Packer network in advance of Seven’s exclusive coverage of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

The Seven Network was crowing this week after Nine sports vet Tony Sinclair agreed to jump ship and become its new network sports topper. Similarly, Nine superstar Ray Martin, known as the face of Australian TV, also has hinted that he might be available to participate in the network’s Olympic broadcasts.

Stokes’ network is also said to be in the market to acquire magazine publishing and online interests. Substantial deals are said to be in the offing with 131 Shop, the soon-to-be-listed Brisbane-based Internet classified advertising company, and with respected publishing house PMP Communications.

Catching up to Nine

Stokes’ pursuit of the oft-mooted PMP Communications/Seven deal would bring the network in line with rival Nine, which already enjoys extensive cross-media co-promotion with proprietor Packer’s Publishing & Broadcasting group of magazine titles.

The future of the PMP Communications/Seven deal has been linked to the recent proposed Seven Network 20% share buyback scheme that shareholders voted strongly to support last week. If the deal goes ahead, PMP Communications is likely to acquire a reissued 10% stake in the network once the buyback is complete.