The requests for financial relief relate to concerns about their commercial viability, even before the crisis. Large falls in advertising spend linked to the pandemic, is putting further financial pressure on them. Weak advertising markets in regional areas affect metro broadcasters because a portion of the total amount made by an affiliate is given to their partner. Southern Cross gives Nine 50 per cent of its revenue, while WIN and Prime pay more than 35 per cent to their partners Ten and Seven.
Prime Media Group reported a 15 per cent decline in revenue for the full financial year to $163.7 million and a 47 per cent fall in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. The company received $3 million under JobKeeper. Southern Cross has also posted an 18 per cent revenue decline to $540.8 million and received $16.1 million from the JobKeeper package. WIN Corp, however, is privately owned and does not publish its financial results.
Government handouts helped offset falls in advertising spending. Southern Cross received the largest amount of money for television news from the public interest regional journalism fund ($5 million) despite Nine producing most of the regional news on their behalf under an affiliate deal signed in 2016.
Prime Media Group, which runs six bulletins in regional Australia, received a $4.7 million handout, while WIN Corp, which runs 12 regional news bulletins, secured $4.2 million. It is unclear how much money Nine and Seven West Media received.
WIN and Southern Cross are preparing to renegotiate their affiliate deals with Ten and Nine as their existing contracts expire at the end of this financial year. Southern Cross is separately trying to offload its regional television assets, but to no avail. Regional broadcasters have – so far unsuccessfully – lobbied government to relax media ownership laws, a move they believe could help them continue delivering regional news for local communities.