OPINION | James Warburton needs to stamp out the arrogance at SEVEN

New CEO of Seven West Media James Warburton

Arrogance is a sickness you can get away with when you’re winning but Seven is in so much trouble their CEO has just been given the arse.  I remember when SEVEN first started winning and we were all told to be humble, not to brag.

But those lessons were lost long ago and now the people at Seven reek of arrogance.

I’ve been experiencing this first hand in my ongoing communication with the network. Any request for information has been met with short, sharp, snarky responses.

After 12 years of being Australia’s Number 1 network people working for the broadcaster have become cocky. It’s the same trap Nine fell into after years of ratings dominance. In fact Nine didn’t lose the ratings year to Seven until 2006, but if you look at the way it was being reported in the press at the time, you would be forgiven for thinking Seven claimed victory in 2004.

Nine had pissed so many people off that journos couldn’t wait to talk about its downfall.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so when you are no longer at the top people just can’t wait to kick you on the way down.

Kerry Stokes and new CEO James Warburton

And that’s where Seven is now finding itself.

2019 will quite possibly be the year Nine overtakes it and gets back on top. Seven has struggled this year with just about every entertainment show flopping. News, sport and strong digital channels have kept the network in the game but scratch beneath the surface and you will see why the network recently changed its CEO by dumping Tim Worner.

Yes, the financials were also an issue; after write-downs Seven West Media recorded a loss of $434m but to also be under pressure from a resurgent Nine added fuel to the fire that change was needed.

Laurie Patton, a former executive at Seven told TV Blackbox;

“It looks like Seven’s management was so pleased at having finally beaten Nine and become the ratings leader they thought the good times would just roll on forever. Meanwhile the media landscape was dramatically changing and they were simply left behind. Kerry Stokes is correct. They need a change of strategy”.

Newly installed James Warburton has already talked about a change of strategy. That strategy will be hard to implement unless significant changes are made to senior levels at the network. Not only does production need to evolve its thoughts on what works with the audience (for too many years Seven has played it safe by holding on to its ageing audience) but other departments need to understand the changing world and how to deal with it.

Seven believes it can control the narrative through fear and bullshit. Unfortunately for them we live in the age of social media and PR spinners have lost the control they once had. Once upon a time a spinner could threaten to cut off access but information is so easily available now media outlets don’t need to play their game or play by their rules.

Ignoring media outlets will not make them keep quiet.

Insulting media outlets will not make them keep quiet.

Bullying media outlets will not make them keep quiet.

Take TV Blackbox for example. Seven have never given us a story (or a ‘drop’ if you will). Every exclusive we have published has come from contacts. In fact whenever we have approached Seven about stories we have not been taken seriously but once we publish (and the story gets picked up) the network gets up in arms and starts giving other outlets background information about our story. This is despite the fact they have had the opportunity to be part of the original story.

Seven’s digital strategy has been an embarrassment and outside some interesting recent developments with 7 News, the old guard at the network simply do not get how the world is changed. Their stubborn refusal to work with us is causing them great harm. Our stories have great reach and are often picked up by many, many publications, but Seven would rather be reactionary when stories go viral rather than give us the time of day. It’s that kind of attitude that will see the network become extinct just like the dinosaurs.

I’ll give you an example. I have been working on a story about a new singing show Seven currently has in production. It is a studio based show that will be filming from the end of October until the end of November. When I approached Seven about this show, this was the response;

“If and when we have anything to say on any show, we'll press release it, as normal.”

That is a perfect example of their arrogance.

I politely told them I would not be waiting for their press releases as if I did that I wouldn’t have any exclusive stories, to which they replied;

“Always better to ask than, say, calling a playout centre and impersonating an employee!”

I’m sorry — WHAT!?

To question someone’s ethics in getting a story is a very big charge but it’s the kind of arrogance that runs throughout the corridors at Seven and the kind of arrogance others within the building wouldn’t think twice about.

So, from now on I will not contact Seven for information.


Any story I write about Seven will contain the following disclaimer;

“Seven has not been contacted for comment as they do not take any approach from TV Blackbox seriously. They also question our ethics and their sheer arrogance makes it a waste of time”

I like James Warburton and there’s nothing I would like more than to see him take a broom to the place and clear out the arrogant dead wood. Unless he changes the culture at Seven there are going to rough times ahead. I’ve seen it before with channel 9 and we are about to watch history repeat itself.

Oh, and if you ever feel like coming down off your ivory tower and talking to us, you know how to find me.