USC Annenberg Online Journalism ReviewUSC

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The Players: Oz's Media Barons Rush to Stake Claims on the Web
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Concentration of ownership is particularly noticeable among Australia's traditional media, and is mirrored in the online world.

Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd. owns two thirds of metropolitan daily newspapers by circulation and almost a quarter of regional dailies. He controls three quarters of Sunday newspapers and almost half of suburban non-daily newspapers. Murdoch also owns a significant number of the country's magazines.

Kerry Packer's Australian Consolidated Press (ACP) owns almost half of the major magazines and the largest of the three commercial television networks, Channel 9, which commands just over half of the potential national audience.

Australian law forbids broadcasters from becoming newspaper publishers, and vice versa. This has stopped Packer from buying the other major newspaper publisher, the Fairfax organization. Fairfax runs three of the six major daily newspapers, which earns massive revenues from classified advertising.

Australian Provincial Newspapers (APN) controls 14 of the country's 37 regional dailies, representing about a third of total circulation. Rural Press owns another seven of the regional dailies, more than 150 regional non-dailies and almost 40 agricultural newspapers.

The one non-commercial voice is the national broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The ABC receives funding from the federal government and provides the broadest radio news service in Australia. Its national television network is highly respected but receives low ratings. The ABC's Web site is one of the most popular in the country because of its perceived independence and its national news service.

Until recently, Murdoch has concentrated his new media moves on a combination of satellite and cable TV, and a Web site that accumulates the content of his daily and non-daily newspapers. He owns a quarter of the dominant cable TV service, Foxtel. Telstra and Packer, Australia's richest man, owns the rest (half and a quarter, respectively).

In February, Murdoch announced that he planned to join forces with companies to develop sites offering financial services and education. This followed his investment in Healtheon-WebMD, a service that connects doctors and pharmacists with patients via the Net.

News Corporation's president and chief operating officer, Peter Chernin, said the organization was creating "a seamless global digital platform" with its satellites, around which it would wrap its traditional media businesses in newspapers, book publishing and TV to create an interactive economy. Electronic commerce is going strong in Australia in some areas.

Others are pursuing a strategy of corporate partnership across areas of mutual interest using existing brands. Trust in a brand, which converts to e-commerce value, is coupled with product distribution channels provided through these corporate alliances in the quest for revenue.

In 1997 Packer partnered with Microsoft to produce NineMSN, reportedly Australia's most popular Web site. It links to ACP magazines and Channel 9 programs, and to hybrids such as Getaway, a lifestyle-oriented print magazine and TV program. Each furiously cross-promotes the other. NineMSN also owns ecorp, an e-commerce subsidiary and one of Australia's largest Internet companies by market capitalisation.

Fairfax's three major newspapers - The Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Financial Review and The Age in Melbourne - generate vast incomes from classified advertising. The organisation has developed more than 20 specialist Web sites under the banner of f2 to protect its advertising revenue, especially in the areas of real estate, cars and jobs.

APN has partnered with Ziff-Davis to offer technology content online, via ZDNet. Rural Press appears to have limited online plans, apart from trying to market its agricultural data to farmers.