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    Mediaweek’s A to Z of 2023: J is for James Warburton as he reveals Seven exit

    While Seven West Media chief executive James Warburton has announced his departure, he plans to be in the role until the end of FY24 – June 30, 2024.

    This means he will make his final results presentation next February for the six months ending December 31, 2023 with incumbent chief executive Jeff Howard presenting the FY24 12 months result in August 2024.

    The only thing that could trigger a change in that plan would be either the board or Howard deciding they no longer want Warburton around the place.

    That’s only likely to happen if Warburton revealed the unlikely scenario where he was considering a possible job offer from a competitor to Seven West Media.

    Mediaweek’s A to Z of 2023: J is for James Warburton as he reveals Seven exit

    Seven chief executive officer James Warburton and chief financial officer Jeff Howard

    Although Warburton’s decision to stand down triggered the search for a successor, the outgoing CEO was not directly involved. The Seven West Media board is believed to have had some time to line up that role under the leadership of executive chairman Kerry Stokes.

    When Warburton was appointed in mid-2019 the Seven executive chairman thought the business wasn’t in great shape with clouds hanging over ratings, revenue, and a debt pile. The company still owned Pacific Magazines and transition to digital at 7plus was in its infancy.

    When asked about his time at Seven, where Warburton is into his fifth year as CEO, he told Mediaweek yesterday simply: “It was time given the five years.

    “The plan is for an orderly handover. It’s been a busy time guiding the ship, driving the digital strategy, and getting us to the point where we are now. We have a great team in place and the next six months is about transitioning through.

    “It will be a big year with programs to launch, anti-siphoning to negotiate…there’s still much to do.”

    Seven West Media

    James Warburton pitching Seven at his final Upfront in October

    James Warburton’s career path

    We have broken down his career since 1988 into three sections.

    Advertising: McCann Erickson, DDB Needham, Universal McCann, APN Outdoor
    Motor vehicles: Hyundai, V8 Supercars
    Media: Seven (twice), Network 10

    Covid, debt, and sports rights worth paying for

    The Warburton Seven years included negotiating Covid. Most media companies managed to make it to the other side in good shape. But Seven managed to also pay down $490m of debt across that time.

    An overhaul of the business model too was underway and now sees 50% of earnings digital-based and 7plus has grown dramatically and claims to be winning in VOD with help from digital rights and its NBCU content. With AFL and cricket streaming minutes Seven could be hard to topple from a total television perspective. “We have a great team in place and we are all very proud of where we are now,” said Warburton.

    James Warburton

    Seven Upfront: Star power

    Regarding the outlook for Seven, Warburton noted the media sector is currently midway through an ad cycle. “The Seven business is in great shape and when the ad market comes back Seven will absolutely fly. We are already performing very well, we are just not getting the reward for it yet in revenue terms or share market appreciation.”

    As to the model for FTA TV, Warburton has no doubts about Seven’s future success. “All the VOZ data which will be rolled out next year will be critical and it will show what it means to have the two best sports rights – AFL and cricket.”

    Seven’s stake in radio indicates it is not shy in looking at consolidation.

    Seven has purchased enough shares in the ambitious radio broadcaster ARN to make it the largest shareholder. The company doesn’t have a seat on the board, yet, but that should be a formality in 2024. ARN has had its hands full in the past few weeks without having time to consider a board reshuffle.

    The fact that Jeff Howard comes from ARN where he was CFO for over seven years makes Seven’s radio play all the more interesting.

    See also: Seven’s James Warburton on avoiding bad deals

    James Warburton: Where to next?

    Warburton wouldn’t be drawn when Mediaweek asked about where to next. He noted that he hasn’t yet canvassed any offers that might be around, presumably something he might do now that his departure is public knowledge.

    He has been focused on the transition and how the second half of FY24 will perform. There is speculation Warburton is looking outside of the media, but it is believed he is not interested in leaving Australia.

    Seven West Media: CEO candidates

    There were a number of key executives on the Seven West Media management team who could have handled the job as chief executive. But there’s one key reason why the board perhaps passed over them in favour of the CFO: They are all more important in their existing roles than facing the distractions that come with running an ASX-listed business.


    Kurt Burnette

    Kurt Burnette: Chief revenue officer of the long-time all-people ratings champ. He’s been with the business for 25 years and with national sales director Natalie Harvey a recent departure, Burnette has his hands full. On the other hand, Seven has had amazing success with other sales chiefs who made their way to the top job via sales including David Leckie and Warburton himself.

    Lewis Martin: The managing director Seven Melbourne and head of network sport celebrates 20 years with the broadcaster in 2024. He looks after the rights to the AFL and the cricket, so don’t mess with that. He also looks after the significant racing rights, so why doesn’t Seven snaffle the Melbourne Cup Carnival? Because it’s not about to overpay for anything. [See also Seven’s exit from the Olympic rights negotiations.]

    Angus Ross: The chief content officer for entertainment programming may not be an obvious choice. But Tim Worner came from a similar background and he had good years leading the business after acquiring and making popular content. Kerry Stokes wants to keep Seven #1 so why move out the person leading the charge in primetime every night when the news wraps?

    The talent-heavy management team also has several other potential candidates for the top job:

    Maryna Fewster: The chief executive officer of SWM WA looks after the media business in the executive chairman’s home state.

    Craig McPherson: Director of news and public affairs has a successful career in newspapers and television over 30 years. It is hard to imagine he might give up the rough and tumble of the fiercely competitive news business for the executive suite and spending long days with analysts, investors and the bean counters.

    Bruce McWilliam: The commercial director has been a director of Seven for 20 years and has a rich background bursting with TV experience which includes time at BSkyB and News International (News Corp’s UK arm). Legal skills and contract negotiation mean he’s better where he is.


    Warburton with Gereurd Roberts

    Gereurd Roberts: The chief digital officer was previously chief executive of Pacific Magazines and somehow managed, with the help of Bruce McWilliam, to get more for the company than Bauer got for their portfolio of brands when the two publishing groups were traded.

    The post Mediaweek’s A to Z of 2023: J is for James Warburton as he reveals Seven exit appeared first on Mediaweek.

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