The speed and scale of the digital disruption was the biggest change media veteran Bob Cronin navigated in his 56-year career in the industry.
And there’s more fallout to come, he says, warning the days of big broadcast deals for exclusive coverage of sport are numbered.
Cronin, who retired in October 2016 as editor-in-chief of West Australian newspapers, is chairman of the WA NRL and on the board of the Bravery Trust, will share his insights at the next CCI Lighthouse Leadership serious on April 19.
In addition to working on newspapers across Australia and China, Cronin spent 10 years on the board of SBS and was the founding director of Information Radio – radio for the print handicapped – in Perth in 1991.
When he started in newspapers, they were printed by a linotype machine, which was invented in the 1800s and used hot metal typesetting.
“It also lasted 100 years – there was nothing on it that could break down and everything it used was recycled. At the end of the night they would chuck all the metal back into the pot, melt it down and turn it into ingots and use it again the next night,” he says.
“Once they went to computers, a new computer system might last five years if you’re lucky and then it’s out of date and there’s a better one and everyone says ‘you’ve got to have this and you’ve got have that’.
The technological age has seen the industry turned on its head as processes were automated, certain jobs were no longer required and companies reached out to new audiences with the click of a keyboard.
A few short years ago, media entrepreneurs would need $200m to buy printing presses to set up a publishing company: “But to start your own website you need about $400, so it’s a totally different ballgame,” Cronin says.
The media has not seen the end of the impact of the digital age, with traditional media companies merging and networks feeling the pinch when it comes to broadcasting deals.
Cronin says he’s been warning the NRL that big broadcast deals are coming to an end for all sports.
A report released by financial analysts UBS a year ago revealed that a deal between Cricket Australia and the Nine Network was costing the network about $100m a year, but only generating gross revenues of between $60-$70m.
A Channel 9 and 10 consortia is currently locked in a battle with Cricket Australia over broadcast rights for the next six years.
Last week Channel 9 won the rights to broadcast the Australian Open from 2020 in a five-year $300m deal, which Channel 7 had previously held for more than 40 years.
NRL fans are set to be big winners this season as the network has announced it will live stream matches across its platforms.
Cronin says the appeal of live streaming is also a threat to traditional broadcast deals. Telecommunications and social media companies have opened other options for viewers.
His family pays $7 per month to livestream America’s popular basketball league: “I think eventually you’ll be able to get NRL, AFL whatever you want on the same sort of deal,” he says.
“Mind you, it will be harder here to provide it at such a low level because there’s not enough people here, while the American Basketball League has got the entire American population to sell it to as well as other people around the world.
“I don’t know whether AFL would have that same sort of worldwide appeal.”