Three's a crowd: expert predicts TV channel will go

THERE may no longer be room for three commercial broadcasters in Australia and Channel Ten looks like the odd one out, says pioneering funds manager Laurence Freedman, who made his fortune plucking Ten from receivership in the 1990s and relaunching it as the most profitable free-to-air network in Australia.

''Maybe we only need two [commercial free-to-air networks] because advertisers will only advertise on two,'' he said.

When asked if he thinks that one won't survive, he said: ''I believe so. I've believed that for a long time.''

Until now, the only question was which two would, he said.

With Nine on the verge of a revival and Seven still leading the ratings, there is no question as to which network is in peril.

In its financial report for the year ending August 31, Ten revealed a $13 million annual loss and continued with a restructuring program, including cutting up to 100 jobs. This week, Ten announced that its Breakfast show has also been cut.

In Ten's annual report, released on Tuesday, the company's chairman, Lachlan Murdoch, said: ''The company acknowledges our ratings and revenue in 2012 were not what we expected and that our programming schedule on the primary Ten channel did not perform as hoped. At any time this is unacceptable, let alone in a weakened advertising market.''

He promised things would improve in the coming year.

''There is no question that Ten Network Holdings enters 2013 as a different company than it was just 12 short months ago,'' Mr Murdoch said. ''We are looking forward to the year ahead.''

Mr Freedman tweeted this week that Ten ''have lost the plot'' and, alluding to the latest job cuts from its newsroom, suggested the network planned a return to profitability by showing the station logo and advertising.

He is not the only one to question if Australia will remain home to three commercial networks.

Media analysts from investment bank Citi describe the Australian market as an ''outlier'' with three commercial free-to-air networks instead of the usual two incumbents that can be found in much bigger economies such as Germany and France. And it comes at a cost, despite the Australian market's outsized per capita spending on advertising.

''For the Australian market, operating three FTA networks means the broadcasters are scrapping over a relatively smaller slice of the local advertising market,'' Citi said. ''Our review of international markets would suggest that sustaining three broadcasters could prove challenging.''

But Citi said market dynamics provide structural support for the free-to-air broadcasters.

Ten's shares were trading at 28¢ today, or less than one-tenth of the price at which Mr Freedman sold out at in 2004.

He said he had an epiphany when buying a mobile phone that year with ''back channel'' - referring to a mobile users' ability to communicate back over the network in the same manner as a computer over the internet. It is a feature TV networks are struggling with: connecting advertisers and its mass audience directly.

''That was the beginning of the end to me,'' Mr Freedman said.

This story Three's a crowd: expert predicts TV channel will go first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.