Channel Ten has launched legal action against its former political editor Peter van Onselen, after the ex-Project host slammed the network’s low ratings in a column.
Ten, which is owned by U.S. entertainment giant Paramount, has gone to the NSW Supreme Court to take out an injunction against Mr van Onselen for an alleged breach of contract.
Daily Mail Australia understands the network will allege these comments contravened a non-disparagement clause in his exit deal.
The actions relate to claims Mr van Onselen made about the company’s share price and market share woes in a piece he penned for The Australian on May 29.
The case between Network Ten and Van Onselen will be heard by Justice David Hammerschlag on Monday.
Channel Ten has launched legal action against its former political editor Peter van Onselen (pictured), after the former Project host slammed the network’s low ratings in a column
Mr van Onselen, who walked away from his role as Canberra-based political editor in March, said Ten is facing ‘disaster’ and branded his former employer as ‘the minnow of Australian commercial television’ in his scathing article.
He primarily took aim at Paramount’s falling share price and underperforming streaming service.
Paramount has seen its stock price crash from more than $97 two years ago to less than $15 today.
That has been matched by a similar fall in market share in Australia, with its flagship 5pm news show winning just six per cent of the TV audience this month.
One TV executive on a rival station told him it was the worst result he had seen in ’30 years in the business’.
Dr van Onselen, who was made Sunday Project host in 2020, admitted: ‘When CBS (now Paramount) took the little Aussie battler, I assumed its future was bright.
‘But the latest news coming out of the US is reason to doubt its long term viability.’
Van Onselen slammed his former network, saying it had been ‘outgunned and out-rated by 7 and 9 now more than ever’ and had squandered its opportunity to be a major network.
‘Supported by a massive US media player – now rebranded Paramount – was a distinct advantage the other Aussie networks don’t have,’ he said.
‘It was one of the reasons I accepted the job as 10’s Political Editor.’
The ex-Project host branded his former employer ‘the minnow of Australian commercial television’ and took aim at Paramount’s falling share price and underperforming streaming service (pictured, The Project hosts Waleed Aly and Sarah Harris)
Ten’s flagship 5pm news show hosted by Sandra Sully (pictured) won just six per cent of the TV audience this month, said Dr van Onselen
But since then Paramount has been overshadowed globally by streaming giants like Netflix, Disney and Warner, leaving it struggling to compete.
The US owners posted a staggering US$1billion loss in the first three months of this year, slashed its dividend by 80 per cent and announced a hiring freeze.
The announcements have rattled investors, with Paramount’s share price slumping 30 per cent in the last month, and by more than 50 per cent over the past year.
The company’s biggest shareholder is renowned stock market guru Warren Buffett with a 15 per cent stake in the company – and fears are growing he may opt to cut his losses and pull out soon, warned Dr van Onselen.
‘He doesn’t think streaming is the future for Paramount, unless scale can be brought to bear and quickly,’ he added.
‘If he dumps it, the share price will tank even more than it already has. Buffett exiting a business is a certain way to cause panic, and Paramount is already in panic mode.
‘It would be a disaster for current management.’
Ten’s US owner Paramount has seen its share price crash from more than $97 two years ago to less than $15 today, after running up a US$1billion loss in the first three months of this year
The company’s biggest shareholder is renowned stock market guru Warren Buffett (left) with a 15 per cent stake in the company – and fears are growing he may opt to cut his losses and pull out soon, warned Dr van Onselen. In the last month alone, Paramount’s share price has slumped 30 per cent, and by more than 50 per cent over the past year (right)
‘Thanks but no thanks’
At least four political reporters have allegedly turned down Ten’s approaches to take over from Peter van Onselen.
Insiders have told Daily Mail Australia that Sky News pair Kieran Gilbert and Tom Connell both rejected offers.
Ten’s Dan Sutton and Ursula Heger also said no to the role, says the insider, although Ten denies they have offered the job to anyone.
Ten executives are currently said to be in talks with a newspaper reporter to take the job, but if those negotiations fall through, an internal appointment will be made immediately instead.
Ten’s Canberra press gallery reporter Stela Todorovic is understood to be ready on the sidelines to be named political editor if the network is snubbed again.
Dr van Onselen left Ten three months ago but has yet to be replaced after management approached several contenders at rival networks who all rejected it.
Bosses are currently understood to be trying to persuade a female newspaper reporter – who Daily Mail Australia has opted not to name – to take the role after Ten’s offer was allegedly snubbed by high profile TV veterans, although TV bosses deny offering the role to anyone.
Insiders told Daily Mail Australia one of the reasons Dr van Onselen left the station was because he disagreed with decisions by head of broadcast news Martin White, whose LinkedIn bio describes his editorial judgment as ‘second to none’.
Ten barely scraped into Australia’s top 20 shows on Friday night with only The Project and Ten News First coming in at just 18th and 19th spot.
On Monday night, Ten’s news show didn’t even make the top 20. ABC, Seven and Nine’s news shows were all the top six shows of the evening.
Dr van Onselen said the slump had set in and deepened despite having Sandra Sully, ‘Australia’s number one female news anchor’, at the helm.
‘The network’s ratings have slowly ebbed lower and lower, elongating the divide between it and its more successful commercial rivals in Australia,’ he said.
He said it was ‘a sure sign it was the brand and management, not the host’ that was the root of the problem.
US management may now decide to pull the plug on their Australian outlet in a bid to save costs globally, Dr van Onselen warned.
But either way the optimistic future that Ten once appeared to have when CBS/Paramount announced its acquisition is now far in the past.
‘It could be fine, limping along with little attention paid to it by its big overseas owner (or its domestic competitors to be frank),’ he said.
‘It’s such a small part of Paramount that losses or gains at 10 matter little to its American owners.
‘But even big companies that are struggling tend to cut their losses, dumping unprofitable parts of their businesses.
‘There certainly won’t be the sort of investments in the brand once thought likely when the CBS takeover was announced.’
Ten dismissed the speculation, saying local ratings had been ‘amazing’ and in the 2021 financial year, it recorded a $324million profit.
A spokesman added: ‘Network 10 has seen strong year-on-year growth across key demographics, ratings and commercial share demonstrating an excellent first half of the year for 2023.
‘Our share is up 0.6 points in total people this year and 1.5 points in 25-54s.
’10 Play is also having its biggest year ever with minutes viewed up 23 per cent year-on-year and Paramount+ is Australia’s fastest growing streaming service.
‘Network 10 is dominating the key advertising demographics this year with six of the top 10 programs in 25s to 54s and under 50s, and seven of the top 10 programs in 16 to 39s with our tentpole entertainment shows.
‘The Project is Australia’s youngest news and current affairs show, reaching over six million Australians every month and is achieving its biggest livestream audiences ever, as well as its biggest monthly audience of the year in May.
’10 News First is achieving its biggest monthly audience of the year in May, with its Linear TV audience up six per cent month-on-month in May from April.’