NEW Ten Network chief executive James Warburton says his new employer is over-reliant on reality franchises such as MasterChef and vows “not to live life in the past” after his headline-making 2011 court battle with the Seven Network.
“We’ve got to do more than that, and have more of a connection with the viewer on multiple fronts throughout the course of a week,” he said
Other sources close to Ten indicated Junior MasterChef and The Renovators were set to be two of the first programs to get the chop under the Warburton regime, as Ten sought a greater range of programming to win viewers.
Despite it being a near-perfect Sydney public holiday yesterday, Mr Warburton was hard at work in his new office virtually as soon as a NSW Supreme Court embargo on him working was lifted.
A court battle with his former employers at Seven in May restrained him from starting at Ten until January 1.
He was originally to begin his new role on July 14, leaving his career in limbo for the remainder of 2011.
Taking time out from the first day of his new job, Mr Warburton indicated he wanted to take a stick to Ten’s “third channel” mentality, after all-people ratings on the main channel fell from 20 per cent to less than 16 per cent in 2011, well behind Seven and Nine.
“Ratings improvement on the main channel is an absolute priority,” he said.
“I want to steel some attitudes. Ten, in my eyes, has taken a bit of a back seat and let the agenda be run by others. I’d like much more of a fiercely competitive internal and external organisation.”
He said that the new role was a “fantastic opportunity”. He also praised Ten part-owner Lachlan Murdoch’s move to step in as acting CEO during his own limbo period at a time when tough decisions had to be made, including cost-cutting – when 180 network jobs were axed in August.
“I always seek challenges, and it’s a massive challenge that I was excited to take on,” Mr Warburton said.
“What we need to do is get back to the broadcasting fundamentals of ratings and revenue. Lachlan set the vision and made a lot of the painful decisions. For him to step in and effectively fill those months when I’ve been restrained – I owe him a great debt and, of course, I plan to repay him.”
Part of that rebuilding will be developing a broader consistency in programming outside the network’s big reality franchises, boosted by a $50 million injection of funds into programming in 2012.
“We now have a number of new franchises such as Young Talent Time, which add a layer of depth and consistency to our schedule,” he said.
“We need to have more depth for the viewer and we need to ensure as many viewers as possible have an appointment to view programs consistently throughout the week.”
Asked about his feelings on leaving his role as heir apparent at Seven amid the bitter court battle, Mr Warburton said: “I just don’t think you can live life in the past.
“I’ve signed a deed of release so I can’t comment on anything in relation to the court case.
“But not a day has gone past since accepting the role that I haven’t been itching to get to the helm of Ten.”
Seven initially asked the court to restrain Mr Warburton from starting until October this year, 15 months after Ten’s original starting date.
The case was highlighted by claim and counter-claim between Mr Warburton and his former boss, David Leckie.
His defection prompted Ten part-owner James Packer to resign from the company’s board in March to appease Seven owner Kerry Stokes.
The fierce court battle prompted the judge to say in his summing up that Mr Warburton was “sought after, and even fought over”. But the new Ten boss said his enforced gardening leave has not been all bad.
“It’s been a great refresher. I’m physically and mentally fitter than I’ve ever been. I feel like a 20-year-old going for my first day of work,” he said.
He would not comment specifically about Ten’s mooted interest in imminent talks over NRL and V8 Supercar rights but noted that with several sports contracts up for renewal “we’re interested in looking at all of them”.
Story and picture: news.com.au