Warburton axed by Ten after string of shows flop

LACHLAN MURDOCH’S hand-picked chief for the embattled Channel Ten network, James Warburton, was sacked on Friday night after little more than a year in the role.

The move follows a string of programming flops and persistent poor ratings for the network controlled by some of Australia’s richest people, including the latest season of MasterChef.

Ten has appointed a senior News Corp executive and former advertising agency boss, Hamish McLennan, to take on the chief executive role on March 18.

The former advertising executive Russel Howcroft will take charge as interim chief executive. Mr Howcroft, who was last year appointed to a senior executive role with Ten, is widely known for his regular appearances on ABC television’s The Gruen Transfer.

Since joining News Corp in 2011 Mr McLennan has effectively worked closely with Rupert Murdoch running the media company’s office of chairman. Before joining News Corp, he was global chairman and chief executive of advertising agency Young & Rubicam.

Ten chairman Lachlan Murdoch said in a statement: ”The board would like to thank James Warburton for his hard work and contribution during what has been a difficult period for the company and for the broader media sector.”

Ten poached Mr Warburton from the Seven Network, a move at the time that angered Seven’s key shareholder Kerry Stokes. He started in January last year.

The Ten network held a highly public round of job cuts last year, which it blamed on difficult trading conditions, the impact of the Olympics and its weak ratings performance that led to a $13 million loss for the year.

About 100 employees were let go, including prominent personalities from its news operations, which were cut extensively. Ten’s chief programmer, David Mott, fell on his sword in August, after shows including The Shire, Being Lara Bingle and Everybody Dance Now, failed to find audiences, leaving Ten trailing Nine and Seven in audience ratings and revenue. Even former ratings juggernaut MasterChef is now trailing Seven’s offering My Kitchen Rules.

The pressure now is on the incoming chief, Mr McLennan, to lure younger viewers back to the network with innovative programming.

Mr McLennan said Ten was a media business with a strong balance sheet and excellent staff. ”I look forward to leading Ten through a period of creative renewal and financial growth.”

Late last year Mr Warburton was effectively put on notice over Ten’s poor performance by Mr Murdoch and the broadcaster’s trio of billionaire shareholders. Each of James Packer, Win Television-owner Bruce Gordon and mining billionaire Gina Rinehart tipped in more funds as part of Ten’s $230 million shareholder raising.

At the time of Ten’s annual meeting in December, Mr Murdoch was critical of the broadcaster’s programming shortfalls.

Ms Rinehart also has an investment in Fairfax Media, the publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald.

Ten’s shares were trading above $1.50 a share in November 2010. On Friday they closed at 29.5¢.

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