Voelte takes reins at Seven West

26/06/2012 - 09:05


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Voelte takes reins at Seven West

Everyone thought the resources takeover of the media was going to come via Gina Rinehart’s move on Fairfax.

Instead, it has come from a different angle: the appointment of Don Voelte as CEO of Seven West Media.

With its power base skewed to Western Australia in the form of chairman Kerry Stokes and its ownership of The West Australian newspaper, Seven West Media is an unusual beast in the national media landscape.

Almost no-one in national media outside the mainstream business journalists will know who Mr Voelte is; an outspoken Nebraskan who ran Australia’s biggest home-grown oil and gas company Woodside for seven years, a period during which he shook up the company and local LNG sector.

Mr Voelte is not afraid of taking risks, with big bets on the rapid expansion of Woodside’s LNG production capacity, and did not mind being controversial in the way he expressed his views, including a severe spray of several executives via email.

He was appointed a director of WA Newspapers Holdings, which became Seven West Media, in December 2008 after board control was assumed by Mr Stokes, a long term media magnate who also has significant interests in the resources sector. Rio Tinto iron ore chief executive Sam Walsh, another Perth-based resources heavyweight, also joined the WAN board at the same time.

Mr Voelte’s appointment as Seven West Media chief executive, replacing long-term media executive David Leckie, comes after a fortnight of significant news in the national media scene.

Investors expressed skepticism about the changes, sending Seven West's share price tumbling 27 cents, or 13.7 per cent, to close at $1.70 on a day the broader market fell about 0.4 per cent.
Seven Group holds about 32 per cent of Seven West.

While the media sector, in particular newspapers, have been hit hard in recent times due to the shift of viewers and readers onto digital devices, Mr Voelte painted a positive picture for the industry.

"I was in the industry in oil and gas through the good and the bad and I can tell you there were some times like in 1988 and 1998 you couldn't give it away," Mr Voelte said.
"So things are cyclic.

"I think this industry, the media industry, has been extremely healthy in the past, it is something that people desire and we just have to find the correct methods to deliver our creative product to them."

Bell Direct equities analyst Julia Lee said the share price decline reflected concerns regarding Mr Voelte's lack of media experience compared with his record in the sector.

"Don Voelte has a lot of respect in the market but unfortunately in the media space the market probably would have preferred someone with a lot stronger media background," Ms Lee said.

Mr Voelte’s appointment comes after news emerged that Ms Rinehart had increased her stake in Fairfax to around 19 per cent and was agitating for as many as three board seats, an issue which has revived calls for changes to newspaper regulation.

That was overshadowed by Fairfax’s own decision to cut 1,900 staff, close two printing presses and change its two key broadsheet dailies, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, into tabloids next year. This week three key editors of those newspapers quit.

Also last week News Corp announced a sweeping restructure, redundancies estimated to be around 1,000, the acquisition of Business Spectator and Eureka digital news business for more than $22 million and a bid to acquire pay TV company Consolidated Media Holdings.

While Seven West was known to be looking for a replacement for Mr Leckie, many observers will be wondering what Mr Voelte brings without media experience beyond his board membership.

Of course the turmoil taking place in the media is because the future of newspapers and, to a lesser extent, traditional broadcasters is being questioned due to the huge market share being taken by new digital products.

Perhaps a fresh set of eyes is what is needed?


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