Nine Entertainment, the publisher of legacy newspaper brands the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, has chosen the digital media executive Mike Sneesby to run the company, signalling the dominance of the television side of the business.
The chairman of Nine Entertainment, the former Liberal treasurer Peter Costello, said Sneesby stood out among contenders for his strong leadership of the company’s “enormously successful” streaming service Stan, which he took from startup in 2014 to a market evaluation of $1bn, with 2.3 million subscribers.
Sneesby, whose original programming commissions include Bump and True History of the Kelly Gang, said the “great set” of financial results unveiled by the outgoing chief executive, Hugh Marks, last week was underpinned by the content creators at Nine, including the journalists.
In his last financial results presentation Marks pledged to give $2m in jobkeeper payments back to the government after posting a $182m net profit.
Sneesby said: “I am honoured to be entrusted with this important role, to be the custodian for many of Australia’s most important, valuable and iconic media brands.
“The Nine family is made up of journalists, technicians, producers and so many dedicated to their craft, it will be the honour of a lifetime to lead them.”
The “exhaustive” process to find a new chief executive comes almost four months after the abrupt resignation of Marks following ructions on the board over a relationship he formed with a former executive colleague, Alexi Baker.
Sneesby, who takes up the position on 1 April, edged out an executive from the publishing side of the business, the chief digital and publishing officer, Chris Janz, who has overseen the Australian Financial Review, the Herald, the Age, Brisbane Times and WAtoday since 2017.
Costello batted away questions about tensions on the board or a split over who should run Australia’s biggest media company, despite reports in the company’s own papers to the contrary.
The day before Sneesby’s appointment it was revealed that one director, Patrick Allaway, who joined the board after the $4bn merger with Fairfax Media in 2018, was stepping down.
Although Allaway blamed more “intense duties” in his other role as chairman of the Bank of Queensland, he resigned the day after the Herald reported on an investigation into the deputy chairman, Nick Falloon, another one of the three Fairfax directors to join the Nine board.
Costello denied there was any instability on the board after the sudden resignation of Marks, then Allaway and the investigation of Falloon.
He revealed that Marks, who led the company for more than five years, was not at the press conference because he was in hospital.
“He has an infection,” Costello said. “He’s being tested for that infection. And he’s been in hospital for several days. I read in the paper that he wasn’t at some of the investor presentations, that’s because he’s in the hospital.
“I don’t want you to think it’s life-threatening or anything like that, but he’s just got an infection.”
Costello paid tribute to Marks who “inherited a legacy television business with a market capitalisation of around $1.3bn” and took it to $5bn after the merger with Fairfax Media.
“His time as CEO has seen Nine make a number of key strategic decisions, which not only redefined Nine but changed the wider media landscape in Australia.”
Sneesby is an electrical engineer by trade and has a master’s of business administration from the Macquarie graduate school of management.
Earlier in his career he was the chief executive of the Microsoft/Nine ecommerce joint venture, Cudo.