New Zealand's Mediaworks puts struggling TV business on sale

(Reuters) - New Zealand’s largest independent broadcaster Mediaworks said on Friday it is looking to sell its beleaguered television business and has appointed an adviser to identify potential buyers.

The business includes the main Three TV news broadcaster, which may have to be shut down if no buyer is found soon, leaving several hundred people jobless and the country with just one state-owned broadcaster for reporting TV news.

Mediaworks, owned by U.S. asset management firm Oaktree Capital, will continue to retain its radio network and the New Zealand business of Australian outdoor advertising company QMS Media QMS.AX.

It has blamed the government for allowing state broadcaster Television New Zealand to dominate the TV industry thereby disadvantaging its business.

“The market that free-to-air television operates in is tough and has been exacerbated this year,” said Chief Executive Michael Anderson, adding that the focus would now be to accelerate opportunities for its radio and outdoor platforms, which have delivered better growth.

“This is reflected in the performance of all free-to-air television operators in New Zealand, not just us,” he added.

Mediaworks has also put the TV business’s associated real estate up for sale. It was not immediately clear how much the business would fetch.

TV networks in New Zealand, which has a population of about five million people, have been facing growing pressures from shrinking advertising revenue and competition from popular streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.

Mediaworks reported a loss of NZ$5.5 million ($3.50 million) for the year ended December 2018, weighed down by the Three TV business.

Local media reported that staff at Three TV, which includes journalists and news readers, fear that the network could be closed by Christmas this year in case a buyer is not found quickly.

Journalists and media commentators discussed the announcement on social media and called for efforts from the public to help the popular TV network to find a buyer.

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi told local media that the government would not interfere in the commercial decision of a private company.

Reporting by Shriya Ramakrishnan and Praveen Menon; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman