TV billionaire Bruce Gordon has news for rival Nine

Local pride: Billionaire owner of WIN Bruce Gordon at his regional network's Wollongong HQ this week.  Photo: Sylvia Liber
Local pride: Billionaire owner of WIN Bruce Gordon at his regional network's Wollongong HQ this week. Photo: Sylvia Liber

The network that supplied his top-rating shows for almost three decades may have launched a direct assault on his TV company's flagship program, but WIN Corporation owner Bruce Gordon has a news flash for Nine: WIN News is not going anywhere.

The Bermuda-based billionaire granted a rare interview this week to Fairfax Media's Illawarra Mercury, the daily newspaper in WIN's home town of Wollongong.

As well as signalling that he'd be willing to invest in an A-League expansion team in Wollongong and a convention centre in the city, Mr Gordon insisted that WIN  remained committed to providing local TV news in regional areas despite new competition for viewers.

"We have an obligation to supply a service to the public," he told the Mercury.

Remote control: The new Nine News bulletins for Canberra, Wollongong and regional NSW are presented from Nine's Sydney studios.

Remote control: The new Nine News bulletins for Canberra, Wollongong and regional NSW are presented from Nine's Sydney studios.

The exclusive interview  at WIN's Wollongong HQ comes just days before a localised version of Nine News launches in Mr Gordon's beloved Wollongong,  competing head-to-head in the 6pm timeslot with his network's flagship WIN News bulletin.

Country view: Wollongong-based Geoff Phillips, Amy Duggan and Hannah McEwan present WIN News for Canberra, the Illawarra and  regional NSW.  Photo: Facebook/WIN News Canberra

Country view: Wollongong-based Geoff Phillips, Amy Duggan and Hannah McEwan present WIN News for Canberra, the Illawarra and regional NSW. Photo: Facebook/WIN News Canberra

WIN has not faced commercial competition for local news viewers in the Illawarra since June 2001, when Prime axed its nightly bulletins in Canberra, Wollongong and Newcastle.

Mr Gordon's company has repeatedly warned federal MPs over the past 12 months that the 3000 hours of local content WIN produces each year is "not a profitable exercise" and increasingly at risk without reform of Australia's media ownership laws.

But Mr Gordon was singing a different tune this week, as Nine launched a Canberra news bulletin against WIN Newsand ramped up for its Wollongong launch on Monday.

"The time when others cancelled their local news to do three-minute updates my board said 'what are you going to do?," Mr Gordon recalled.

Nine time: Vanessa O'Hanlon is the new regional presenter of Nine News for the ACT and NSW.  Photo: Developing Agents

Nine time: Vanessa O'Hanlon is the new regional presenter of Nine News for the ACT and NSW. Photo: Developing Agents

"I said, 'We are going to stay with local news'.

"We have a television licence and in my opinion the obligation of having a television licence is that you must provide a service to the community in news. I have always said the way we interpret it is we have an obligation to supply a service to the public."

Regional broadcaster Southern Cross Austereo has carried Nine's shows and branding since last July after Nine cut its 27-year association with WIN, which was forced to do an alternative program supply deal with third-ranked Ten.

Feeder network: Bruce Gordon and Andrew Gordon in 2001, when WIN was aligned to Nine. Photo: Adam McLean

Feeder network: Bruce Gordon and Andrew Gordon in 2001, when WIN was aligned to Nine. Photo: Adam McLean

As well as owning WIN, the 88-year-old Mr Gordon is the largest shareholder in both Nine and Ten, but is prevented from taking his holding above 15 per cent due to the media ownership restrictions.

But his stake in Nine hasn't stopped it launching an ambitious rollout of 15 regional versions of Nine News for Southern Cross Austereo in the ACT, southern and central NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

With Prime7 also revamping its five local news bulletins in NSW from Monday, WIN faces a tough fight for regional news viewers as Ten's lower-rating programs deliver it smaller audiences than Nine's content once did.

Tandem anchors: Madelaine Collignon and Kenny Heatley, new presenters of Prime7's five local news bulletins in regional NSW.

Tandem anchors: Madelaine Collignon and Kenny Heatley, new presenters of Prime7's five local news bulletins in regional NSW.

At the same time the reach of Australia's largest regional TV network may be about to get bigger, with Mr Gordon in negotiations to swap WIN's i98FM radio station in Wollongong for Southern Cross Austereo's northern NSW TV operations, which like WIN broadcast Ten's programming.

Veteran anchorman Geoff Phillips, who presents WIN's NSW and ACT bulletins from Wollongong, said his boss was solely responsible for many regional areas continuing to receive local news bulletins on TV.

Mr Gordon said WIN employees such as Mr Phillips had as a result become an integral part of the community.

"He is an ambassador for WIN around the place," he said.

Of his own motivations, Mr Gordon said: "I don't do anything for myself. Everything I have done is for WIN and its audience".

While Monday will be the first time in almost 16 years that WIN has faced direct commercial competition for local news viewers in its home town, this week's ratings in Canberra suggest the nightly news audience can be fickle.

Nine's Canberra bulletin, anchored out of the network's Sydney studios by former ABC News Breakfast weather presenter Vanessa O'Hanlon, went to air for the first time on February 6.

WIN News, a half-hour of local news, won the 6pm timeslot on Monday, beating the first half of Prime7's relay of Sydney's Seven News and the first half of the new hour-long Nine News, which mixes local, national and international news, sport and weather.

Prime7  won night two of the head-to-head battle, ahead of WIN and then Nine.

On Wednesday, WIN News came third. Prime7 won the half-hour  from 6pm (averaging 14,710 viewers), ahead of Nine News (12,019 viewers) and WIN News (10,946). Prime7 narrowly eclipsed Nine over the full hour (15,091 versus 14,823).

As well as Canberra and Wollongong, O'Hanlon will be seen in the 6 o'clock slot on weeknights in Orange, Dubbo and the Central West from February 20. A bulletin localised for Wagga Wagga and the Riverina will follow.

With small teams of reporters based in each market, the programs are compiled and broadcast from Nine's Sydney studios in Willoughby.

Monday will also mark a new look for Prime7's local news in NSW as Madelaine Collignon and Kenny Heatley debut as tandem presenters of the Seven affiliate's 6pm bulletins, replacing Seven-bound Freya Cole.

Prime7 produces five half-hour weekday bulletins from its Canberra studios for the regions of Inland NSW, North Coast NSW, Central West, Wagga Wagga and Albury/Wodonga, as well as a nightly half-hour of national news tailored for regional areas.