Ten denies reports of savage cuts to staff and programs

The Ten network has blasted reports of a "secret plan" to slash programs and staff, with sources claiming a leaked cost-cutting document is "effectively redundant".

Under the five-year plan, revealed by News Corp on Thursday, Ten would have made savage cuts to its programming, staff and operating costs.

There's just one problem: the plan was prepared months ago, before administrators were appointed. Back then, it seemed all but certain that billionaire shareholders Bruce Gordon and Lachlan Murdoch - co-chairman of News Corp - would seize control of the troubled network.

With American broadcaster CBS now the likely owner, everything has changed.

According to one Ten employee: "[The leaked plan] just highlights why we didn't want to get in bed with [them]. Everyone suspected they wanted to make huge cuts. Basically, they want to run Ten as a cheap but profitable enterprise. It seems to us that CBS is taking a different approach: they want to invest and make Ten more competitive with Seven and Nine.

"Of course, nothing is certain yet. We're in limbo until later this year."

The proposed takeover by CBS has been tentatively listed for a three-day hearing in the Supreme Court of NSW, starting October 31. It has the support of Ten's creditors committee, which includes employee representative and veteran journalist Hugh Riminton.

The vote from Ten's staff was essential in getting the CBS bid over the line.

"The report in today's News Corp newspapers is highly speculative and inaccurate," a Ten spokesman said.

"The document referred to in today's media was part of a number of options that had been prepared on behalf of the Ten Board prior to the appointment of administrators. At the time, Ten Network was exploring all options for improving its financial position. The financial environment for Ten has changed significantly since June, with CBS chosen by creditors as the new owner."

The leaked document suggests reality show The Biggest Loser would be chopped, while morning program Studio 10 would be extended by an hour. However, both of these changes have already been made.

The document reportedly includes a plan to replace Ten's state-based 5pm news bulletins with a single national service, to be made in Sydney. Fairfax Media understands that conservative pay TV channel Sky News - owned by News Corp - would have produced this bulletin, leading to widespread job losses.

But if CBS takes control, how likely is it to partner with the company it just gazumped?

"Nobody is breaking out the champagne just yet," says another Ten worker. "But we are encouraged by the fact CBS has said it won't retrench staff."

A CBS spokesman told Fairfax Media: "The document reported was not solicited by or prepared for CBS and doesn't reflect current thinking. We look forward to completing this transaction and working with the outstanding team at Network Ten to build on its great legacy of Australian news, drama, reality and sports programming."

It is understood that Ten has no plans to dump its motorsport coverage, and that programs such as Shark Tank will continue.

It is unclear what will happen to game show Family Feud, though reports suggest production may move from Melbourne to Sydney.

The proposed cuts were part of Ten's Blue Horizon "transformation and growth" project - including a rumoured 15 per reduction in staff numbers, with 43 redundancies in news and 59 in operations and engineering. But when the network went into administration in June, Blue Horizon was put on hold.

"Reading about these cuts is scary," says a source at the network.

"But the way we read it, this was part of Ten gussying itself up for an effective News Corp takeover. You can't assume CBS will make the same cuts." (Murdoch has a small stake in the network and used to be its acting CEO and chair. Now, he is co-chair of News Corp - but News Corp itself has not bid for Ten.)

Of course, CBS is keeping its cards close to its chest. It makes no sense for the broadcasting giant to spell out its plans for Ten until the deal is done.

With Australian content quotas still in force, CBS cannot simply fill up the schedule with its own American programs.

News Corp reports that Murdoch and Gordon are awaiting an independent expert report before deciding if they'll challenge the CBS deal.

"I can't speak for everyone at Ten," says one employee. "But among everyone I have spoken to, there is almost complete support for [the CBS deal].

"We don't want to become the cheap and cheerful network that's only profitable because it has no staff. We want to get back in the game and give [Seven and Nine] a run for their money."

This story Ten denies reports of savage cuts to staff and programs first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.