(Recasts, adds analyst comment)
SYDNEY, May 28 (Reuters) - The Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp said on Thursday it will stop printing more than 100 regional newspapers after the coronavirus shutdown gutted advertising revenue, accelerating a downturn in the country’s media sector.
From next month, the company which dominates Australia’s media and political landscape said it would take 76 regional mastheads online only and shut another 36 altogether. It said the closures would lead to job cuts, without saying how many.
The move shows the knock-on effects of government-mandated closures of stores as well as the suspension of property inspections and tourism operators to slow the spread of the virus since March. Advertising spending by those industries, the lifeblood of the news media, has since collapsed.
“Print advertising spending which contributes the majority of our revenues has accelerated its decline,” said News Corp Australasia Executive Chairman Michael Miller in a statement.
“We are reshaping News Corp Australia to focus on where consumers and businesses are moving.”
The pressure on traditional media has been evident for years in Australia as advertisers chase the audience reach of internet giants like Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google. News Corp has led a campaign to force digital companies to pay for Australian content they share, which is still underway.
This year, Australian Associated Press, a newswire part-owned by News Corp, announced its closure after 85 years, as did the local arm of youth website Buzzfeed News and a news site of ViacomCBS Inc owned free-to-air broadcaster Ten Network.
Like others in the Australian media, News Corp hoped to protect its revenue by diversifying, with a stake in real estate advertiser REA Group Ltd and an Australian cable TV station called Foxtel.
This month, News Corp posted a $1.1 billion loss for the March quarter, mostly because of a write-down on the carrying value of Foxtel which makes money broadcasting sports that are now paused due to the virus.
“You’ve got the advertising down, Foxtel down, REA down, which has meant that News Corp have had to take very dramatic steps,” said independent media analyst Peter Cox.
“They’re in a very difficult state. You have to question the investment of News Corp (in Australia) in the long term.”
Reporting by Byron Kaye in SYDNEY and Shreya Mariam Job in BENGALURU; Editing by Stephen Coates and Christopher Cushing