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Fairfax and Nine do Stan deal with CBS

The Good Wife is one of the series covered in the new deal. Photo: CBSStan, the joint venture paid streaming service owned by the Nine Network and Fairfax, has signed an output deal with Hollywood’s CBS Studios.
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The deal delivers the service, which is slated to launch early next year, streaming rights to the critically acclaimed United States dramas Ray Donovan, Dexter, Californication, Nurse Jackie and The Good Wife.

It will also add a number of key library series to the service, including the Star Trek original series, Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, the CSI franchise, including CSI, CSI: Miami and CSI:NY, the original Twin Peaks, Oz, Deadwood and the iconic 1980s soap Dynasty.

The CBS Studios deal covers more than 1200 hours of CBS and Showtime programming.

It follows a number of similar deals for Stan signed with key US studios, including a deal with Sony Pictures that included Breaking Bad, the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul and new series Mozart in the Jungle and Transparent.

The Sony deal also included a library of films such as The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, 21 Jump Street and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Another deal, signed with the iconic studio MGM, included rights to the critically acclaimed Fargo, the comedy series Will & Grace,The L Word and a raft of film titles such as When Harry Met Sally, Silence of the Lambs and the Rocky franchise.

It also has a deal with BBC Worldwide, which includes some of the BBC library’s best titles, including the iconic comedies Absolutely Fabulous and Fawlty Towers, Sherlock, Ripper Street, Luther, Wallander, Top Gear and Doctor Who.

Stan’s chief executive Mike Sneesby said the service would be a value-for-money entertainment service that made premium content accessible to everyone.

Though Stan’s parent company StreamCo has not announced pricing yet, it is expected the service will fall in the range of similar US services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, which charge about US$10 a month.

It will offer on-demand content in high-definition on multiple platforms, including television, tablets, computers and mobile phones.

Mr Sneesby said CBS had a proven track record of creating the most-watched TV shows, loved by audiences around the world. “This is why we’ve committed to bringing their flagship dramas and the best of their catalogue to Stan.”

CBS’s president of global distribution Armando Nunez said his company was pleased to sign a deal, which would further showcase CBS programming in this important region.

The agreement created a new revenue stream for CBS, while expanding the fan base for its popular current and classic series, Mr Nunez said.

The two deals will increase growing pressure in the television rights sector, as potential players seek to tie up streaming rights to key programming libraries.

The main US streaming player, Netflix, is also planning a launch in the Australian market next year.

Netflix’s launch announcement focused on original commissioned US series, including Marco Polo, BoJack Horseman, Marvel’s Daredevil and the Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda comedy Grace and Frankie.

Netflix has not confirmed it will air the third season of House of Cards when it launches, but that series is slated to launch late February in the US and Netflix is unlikely to risk consumer anger by delaying it.

The Nine Network and Fairfax announced earlier this year they would be joint venture partners in Stan, each contributing $50 million to the start-up service.

A launch date has not been announced.

Banks brace for $28 billion hit

Banking shares have recouped some of their losses over recent trading sessions, but some analysts believe they are still too expensive. Photo: Jesse MarlowThe banking industry and the federal government will be set for a showdown if the Financial System Inquiry recommendations that call on banks to bolster  expensive capital, in an exercise that could cost the industry several billion dollars, are adopted.
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The release of the Murray report on Sunday will cement fears among investors that this takes the gloss off bank earnings and puts at risk the generosity of future dividends.

Treasurer Joe Hockey says he is prepared to take on the banks, suggesting he is open to the most controversial element among the Murray recommendations – that  Australian banks could be insufficiently capitalised to weather another  global financial crisis.

The inquiry said that safety of the banking system was of paramount importance and he did not believe it should be left to taxpayers to bail out the financial system in the event of a financial shock.

“Evidence available to the inquiry suggests that the largest Australian banks are not currently in the top quartile of internationally active banks. Australian [banks] should therefore be required to have higher capital levels,”  the report says.

Analysts have suggested that the Murray reforms combined with other already-announced capital measures would require the big four players, Commonwealth Bank, ANZ, National Australia Bank and Westpac, to set aside another $28 billion in capital .

Among a myriad of changes discussed by the Financial Services Inquiry that included examining the distorting tax influence of  negative gearing and dividend imputation, Hockey pinpointed the need to withstand global financing shocks as the centrepiece of the report.

Hockey warned the banks not to engage in advertising-based warfare – as the mining industry did successfully to  kill the super mining tax in 2010.

The banks have argued that they are already well capitalised and weathered the 2008 financial crisis well, and commissioned research a few months ago showing they ranked high among international peers. The FSI disagreed, saying Australian banks were in the middle of the pack and and needed to be in the top quartile.

Australian Bankers’ Association chief executive Steven Munchenberg said: “The question we, and the government, must ask on each of these recommendations is simply, does it help or hinder our future economic growth? A careful analysis of each recommendation on this basis is now needed.”

In recent months, individual banks have warned that boosting capital would result in higher interest rates for borrowers or lower dividends for bank shareholders.

The Property Council was more explicit.

“Capital holding recommendations have the effect of adding weight to loans and costs to borrowers, which could hurt already low first-home buyer rates, affect new housing starts and challenge seniors who are looking to downsize.”

But Murray accused the banks of overstating  the impacts of holding additional capital. The FSI said it would add 0.01 to 0.1 per cent to the cost of a loan.

“The public statements by the banks are wildly above those numbers. They are exaggerated. Hopefully, other experts will look at those numbers and conclude similar to ours,” said Murray.

But it’s a shot in the arm for smaller regional banks, which will have their risk capital requirements brought more into line with that of their big four rivals.

Four of Australia’s leading regional banks were overjoyed with the final report, which they said “acknowledges the need to level the playing field in banking”.

The inquiry also took aim at the superannuation system, which it found has insufficient focus on retirement income.

Murray suggested the recent super reforms had not introduced the intended competitive improvements and that the price of superannuation was still very high.

The new super system package recommended by the Murray inquiry has the potential to increase an average weekly earning-male by 25-40 per cent in retirement.

The FSI said that subject to a scheduled review of super by 2020, there would be a formal competitive process to allocate new default fund members (those who don’t nominate a super fund) to MySuper products, based on performance.

“This option should stimulate competition in the default market,” the inquiry said.

Solar energy world first in Australia

Pioneer: Professor Martin Green, director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics at the University of NSW.Australian solar power researchers have achieved world-beating levels of efficiency, potentially making large solar plants more competitive with other energy sources such as coal.
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A team from the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (PV) at the University of NSW has achieved 40.4 per cent “conversion efficiency” by using commercially available solar cells combined with a mirror and filters that reduce wasted energy.

Martin Green, the centre’s director, said the independently verified breakthrough eclipsed previous records without resorting to special laboratory PV cells that “you’ve got no chance of buying commercially”. Other top-performing solar panels convert about 36 per cent of the sunlight that falls on them into electricity.

The advance involved two steps. Three solar panels were stacked to capture energy from different wave lengths of sunlight, and then excess light from the stacked panels was directed by a mirror and filters to a fourth PV cell, making use of energy previously discarded.

“This is our first re-emergence into the focused-sunlight area,” said Professor Green, who pioneered 20 per cent-efficiency levels in similar technology in 1989.

The institute was prompted to revisit the technology in part because of Australian companies’ efforts to develop large-scale solar towers using arrays of mirrors to focus sunlight on PV cells.

One of those firms, Melbourne-based RayGen, collaborated with UNSW on the project. It is building a plant in China with an solar conversion rate of about 28 per cent across the year.. “We’d take them to the mid-30s” for future projects with the technology jump, Professor Green said.

Professor Green was critical of the federal government’s efforts to scrap the Australian Renewable Energy Agency – which chipped in $550,000 to the $1.3 million Power Cube project – and for its ongoing attempts to reduce the Renewable Energy Target set for 2020.

“A positive attitude to renewables would boost all these initiatives, a negative attitude will suppress them,” he said. “Clamping down on deployment of renewables will make it more difficult for developments like this to see the light of day.”

The next goal is to raise efficiency levels of concentrating solar to 42 per cent next year, about half way to the theoretical maximum level of 86 per cent. It’s an issue likely to be discussed as Sydney plays host to the Asia-Pacific Solar Research Conference this week.

“It’s horse and buggy days as far as solar is concerned at the moment. There’s just this enormous potential for improvement in efficiency,” Professor Green said.

“To turn your back on those types of developments doesn’t seem to me to be a very sensible strategy.”

The university’s Mark Keevers led the engineering work on the so-called high efficiency spectrum splitting prototype, and its results were confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at its outdoor test facility in the US.

SMSF leverage too much risk for some, in these uncertain times

The inquiry’s interim report surprised industry observers. Photo: Christopher PearceGreg Angelo is not a man who is big on risk.
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Angelo is 67, a former accountant now studying to be an auditor. His wife is also 67, and still works a couple of days at a nearby school. They manage a small publishing business. Angelo is the new breed of retiree – one who retires but continues to work. He took a keen interest in the Murray inquiry.

The inquiry’s interim report surprised industry observers by focusing heavily on SMSF regulation, the final report has done the opposite and surprised observers by barely touching on the sector at all.

The remaining headline recommendation is for a blanket ban on leveraging within super, which Murray found to be unjustifiably risky.

Angelo, as you’d expect, agrees.

He shifted to an SMSF largely to avoid having to deal with financial advisers. He manages his fund using cheap online software, and does not have to deal with the “sharks” trying to hustle him into bad investments.

But there are plenty of SMSF holders less sophisticated than him, he worries.

“There’s a prudential issue with people who don’t necessary fully understand risk being dragged into property investment schemes through the back door.”

He is not a man who takes risks, least of all in these uncertain modern times. His self-managed super fund is narrowly invested – almost all in cash, with a small holding in gold as a hedge. Because these days you never know what could happen.

“We’re buying flexibility and sacrificing yield, because I don’t trust politicians, I don’t trust international money markets, and I want, in fairly uncertain times, to maintain flexibility,” he says.

Over in Kew, Andrew Cullinan somehow finds himself in the office on a Sunday, tidying papers. He’s had time to glance at Murray’s recommendations too, and is not so impressed.

Cullinan is a director at accountants Leebridge Group, and advises about 180 clients with SMSFs – as well as finding time to sit on the board of the Self-managed Independent Superannuation Funds Association.

Leverage and its inherent risk is a normal, effective part of the wider economy, he says. Its not reasonable to exclude SMSFs from exploring the option as part of a sensible investment strategy.

“The inquiry almost comes from a position of worst-case scenario. It’s probably not a practical, realistic position.”

Cullinan’s own SMSF is significantly leveraged, allowing him to spread more heavily into equities than he otherwise could have. He’s comfortable with the risk he has taken weighted against the potential rewards.

“I’ve got a higher investment pool for growth than what I otherwise would have.”

Movie Nightcrawler offensive, says real overnight TV newsman

Overnight TV newsman Chris Keane hopes the public is not misled by the movie Nightcrawler.. Photo: Jesse MarlowA Melbourne overnight TV news cameraman has criticised the antics of his fictional, sleazy Los Angeles counterpart in the new movie Nightcrawler as offensive and unrealistic.
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Chris Keane says the on-screen actions of creepy lensman Lou Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, are repugnant and a sensational Hollywood fantasy.

“I found the film offensive professionally, and I hope the public can differentiate between a Hollywood sensational thriller and what we do out there in the real world,” said Keane.

“He has no morals and he does everything to an extreme.”

Among the Bloom character’s actions are: Arriving at a car crash before emergency services, he moves a bloodied body so he can get a better shot.

He sabotages a rival cameraman’s van, causing him to crash, then films a close-up of the rival’s bloodied face on the stretcher.

Bloom arrives before police to a home invasion, enters the house to film two bodies, and he keeps filming rather than giving first aid when he finds a third victim still breathing.

In reality, Keane, 60, is a proud professional who has covered overnight crime, accidents and fires for over 15 years.

He says after Princess Diana died in a 1997 car crash,chased by paparazzi in Paris, Keane would be regularly abused by the public as “scum”.

Three years ago, while filming an assault victim at Caulfield train station, a teenage thug who thought he shouldn’t be there threw a full, energy drink can at Keane, breaking his jaw.

Keane says the public needs to know that Nightcrawler is “extraordinarily unrealistic”.

“It’s repugnant. It’s so over the top and so ‘Hollywood treatment’, but there’s going to be people out there that view it and go [to real cameramen], ‘those scumbags’.”

Keane says any cameraman who crossed police tape or shoved a camera between a paramedic and the wounded “wouldn’t last five minutes”. Police would arrest them, or send them to film from a mile away.

He says good operators work with emergency services. If they’re patient and respectful, authorities will let them film closer and give interviews when they’re ready.

His footage is shared between the ABC and channels 7, 9 and 10, but Keane is employed by the ABC, so unlike Bloom, he doesn’t hawk his footage to the highest bidder.

It can be adrenaline-fuelled. On one recent night, , Keane drove to Tallarook, north of Melbourne, to film a woman being rescued after falling down a cliff, then rushed back to Docklands to film evacuations from an apartment building fire.

Unlike Bloom, Keane doesn’t speed and has never arrived at a scene before police, but if he did and there was a wounded person, he would put aside his camera to help them.

A colleague did, in fact, once come across a man critically injured in a hit-run in South Yarra, and resuscitated him.

Keane works five days every second week, from 8pm to 6am. He has been to “some pretty bad scenes” but has learned to switch off, is married with two sons and maintains hobbies outside of work such as photography and leadlighting.

It is not pleasant filming firefighters pulling teenage bodies from car crashes. But it can show the consequences of speeding, drinking, or fooling around on the roads.

Recently he filmed a motorcyclist who covered his own number plate so he could “go at stupid speeds” down the Princes Highway. The rider crashed into a car and was badly injured.

Keane says one positive of his job is “showing the skills and abilities of all the emergency services working together to save someone”.

Keane urges young people to “please take on board what we’re showing you, and what the police are telling you, and be there at Christmas for the family”.