ACM owner Antony Catalano has unveiled an ambitious digital property strategy for his regional media business after confirming that he holds a major stake in a national real estate listings portal.
Mr Catalano has joined the board of realestateview.com.au and, together with business partner and ACM co-owner Alex Waislitz, now holds the largest interest in the online platform, with an economic stake of 26 per cent.
When combined with Mr Catalano's existing digital property marketing ventures, the move delivers a full suite of advertising and listings services for property buyers, sellers and developers.
The portal partnership is the latest step towards the ACM executive chairman's ambition to build the country's biggest regional media business and helps explain his aggressive pursuit of a shareholding in TV broadcaster Prime.
"ACM is a very good business, with a number of very good titles and a very large audience of 4.4 million print readers and 3.7 million digital readers and we've now got a partnership play with a property portal that has an audience of 1.7 million," Mr Catalano, former chief executive of listed property company Domain, said.
"That gives our organisation access to digital audiences of around 5.4 million which makes us one of the largest digital groupings in the country."
ACM is the publisher of this website and 170 newspapers around the country, including The Canberra Times, Newcastle Herald, The Land and The Border Mail.
The portal move could be perceived as a challenge to leading listings platforms Domain, majority owned by Nine Entertainment Co, and realestate.com.au, controlled by News Corp.
But Mr Catalano said his only focus was "to grow a sustainable digital media business based on the strengths I've previously displayed in real estate and digital publishing".
Chief executive of realestateview Toby Balazs welcomed the opportunity to extend the portal's brand through ACM's network of local news websites and newspapers, including 14 daily titles.
"Antony has an impressive track record of rapidly growing media businesses, particularly in the real estate category," Mr Balazs said.
"I feel confident that realestateview.com.au will grow its market value immensely by becoming part of Antony's cross-platform media network."
With the Real Estate Institute of Victoria and industry bodies in other states retaining a significant holding in realestateview, media interests will account for a combined 36 per cent stake in the portal, giving it a platform extending to more than 270 publications nation-wide.
Mr Catalano said realestateview carried 75 per cent of the residential real estate listings in Australia, and had excellent search engine optimisation to reach buyers looking online for property.
"It's clearly number three after Domain but what it doesn't have is the Channel Nine backing that Domain has had or the News backing that REA [Group] has had," he said. "Now ACM can provide realestateview with the media partner to allow it to expand its brand.
"It is a business that I have always watched closely, certainly it was a competitor to Domain in my time there, and the fact that it has been industry owned for many years is important."
The online platform was launched in 2001 by agents and industry groups and offers buyers and sellers price data as well as listings.
Partnering with Mr Waislitz and his Thorney Investment Group, Mr Catalano bought the Australian Community Media publications from Nine last year after its merger with Fairfax Media.
Upon taking control in July 2019, the former journalist and property editor of The Age newspaper signalled he was planning a digital strategy to complement ACM's print offering in real estate.
Last week ACM announced a pilot in Newcastle of Today Acquire, a digital marketing tool that allows property vendors to reach online users identified as potential buyers but who are not actively searching on a listings portal. Technology partner The Today Business counts Mr Catalano as a co-founder.
"I'm developing a digital media strategy to support our traditional media business," he said.
"Property buyers and sellers in our regions and our communities, and the customers that we serve through our regional media assets, will now have a better bundled offering which includes our print products and a partnership arrangement with realestateview that provides a print and digital solution.
"Coupled with the Acquire product as an off-portal solution, and a suite of other associated real estate ventures, we are doing everything we can to make it easier for buyers and sellers."
Just as the former Fairfax Media had reinvented its famous "rivers of gold" print classified advertising revenue through the digital growth of Domain, Mr Catalano said a "symbiotic relationship" between ACM and his real estate ventures would allow "the real estate business to support ACM and ACM to support the real estate business".
"I'm not one of those people who believe traditional media is dead - I believe it is being transformed.
"The message to our communities is that we will be asking them to support us through our real estate portal and other digital media assets and, as our earnings grow, that will help sustain our media assets which play an important role in serving our local communities."
Mr Balazs, who joined realestateview from REA Group in June 2018, said a successful capital raising late last year helped realestateview strengthen its focus on delivering improved results for customers.
"The business has achieved some remarkable results in the past 12 months - audience has grown by over 40 per cent and we've launched a number of key initiatives, including our Price Estimator experience powered by CoreLogic's market-leading property data," he said.
"With Antony's strong relationships across the real estate industry and the strong alignment to our ownership structure of publishers, real estate agents and real estate institutes, we're now excited to bring together this extended suite of assets to deliver true value to agents, vendors and buyers."
It's not clear what a realestateview tie-up means for ACM's existing agreement for Domain branding to appear in its newspapers, including such key titles as The Courier in Ballarat, The Examiner in Launceston and Sydney's St George and Sutherland Shire The Leader.
In the ACT, The Canberra Times carries the weekly property liftout of Domain-owned Allhomes under an agreement struck as part of Nine's sale of ACM.
Since taking control of ACM, Mr Catalano and Mr Waislitz have merged the Bendigo Weeklynewspaper and its successful property guide into ACM's paid daily Bendigo Advertiser and acquired a major stake in Prime Media Group.
With ambitions to build a multi-media company serving regional Australia, Mr Catalano used his Prime stake in December to block Seven West Media's plan to swallow its beleaguered free-to-air TV affiliate.