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Cool nerve key on Masters first 9: Scott

Adam Scott’s nerves used to have him severely under the gun on the opening nine holes of the Masters.

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Now, with a green jacket safely tucked away in the Champions locker room, it’s a different story.

Scott completed his preparations for the 2015 Masters with a final trip around the front nine at August National, a collection of holes he has played 22-over-par in his 48 tournament rounds.

While those numbers aren’t great reading, it is worse when you look at just the opening seven, where the Queenslander is 41-over, with the opening hole (+20) his clear weakness.

His first birdies ever on number one, known as Tea Olive, came in the opening rounds over the last two years and as such the 2013 champion feels he’s on the way to handling the problem hole.

“I think a lot of the pressure is taken off when you’ve won it,” world No.6 Scott said with a smile.

“I certainly identified it was a problem and there will be nerves for sure but I’d like to see them calm early and get off to a good start.

“A good start here can really set you up for a great round and one great round can go a long long way at a major.”

Asked how countryman and world No.5 Jason Day might be feeling, given he hasn’t won a green jacket but is a hot tip from many this year, Scott expected nerves would be a factor early.

“This was and is the most nervous I feel at any event I wouldn’t be surprised if Jason is the same,” Scott said.

“Anyone coming in who has not won, it’s a dream to win, and those nerves build and questions are asked the longer it goes on.

“It’s very difficult.”

Day opted to finish his preparation with the social par-three contest, playing with his wife Ellie and two-year-old son Dash as caddies.

He then headed to the range for some last minute fine tuning given he will go out in the final group of the day in the opening round.

“The amount of preparation I’ve put in, I feel really good about it.

“But now it is about going out there and executing the game plan, executing the shots and giving yourself the chance of winning the tournament,” he said.

It is all the old cliches but it is real. I have to stay in the moment. I have to hit the shot that is in front of me.

“It’s exciting because it feels like it has been a long week and I’m looking forward to it because I know from Thursday to Sunday it is going to go quick.”

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Jack’s ball goes in One Direction for first Augusta ace

Nicklaus has never had a hole-in-one in 163 rounds on the Augusta National competition course, but an ace at the 130-yard fourth was a nice consolation prize.

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His shot across the DeSoto Springs Pond landed a few feet beyond the pin, took one hop forward and then put on the breaks and sucked back perfectly and disappeared into the hole.

“I had an interview this morning, and I said ‘well, all I’ve got to do is go out and win the Par-3 and make a hole and one’, and I make a hole in one,” Nicklaus told reporters afterwards.

Alas, that was the highlight of the six-time Masters champion’s day, as he later “choked” and put a ball in the water at the eighth hole.

World number one Rory McIlroy, in the group behind, saw Nicklaus’s ace from the nearby third green.

“I’m fortunate that I get to spend a little time around Jack, and I saw him practising for this day at the Bear’s Club the last couple of weeks down on Florida and he was taking it pretty seriously,” McIlroy said.

There were five aces in all, matching the record from 2002, and Colombian Camilo Villegas made two of them on a steamy afternoon in front of thousands of patrons who packed every nook and cranny on the compact nine-hole layout that is tucked away behind the 10th tee of the main course.

Woods, playing the Par-3 for only the second time, had two caddies – his daughter Sam and son Charlie – while girlfriend Lindsey Vonn swapped her ski suit for a lime green dress as she walked inside the ropes, completing an apparently perfect family outing.

Star sightings were everywhere. McIlroy was out-famed by his caddie, diminutive One Direction boy band member Niall Horan.

Though One Direction’s fan base skews somewhat younger than the average Masters spectator, 21-year-old Horan was widely recognised, according to Morgan Hoffman, who played with McIlroy.

“It was completely crazy,” Hoffman told Reuters.

For the record, American Kevin Streelman won the Par-3 in a playoff with Villegas, thereby disqualifying himself from any chance of winning the tournament proper, if past history is any guide.

No player has ever won the Par-3 and the main tournament in the same year, though that may be a coincidence more than the jinx it has come to be known as.

Streelman’s victory provided a special moment for his caddie, 13-year-old Ethan Couch.

Couch, who has a brain tumour, was invited by Streelman to caddie after they hooked up through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

(Editing by Steve Keating.)

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French banks ‘set lead’ by rejecting mines

Conservationists are calling on Australia’s banks to follow their French counterparts in refusing to fund proposed coal mines in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

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Major French banks BNP Paribas, Societe Generale, and Credit Agricole have written to campaign group Market Forces pledging not to fund the development of the Galilee.

Indian giant Adani has proposed to build the $16.5 billion Carmichael mine in the region and export at least 50 million tonnes of coal a year through the Abbot Point terminal, north of Bowen.

The plans are currently the subject of a legal challenge mounted by conservation group Coast and Country in Queensland’s land court.

The decision of the three French banks is telling, according to Greens Senator Christine Milne.

“These French banks are some of the world’s biggest coal industry lenders and even they can see that investing in the Galilee Basin coal mines is environmentally and financially reckless,” she said on Thursday.

The trio join another eight international banks that have stepped away from the projects, she said.

“This leaves Adani, which is already mortgaged to the hilt, with very few options to finance the Carmichael mine and Abbot Point coal port expansion.”

Greenpeace and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) echoed Ms Milne’s call for Australia’s banks to follow suit.

But Adani had not formally requested any financing from the three institutions and therefore the news had no bearing on the company, a spokesman said.

“Adani’s projects in Queensland comply with the strictest environmental conditions in a world’s best practice environmental approvals framework,” he said.

“The company continues to progress the financing arrangements for its projects in Australia.”

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Is Foxtel most at risk in the new Game of Screens?

Ben Goldsmith, Queensland University of Technology

In the US, the phenomenon of “cord-cutting”, or “churn” – when a consumer cancels their subscription to a cable or satellite pay television service, often in order to take up cheaper “over the top” services delivered online, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV – has attracted increasing attention in recent years.

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The US launch today of the stand-alone service HBO Now (initially available exclusively via Apple TV boxes) has increased the frenzy of reports on cord-cutting, and proliferated guides to “ditching cable”.

And yet while pay television subscriptions are falling in both the US and Canada, they are falling very slowly. One research firm has reported that the 13 largest US pay-television providers that collectively represent about 95% of the market, lost a total of 125,000 subscribers – or 0.1% of the total – in 2014.

In Canada, the drop in 2013 was even smaller, from 11.514 million to 11.507 million subscribers (or less than 0.1%). Meanwhile, revenues, profit, and employment in the sector all increased.

The Netflix wildcard

In Australia, Foxtel reported in its half-year results ending December 31, 2014 that its subscribers rose by 118,000 to 2.6 million. This rise, while probably due to substantial discounting by Foxtel in the lead-up to the Australian launch of Netflix, more than offset a very high churn rate of just below 11.5%.

Despite Foxtel’s rise in subscriptions, its revenue growth was a weak 1.2% for the half-year, and less than 30% of Australian households currently subscribe to a pay television service. This proportion has risen very slowly over the last decade. In the USA, the equivalent figure is more like 80%.

The “glass half full” take on this, represented by Telstra CEO David Thodey, (Telstra is a part-owner of Foxtel) is that the Australian subscription television/SVOD base is set to rise to approximately 70% in future. Thodey did not predict what proportion Foxtel would command.

At the end of 2014, approximately 40% of American households subscribed to an SVOD service, with Netflix by far the most popular.

In Australia, it has been reported that around 200,000 Australians have previously subscribed to the American Netflix service. Around ten times that number have reportedly indicated that they either already subscribe, or intend to subscribe to the Australian Netflix service. If this latter figure is correct, it is not far off Foxtel’s current subscriber base.

It is of course highly likely that many Foxtel subscribers are also subscribing to Netflix – at least during the latter’s initial first month free promotion. It will be fascinating to see whether Netflix’s numbers fall when this promotion ends.

Substantial price discounting

In November, Foxtel drastically reduced its prices for new subscribers, offering a range of new channel bouquets. In February, through its part-owner Telstra, Foxtel launched a “triple-play” bundle combining subscription television, broadband, and home phone.

And late last month, just as Netflix opened for business in Australia, Foxtel launched its new iQ3 set top box. Unfortunately for Foxtel, the box has been plagued with problems, much to subscribers’ annoyance.

All of these moves reflect the fact that Foxtel is not able to compete with Netflix on price alone. The new SVOD service’s basic offering costs A$8.99 per month, while Foxtel’s cheapest package is A$25 per month, which doesn’t include the new set top box.

Foxtel considers itself much more competitive in terms of content offered. Netflix’s Australian catalogue currently boasts about 1000 films and programs. This is substantially smaller than its offerings in the USA and Canada, leading the chief executive of News Corp (half-owner of Foxtel) to describe the Australian service as “slightly warmed-up leftovers”. This is both disingenuous, given Netflix’s investments in original content, and hypocritical, given some of the programs that fill Foxtel channels’ schedules. And further, takeup of Netflix to date suggests consumers are unconcerned.

Content will be king

Exclusive content is the main battleground, and Game of Thrones is Foxtel’s champion – for the next ten weeks, at least. Two years ago, Foxtel signed a deal with GoT’s producer HBO. This was soon followed by a landmark deal for first-release content with the BBC. And of course Foxtel also has a slew of sports content that Netflix cannot match, for the moment at least.

Neither should it be forgotten that Foxtel has its own VOD service – Foxtel Play – alongside Presto, its SVOD joint venture with Fairfax Media. In theory, Foxtel Play should be Foxtel’s trump card. Along with access to a huge back catalogue, the service also allows subscribers to watch live television online.

But the app that allows access to Foxtel Play on mobile devices – somewhat confusingly called Foxtel Go – is as buggy and unpopular with subscribers as the new iQ3 set top box. And judging by comments on the app’s page in the Appstore, and on Foxtel’s own Foxtel Go Community page, these problems are not new, and Foxtel seems unwilling or unable to do anything about them.

Foxtel has a number of advantages that should help it maintain its business for the time being. First, it has a large and still growing (albeit very slowly) subscriber base, which delivers a very healthy average revenue per user of around $100. However, high churn rates and the issues with some of its services and technologies suggest that subscribers are not all rusted on.

Second, it has an extensive catalogue of exclusive content, including an unmatched offering of sports programming.

Powerful backers

Third, it is an innovator, brokering deals to offer its services through devices such as Microsoft’s XBox and Sony’s Playstation, as well as online. Its set top box technology, in theory, is top of the range, although teething problems have taken a bite out of the iQ3. It offered catch-up services online in advance of most of its competitors, but technological problems persist.

Fourth, it has the backing of two major players in the form of joint owners Telstra and News Corp. Neither of these behemoths are likely to see their offspring go down without a fight, and there are clear indications that they will do all they can to prop it up.

The “triple play” deal leverages Telstra’s market power, with Foxtel also an integral part of Telstra’s T-Box service. And if Megan Brownlow, editor of PwC’s Australian Media and Entertainment Outlook, is correct in arguing that “This will be a marketing war not just a content war”, then News Corp will be an invaluable ally.

Watch this space

There are also several factors that play against Foxtel. First, its overheads are considerably higher than Netflix’s, given the technological infrastructure and support services that Foxtel must maintain.

Second, Australians are increasingly comfortable with VOD services. In research conducted prior to the launch of Netflix, over 50% of Australians surveyed reported regularly watching video online. 50% of those surveyed said that they would watch more content online if they had a faster Internet connection.

It will only be a matter of time before this changes. In its latest Internet Activity survey, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that at the end of 2014, almost 99% of all Internet connections were broadband. Over 70% of broadband subscribers have a service with an advertised download speed above 8Mbps. While many still experience lower speeds, this is still more than sufficient to receive VOD services in Standard Definition.

There may be no ultimate victor in the new Game of Screens. But judging by the contestants’ moves, and by the audiences they are attracting, it will be compulsive viewing for some time to come.

Ben Goldsmith does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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Police allegedly find blood, pic of body

Blood and a photo of what’s believed to be a burnt body have allegedly been found by police as a school cleaner prepares to front a NSW court where he’s expected to be charged with the murder of missing Leeton bride-to-be Stephanie Scott.

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A 24-year-old man, a cleaner at the local high school, was arrested at his family home in Leeton on Wednesday evening.

Police have allegedly found blood in a car and photos of the body on a mobile phone.

The man, who is understood to have moved to Australia from the Netherlands four years ago, is in police custody and will appear in Griffith Local Court later on Thursday.

Ms Scott, a English and drama teacher at Leeton High School, had been planning her marriage to her childhood sweetheart Aaron Woolley when she went missing on Easter Sunday.

Ms Scott’s body has not been found.

A week before her wedding day she went to her workplace to finalise a handover to a teacher replacing her while she went on honeymoon in Tahiti.

The 26-year-old was due to marry Mr Woolley in Eugowra on Saturday.

The town in southwest NSW, in the heart of the irrigation region, has a population of about 10,000.

Residents are in shock over the death of popular school teacher.

“We were all holding our hopes she’d be found alive and obviously to hear this, this morning, is just absolutely devastating,” said Leeton Shire mayor Paul Maytom.

“It’s devastating for the family and devastating for her fiance and devastating for all friends and our community,” he told Macquarie Radio on Thursday.

Ms Scott’s last known contact was an email she sent after midday on Sunday to a bus company about transporting wedding guests this weekend.

Officers visited a home on Maiden Avenue at about 7.30pm on Wednesday and were speaking to two residents, when a third resident, a 24-year-old man, arrived home.

Police are still searching for Ms Scott’s car, a red Mazda 3 sedan with the NSW registration BZ-19-CD.

Police are also keen to speak to anyone who may have seen an older model, white Toyota Hilux space-cab 2WD with a canopy over the back travelling in Leeton or the surrounding area.