Sky News political editor David Speers is expected to take a significant pay cut after accepting a role with the ABC replacing Insiders host Barrie Cassidy, fuelling speculation about why he would leave the 24-hour news channel after more than a decade.
Canberra-based Speers, who is still contracted to the Rupert Murdoch-owned cable network, is on a salary in excess of $500,000 at Sky and is among its highest paid hosts, media sources said.
The ABC did not pay any employee outside the leadership team more than $500,000 in the last financial year, with one staff member paid $482,705 including bonuses and superannuation. Out of 145 staff paid more than $200,000, nine were on a total remuneration of more than $350,000.
The taxpayer-funded public broadcaster is preparing for an $84 million budget cut beginning from the next financial year onwards.
The expectation Speers has accepted a pay cut has stoked speculation in media industry circles about his motivations for deciding to step away from Sky, particularly because the ABC has previously tried – and failed – to lure him away from the News Corp business.
Speers, 44, is described as a "straight shooter" by those in the media industry who said he may not have felt aligned with the increasingly conservative-skewed "after dark" hosts’ commentary.
One media executive said that on Sky it was increasingly the case that "opinion rates and straight news doesn’t" and the new path for the network may have left Speers looking for opportunities elsewhere.
Another reason could be the larger audience available on the ABC compared to Sky, which is predominantly watched on Foxtel and Bruce Gordon's WIN TV network.
Sky’s average audience during the daytime is in the tens of thousands on average compared to hundreds of thousands on Insiders, which competes with Seven’s Weekend Sunrise and Nine’s Weekend Today. (Nine is the owner of this masthead.)
A well-placed source said it "wouldn’t be the first time" a media personality had taken a pay cut for increased exposure and a clearer career path at the public broadcaster.
There was still uncertainty about the timing of his move to the ABC. Cassidy finishes up on Insiders on June 9 and Speers' two-year agreement is believed to be expiring at the end of the year. It's unclear whether there is a non-compete clause that would affect Speers' starting time after this point.
A Sky spokeswoman said their statement released last week that Speers "is under contract with Sky News" was still correct.
She would not answer additional questions. Speers and the ABC declined to comment.