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Media briefs: Murdoch v Malone … Super Bowl TV record …

Murdoch v Malone: the return match … Reporting from Arnhemland: surreal experience … Super Bowl sets new US TV record …

Murdoch v Malone: the return match. Rupert Murdoch’s two media giants, 21st Century Fox and News Corp, report half-year financial results on Friday. You can bet Murdoch, if he attends either briefing, won’t raise the rapidly growing pay TV empire that John Malone is putting together. In Europe and in the UK, Murdoch is now running headlong into Malone, who has proven to be Murdoch’s nemesis twice in the past decade, at a cost of over $US5 billion.

The first clash was a decade ago when Malone raided News Corp’s share register and picked up an 23% stake as Murdoch shifted the company’s domicile to the US from Australia. Malone was finally bought out with cash and shares in DirecTV and several smaller regional TV businesses. Malone then used that to float DirectTV, make billions of dollars and then sell down his stake. In Australia, Malone held out selling control of Austar to News/Foxtel for several years, but eventually forced Foxtel, 50% controlled by Murdoch, to pay close to $2 billion for Austar in 2012. Austar, the regional pay TV business, was 54% controlled by Liberty Global, one of Malone’s key companies. That gave Liberty well over $US1 billion in cash.

Now he’s busy through his two main companies, Liberty Global (for international deals) and Liberty Media (for US deals), in trying to consolidate the US and European pay TV industries, while grabbing a foothold as the No. 2 operator in the UK. And he is starting to build a European sports pay TV network. All up, the deals he has been involved in since buying control of Virgin in the UK a year ago for $US23 billion (including debt) tops the $US110 billion value mark.

The Financial Times reports today that Malone has approached private equity group CVC, the principal shareholder in Formula One car racing, about buying a stake in the motor racing series. Such a move, the paper remarked, “would also intensify the rivalry between Mr Malone and Mr Murdoch, who made an unsuccessful pitch to buy F1 three years ago”.

Such a move adds to the frenetic pace of dealing by Malone, both in the US and in Europe. In the past three weeks alone Liberty Global has taken control of Eurosport, the second-biggest pay TV sports channel across Europe through his 30% controlled associate, Discovery; bought control of a Dutch pay TV operator for $US13.5 billion; and is now eyeing a Spanish pay TV company (in competition with Vodafone of the UK) in a deal that could top $US11 billion. That’s close to $US50 billion worth of deals in Europe in the past year alone.

Malone is also involved in an industry-consolidating $US61 billion offer for Time Warner Cable, via a smaller rival called Charter Communications, 27% controlled by Liberty Media. Reports last week suggest Charter will be helped in its bid for Time Warner via a side deal in which Comcast, America’s biggest cable group, would buy Time Warner assets in several markets, including the lucrative New York area and New England. If Charter manages to buy Time Warner Cable, Murdoch will have to do a deal with it to carry his fledgling Fox Sports channels. And in Europe, Malone is starting to outflank Murdoch’s BSkyB in the UK, Sky Deutschland in Germany and Sky Italia in Italy. — Glenn Dyer

Reporting from Arnhem Land: surreal experience. “Fuck Maningrida”. That’s what the graffiti scrawled on the community store says. They’re harsh words, angry words, and they give me a jolt as I sit on the nice, clean mini bus while someone fetches my lunch. I’m with a dozen other journalists from around the Northern Territory waiting to tour the community and report on a trachoma eradication program there.

It’s a good news story that’s a bad news story. Trachoma is a communicable disease that can cause blindness; it’s a bacterial infection in the eye linked to poor hygiene and poverty. It’s predominantly found in the Third World, but is badly affecting Aboriginal people in First World Australia. And the levels of trachoma in Maningrida are particularly high: the community of 3000 people is one of the biggest in the Northern Territory, and overcrowding is rife.

So with all that in mind, we board a charter flight one Wednesday morning at 7am. Like a packhorse strapped with recording equipment, I clamber into the fixed-wing plane and we take off with small jumps through the turbulence. The landscape out my scratched window is spectacular as we pass over the snaking waterways and remote coastline all the way to Arnhem Land. — Miranda Tetlow (read more at The Northern Myth)

Super Bowl sets new US TV record. Boy, Americans do love their football. And the game doesn’t even have to be close. The Seattle Seahawks’ walkover of the Denver Broncos in yesterday’s Super Bowl attracted a staggering 111.5 million viewers to host broadcaster Fox — making it the most-watched television event in United States history. The previous record was set during the 2012 Super Bowl, which was watched by 111.3 million viewers. In a poor comparison: last year’s AFL grand final averaged 3.6 million viewers nationally.

And even then not everyone on the couch was tuned in. In a clever bit of counter-programming, a new episode of British mega-hit Downton Abbey aired opposite the Fox telecast on PBS — and grabbed a highly respectable 6.8 million viewers, down only slightly on the 8.2 million who watched the previous episode. As The New York Times reports: “Considering that viewers can now easily record Downton to view later, the total remains impressive.” PBS dubbed the episode “Drama Bowl”. — Cassidy Knowlton

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