Suddenly, TV is very much on the backburner at the
Packer Empire. In fact, you could say that free-to-air
TV is indeed a “legacy” business in the eyes of the Packers.

While
the lack of interest in the Nine Network at Park Street has been clear for a while,
this has been underlined by the decision to abandon New Zealand by
failing to use an option over 50% of Prime New Zealand last week when Rupert
Murdoch’s Sky TV came calling.

Sky
signalled its interest in Prime last week (owned by Prime TV in
Australia, the regional operator for
the Seven Network) and that interest was converted to ownership on Friday for
just over $28 million. That
was tea and biscuits money to the Packers but such is the disillusion at PBL and
Nine about the future of the business that that small amount was considered too
much.

The
income flow for Nine from selling the programming to
Prime NZ will continue so there was no need to protect that by exercising the
50% option taken when the programming deal was struck back in 2001. The option
was current till March 2007. But
with the Nine Network cutting costs and employees and due to reveal more in the
coming week or so, there is obviously no interest in spending more money growing into such a small TV market across the Tasman.

Nine
has effectively been running Prime NZ for the past 18 months or so. Sam
Chisholm, the Nine CEO was made chairman when he returned to the PBL board in
2004 (his official role on the PBL board is executive director in charge of TV,
both FTA and Pay).

Nine
provided the CEO last year in Chris Taylor, a former senior
sales executive and son of long time Packer TV executive Lynton Taylor,
who returned to Nine in the early months of this year to oversee sports rights
negotiations with the NRL and Cricket Australia. He may
be a chance to resume a senior role at Nine in
Sydney – perhaps even CEO?

With so
much knowledge of the business – which was still losing money, though at a
reduced rate – Nine and PBL obviously felt there was no point in buying Prime NZ
at a time when money is so tight at Willoughby. The
offer from Sky TV for Prime NZ forced the Packers and their advisers to put some
real cash on the table to protect their interest across the
ditch.

That
they didn’t says much about the future of Nine in
the eyes of the Packers and their view about the future of free-to-air TV.