Michael Pascoe writes:

The Packer and Murdoch camps have a
reasonably cosy relationship these days, but they are still capable of a little
competition around the edges of their main games. A few magazines operate in
the same space and there’s some overlapping in their internet operations – and
that’s the bit that might become interesting as it builds into a more important
business.

What to make then of this morning’s Oz
story
about just what went on in a meeting between Sol Trujillo and James
Packer over a proposal to combine the Ninemsn and Sensis search engine operations to take on Google, Yahoo! and
(shudder) News Ltd?

Sol might need to be wary treading where it
seems his two immediate predecessors failed in dealing with the media moguls.
Yesterday’s Kerry Stokes v World court case heard that even Murdoch man Ken
Crowley warned Telstra that it was being done like a dinner over Fox Sports by
PBL and News. The SMHreports:

Mr Akhurst also had no
recollection of 1999 warnings from the former News Ltd chief executive Ken
Cowley to the then Telstra chief executive Frank Blount about Fox Sports
overcharging Foxtel for its sporting programs.

“Ken Cowley told Frank
Blount on two occasions that News were attempting to screw us and that he
thought it was completely unacceptable,” said a briefing document for a
January 1999 meeting attended by Mr Akhurst.

It also recorded Mr Cowley as
telling Dr Switkowski and two other Telstra executives “that he thought it
was criminal what News and PBL were up to and he was worried about Australia’s future in the area”.

Oh dear. Ken might be retired, but the News
Ltd lads won’t be happy about such apparent disloyalty to the Sun King’s
interests.

The Oz story reads like Michael Sainsbury
has had a reasonable briefing of what went on:

The meeting … was attended by Sensis chief executive
Bruce Akhurst and strategy chief Gerry Sutton. Telstra chief executive Sol
Trujillo also took BigPond chief Justin Milne and strategic marketing group
managing director Bill Stewart to the meeting with PBL chief James Packer.
Sources said the talks were “preliminary” and added: “There have
been preliminary talks before.”

Analysts said the combination of Sensis’s local
databases and Microsoft’s massive investment in search capabilities would be
complementary.

But Mr Packer is believed to be keen to quickly make a
broad range of alliances through Ninemsn, to build the company into Australia’s leading new
media group. PBL deputy chairman Chris Anderson took over as chairman of the
Ninemsn alliance on March 12. The chair rotates between the two companies.

The industry has been surprised by the early success
of News’s truelocal.com.au, a local search facility.

The yarn deteriorates into the usual News
PR stuff about how good its product suddenly is, but the warning shot has been
fired. It might be a brave or foolish Trujillo who thinks
PBL might treat him better than it did Blount and Switkowski.

Peter Fray

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