So, is
Nine being prepared for sale? The
rumour persists and resurfaces at each round of
sackings and each time the
Macquarie Media fund is named as the most likely buyer. That
presupposes that PBL wants to sell. Certainly James Packer doesn’t have the instinct for TV
his father did, nor the interest.


Many of Nine’s problems can be traced back to decisions supported by
Kerry Packer and his right hand man, John Alexander. The network’s
problems were created from the start of 2002 when Packer sacked David
Leckie as CEO.


From
then there has been steady drain of good managers, executives and producers out
the door: fired, retrenched or leaving of their accord. People
like Peter Meakin, programmer John Stephens and Ian
Johnson, who are all now working for Leckie at Seven. Many of
those departures were engineered by Alexander but he’s escaped any blame. Kerry Packer
signed off on them, either directly or by not having them reversed, while as executive chairman James
Packer also played a role.

Now his
father is gone and James is clearly interested in gambling
and big deals: media in the shape of Nine and ACP
Magazines bores him. James
Packer is a cutter of media assets, not a builder.

And while the TV news and current affairs side of Nine is taking a
pounding, its overall ratings have picked up since the Commonwealth
Games. But it has to watch rival Ten closing in on Nine’s second place
in the very lucrative 25 to 54 age group, which accounts for 80% of ad
spending on commercial TV. If Ten reaches or even passes Nine this
year, its share of ad revenues in 2007 will come under pressure,
forcing another round of cuts.

For
that reason the prospects of Nine being sold appear
remote: deals can always be done, but the
price has to be right. Nine’s price for PBL would be much higher than what the
market would be willing to pay at the moment.

Peter Fray

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