Will viewers notice any difference if the Nine Network is sold off by PBL? The answer is no, there might actually be an improvement if the management of the network is changed, though that seems unlikely.

The word is Eddie McGuire will remain in charge of Nine and the recently-appointed Ian Law will stay at ACP magazines. And the man overseeing Nine’s woes in recent years, John Alexander, is tipped to remain a PBL board member and CEO of the media spin-off.

So for all intents and purposes, PBL and James Packer are just looking for a couple of well-heeled private equity buyers who can give him $3 billion for 50-60% of a bunch of media assets and, apparently, cop a management team imposed by the vendor.

But the likes of Newbridge Capital, KKR and Ironbridge Capital, not to mention CVC, do not look like charities.

The Nine Network needs work but ACP doesn’t and nor does Ninemsn. Loading debt on these assets makes no sense unless there’s an exit strategy in mind or in place. Where’s the cash out, the payoff for the investors?

So why is James Packer selling or looking to sell?

Is it because he thinks he won’t be able to find a group of potential buyers like the private equity groups in the future? And because prices are high because of the media law changes and will fall once that subsides?

Since his father died last December, James Packer has removed many former executives and board members loyal to KP, appointed board members closer to him and Alexander (Chris Corrigan, David Lowy and Chris Mackay of UBS), restarted the executive share scheme, awarded senior management tens of millions of dollars of shares and now is negotiating the partial sale of Nine and ACP, two businesses close to his late father’s heart.

No-one could accuse him of sitting on his hands.

Peter Fray

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