Rupert Murdoch is a wily old bird: says one thing, does another. Has done all his life. For the past 18 months he’s been telling anyone who would listen how important new media is and putting his money were his mouth was with MySpace ($US600 million) and a myriad other deals.

But what does he do next? Spend the best part of $2.9 billion on deals with old media companies: the first was the $380 million raid on Fairfax last month, then News Corp spent $170 million on 25 titles from FPC Magazines and now the $2.32 billion raid on ITV in London on Friday to try and prevent a merger that would seriously threaten his UK empire and his stranglehold on the number two spot in British broadcasting. Murdoch’s BSkyB snapped up just over 17% of ITV which is thinking about a merger offer from NTL, a cable, telco and internet business in which Sir Richard Branson has an interest.

Branson has been driving towards a merger with ITV, a move that would have seriously damaged BSkyB and exposed its limited and inadequate satellite pay TV model to intense competition from all sources of media delivery (terrestrial, internet, cable and some satellite).

NTL might have had a competitor in RTL, a similar European media group (in which Bertelsmann of Germany has a large stake). RTL had been talking to US equity group, KKR about financing a deal in much the way CVC got into bed with PBL in Australia.

ITV is “old media” to use Murdoch’s description of Australian TV, but it’s the one area where he is really comfortable.

And after spending that sort of money on old media, we should never, ever believe him or his executives who say that Australian free to air TV networks are too expensive. They aren’t, at least compared to ITV where he paid a premium of more than 16% to the then market price in his off-market raid.

In all things Murdoch it pays to keep a very close eye on what he does with his money. Yes there have been those internet deals but the raid on Fairfax told us another story.

Peter Fray

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