How Kerry Stokes spends his $3.2 billion warchest will eventually decide the biggest winners and losers from Helen Coonan’s media concentration legislation, but there is one immediate loser from yesterday’s announcement: PBL Media executive chairman John Alexander.

The size of Stokes’s war chest means anything that Alexander might want to buy in the local market just became more expensive and therefore less likely to win approval from James Packer. The Seven Media deal makes it much harder to grow PBL Media and more likely that PBL will concentrate its future investment in gaming.

Oh there’s always the promise of international media investments – something within commuting distance of a Tuscan villa perhaps – but Alexander now has joint venture partner CVC looking over his shoulder and perhaps having second thoughts about his track record.

If nothing else, the numbers behind yesterday’s deal underline how Nine is being trashed on Alexander’s watch while Seven holds the momentum and the rising profits. But it’s not just the botching of Willoughby that’s looking unattractive as a similar story is starting to be told on the internet – Yahoo7 has come from nowhere in 12 months to be giving a tired Ninemsn a serious run for its money. As Michael Sainsbury points out in The Oz, Yahoo7 is an important billion-dollar part of KKR’s equation.

The Alexander technique of cost cutting has limits before it turns into a vicious cycle of cutbacks chasing declining profits forcing more cutbacks – which doesn’t end in private equity partners making their desired fortunes..

The Seven stable has a boss who seems committed to growing a profitable media empire. As Bryan Frith, Liz Knight et al observe, PBL doesn’t – and that could leave Alexander the executive chairman of a media vehicle going nowhere fast.

p.s. The Murdoch chorus, led by Tezza McCrann, continues to push the master’s line about the free-to-air networks getting favoured treatment in Helen Coonan’s media concentration frenzy. Just because it’s Rupert’s hypocritical self-interest at work, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

Peter Fray

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