We now know that James Packer is the reason Foxtel hasn’t done a deal with Seven and Ten over the AFL Pay TV rights. We also know that James Packer is pushing for more cost cutting at Nine. And we know that someone is trying to ruin A Current Affair‘s recovery this year under Tracy Grimshaw. And that Eddie McGuire is “working closely with Ian Law” on cost cuts and programming for profit initiatives.

We know those things thanks to the seemingly daily update on the health of the Packer media and gambling empire from News Ltd newspapers.

There were two stories in today’s Australian. And last week the Daily Telegraph reported on James Packer’s new $38 million apartment in London and a new $50 million boat from Italy that he is about to import. All this, despite the fact that James Packer approved Sarah Murdoch’s Today show gig.

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But today’s stories go up a notch in intensity because they directly deal with News Ltd-Packer business dealings at Foxtel and Premier Media/Fox Sports.

The most damaging was the news in the AFL rights story that James Packer was blocking any move by Foxtel to increase its $45 million offer to Seven and Ten for the pay TV rights from 2007 onwards, and that Austar, the regional Pay TV group, has been co-opted to make a financial contribution to the rights.

Foxtel has been criticised by News twice in the past five days over the AFL Pay TV rights debacle. The way the news about Packer’s intransigence on this issue has been dribbled out is damaging and shows the extent of unhappiness at his stand and the way News sees the threat to Foxtel’s business plans for next year if there’s no AFL.

It should also be seen in the light of the other story in The Oz about the cost cutting and how Eddie McGuire was working with PBL Media CEO, Ian Law, instead of offering his resignation.

Eddie has got a bit of a reputation for being a drama queen with at least three offers to resign. Nine is trying to complete ad revenue sales talks this week and is facing the unpleasant prospect of taking a lower rate or no rate rise (a real cut) compared to Seven and Ten.

Hence the cost cuts: the NRL Footy Show host, Paul Vautin has been told to slice his huge $600,000 a year salary in half, co-host Peter Sterling has been quietly pushed from the show and left in the commentary team in his new deal and it’s likely other cost cuts are coming.

News reporters and presenters have also been told to take a salary cut, or leave. Nine News is cutting costs by outsourcing news broadcasts to Sky News Australia and yet a new daytime chat show called Catch U is being proposed and one of the hosts will be the very expensive Rebecca Wilson, now on Vega FM radio in Sydney and at the Sydney and Sunday Telegraphs.

Any talk of involvement in these moves by CVC, the foreign partner in PBL Media is wrong and the journalists concerned missed the announcement on Friday from ACMA of an enforceable undertaking signed by PBL Media on that very issue.

Some at Nine and PBL are also wondering how close Eddie McGuire and his mate,  Jeff Browne have become in recent weeks, with the suggestion Jeff is now liking network TV very much and would like a career in it.

After all he now finds that at PBL Media there are people (Ian Law, Pat O’Sullivan, James Packer and John Alexander) who share his belief that Network TV is a “bucketful of contracts” and very easy to fix.

And word is now out that Nine made a very determined attempt to woo David Mott away from the Ten Network in September. Mott is Ten’s chief programmer and shares much of the responsibility for Ten’s ratings recovery in 2006.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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