Gordon continues the hunt for Ten. Bruce Gordon is in the country for a re-examination of what the future holds for his privately owned media business, WIN. He discussed selling part or all of it to Macquarie last year and is now looking at a range of options ahead of the changes to the media laws. But one part of his strategy has been maintained: the stalking of the Ten Network. But why is the question. Gordon, through his private investment company, Birketu, has lifted his holding in Ten to 14.04%, or just over 56 million shares, but his effective interest is closer to 6% because of the 57% holding by Canwest which will be freed from the constraints of the old media laws, when Media Minister, Senator Coonan sees her way to proclaiming the new laws. The reason why the purchase has raised eyebrows, besides the reworking of the company’s future strategy, is the ongoing testing of a sales process by Ten’s major shareholder, Canwest. Indicative bids from interested parties were due late last week and have to include the same offer for the minorities, including Gordon and WIN. A merger with Ten would breach the 75% limit (no TV licensee can reach more than 75% of the Australian population directly), but some analysts speculate there could be a giant deal involving Ten, Canwest, WIN and Southern Cross, plus Macquarie Media with three companies being created out of the four (Ten, Southern Cross and Macquarie Media) — Glenn Dyer

Austar posts strong results. Regional pay TV operator, Austar United Communications has reported a sharp rise in earnings for the 2006 year. The company said in a statement yesterday that net profit after tax hit $210.19 million, up 247 per cent on the prior corresponding period, although the result was distorted by a collection of one-off items. The company said these included a tax credit of $243.1 million, which was offset by a $84.2 million goodwill adjustment. A truer indication of how the company performed came from earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation which rose 10 per cent to $142 million last year; while earnings before interest and tax (another measure) rose 31 per cent to just over $84 million. Austar said it had ended the 2006 year with a record number of subscribers: revenue rose 11 per cent to $502.8 million as Austar added 67,166 subscribers to its service, resulting in a total of 601,126 subscribers. — Glenn Dyer

Seven director resigns over private equity conflict. Seven Network director, Gordon Cairns, has resigned from the board due to a possible conflict of interest relating to his involvement with private equity group, CVC Asia. Seven announced the resignation late yesterday. The conflict is that CVC Asia is involved with PBL Media while rival buyout group KKR has bought 50% of Seven Media. Seven has its first board meeting of the year today, ahead of the results on Thursday, so to avoid learning something at Seven that might compromise him, he resigned yesterday. The PBL board meets tomorrow as does the board of PBL Media. PBL results are due out on Friday morning. — Glenn Dyer

Green light for City Homicide. The Seven Network has finally commissioned a series of City Homicide after it looked like being axed before it even got to the screen. But rather than use the pilot shot for the program, which stars Shane Bourne, Seven are re-shooting many of the scenes. That will effectively make it a new episode even though the script will not change. The pilot upset Seven programmer, Tim Worner, who initially rejected it, but discussions with Seven’s head of drama, John Holmes, and the producers of the program, have changed minds and the series will now be made to screen later in the year in an 8.30pm timeslot, possibly Mondays. While that generated a little controversy inside the Network, the move by Seven to import a New Zealand production company to shoot an Australian version of a Kiwi observational doco has upset some independent producers. Seven is importing Greenstone Pictures from across the Tasman to start shooting an Australian version of Serious Crash Unit, which Seven is showing Wednesdays at 8pm, right after Border Security. — Glenn Dyer

Mile-high and low brow. It’s been head to head all week in a small frenzy of pulchritudinous fascination, a clash of trailer trash: Britney v Lisa Robertson. And the winner is (thanks to the eagle eye of Media Monitors):

Since February 11

Press mentions: Lisa 134, Britney 92

Radio/TV: Lisa 1050, Britney 1700

A split decision.

Last night’s TV ratings

The Winners: Dancing with the Stars returned last night much stronger than the lacklustre Series Five at the end of 2006. Viewers appreciated the better standard of celebrity and the new judge (who is from the British original and also judges the US version). As a result the program had some zing and an average 1.813 million people tuned in, much higher than the start of the last series. It was the most watched program on the night when Seven won by a country mile. Helping it was All Saints (boosted by the Dancing audience at 9.40pm) with 1.389 million viewers. Seven News was next with 1.310 million followed by Today Tonight with 1.218 million. Home and Away was next with 1.155 million, followed by A Current Affair (1.152 million), Nine News (1.129 million), Ten’s NCIS at 8.30pm (1.101 million), and Ten’s Tuesday Simpsons (1.094 million for the fresh ep at 7.30pm and 1.009 million for the 8 pm repeat). The Biggest Loser at 7pm, 943,000. Grumpy Old Holidays on the ABC at 8pm, 690,000, which is about right for a program that has run out of ideas. Ten’s The OC is another program to have run out of ideas: 619,000 and it finishes up on Friday night with a double episode.

The Losers: Not Bert’s Family Feud, back up to 543,000, but Deal or No Deal falling to 699,000. Nine’s Justice at 9.35pm, 834,000, the 8.30 repeat of CSI, 826,000, Temptation, 868,000. Seven’s stronger lineup hurt, but while the repeat of CSI might be good for costs (it costs virtually nothing to rescreen), it leaves the network short and looking undermanned. Which was probably what was planned: run dead and hand the night to Seven. Does Nine have anything to attack Seven with anyway? Neighbours, 663,000, down on Monday night and again looking weak.

News & CA: Seven News won nationally by 281,000 and didn’t need its usual big win in Perth. It won all but Adelaide. It was much closer though at 6.30pm with ACA within sight of TT which had to use its big win in Perth by 127,000 to win nationally by 66,000. TT lost Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. It won Melbourne and Perth. That was TT‘s worst performance for several weeks. The 7pm ABC News averaged 977,000, The 7.30 Report, 779,000, Lateline, 220,000 and Lateline Business 97,000. Ten News was solid with 864,000, as was the Late News/Sports Tonight at 10.30pm with 415,000. Nine’s Nightline averaged 265,000 at 11.35 pm and at the end of a weak night’s viewing. SBS News, 171,000, the Late at 9.30pm, 217,000 (what’s that saying about when SBS viewers really want to watch the news? In the morning 7am Sunrise 461,000, 7am Today up to 324,000 both boosted by the arrival of the liner Queen Mary II yesterday morning with live pictures, crosses etc all morning. Both early broadcasts were boosted as well.

The Stats: Seven’s win was large (and a bit of a surprise), it won with a share of 37.2% (32.1%) from Nine with 23.0% (25.4), Ten with 21.1% (21.9%), the ABC with 13.3% (15.5%) and SBS with 5.4% (5.2%). Seven won all five markets and in its usually strong Brisbane market it finished a close third to Ten!. Seven leads the week with 33.5% to Nine with 25.1%. Seven will win the week. In regional areas Prime/7Qld won with a share of 34.5% from WIN/NBN with 26.6%, Southern Cross (Ten) with 20.9%, the ABC with 13.0% and SBS with 5.1%.

Glenn Dyer’s comments: Seven will be happy: Dancing with the Stars faded badly late last year. This time around more attention has been paid to the talent, the judging panel and the direction seemed crisper and Dazza Somers didn’t ramble too much. Nine’s faded performance surprised a bit. It doesn’t have much and the CSI repeat option isn’t a strong suit against a program that attracts huge audiences for two hours or more, so prudence says run dead to live again, like tonight and Thursday. Nine has McLeod’s Daughters, Cold Case and Without a Trace as its lineup from 7.30pm. Seven has Border Security (a recut of bits from old programs) and Serious Crash Unit then Heroes and Prison Break – On The Run (and 24 if anyone is interested). Ten has the dying Con Test at 7.30pm, House at 8.30pm and then Medium. The ABC has Spicks and Specks at 8.30pm and Extras at 9pm. Seven will win but Nine and Ten will do better from the second best night of viewing in the week now after Sunday evenings.

Peter Fray

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