Couple of questions about James Packer’s further retreat from Channel 9 and ACP:

1. Whatever happened to the idea of a control premium when there’s a takeover?

2. Does anyone else think it’s funny that selling half of PBL media at the start of the year was worth $4.6 billion, but selling a quarter of it now is generally tipped to be only worth $500 million?

The bigger figure was achieved through gearing up the PBL/CVC joint venture, but it is interesting to wonder about the mess made of 9 and ACP if their equity value now is only $1 billion. Heavens, Bondy theoretically paid that much just for 9 two decades ago.

But it’s the lack of a control premium that might concern any PBL investors who would dare to question the strategic skills of James Packer and John Alexander. They might also wonder if such a quick change from the bullish statements about the joint venture a few months ago to heading for the exit now smells of management on the hop — or an effective admission that Alexander has failed as “the country’s best media executive”.

The AFR ’s Chanticleer column circles the control question this morning:

The big private equity funds are finding it hard to take over Australian companies by conventional means, but the back door is wide open, as evidenced by CVC’s imminent move to control of some 75% of PBL Media.

One would have though it inconceivable 12 months ago that you could buy a share in Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd safe in the knowledge that James Packer was running the show, only to find that his ownership would in effect soon fall to 5% and private equity firm CVC would be calling the shots.

One assumes the shrinking violets who sit as independent directors of PBL — such as Qantas boss Geoff Dixon, former UBS chairman Chris Mackay, Chris Corrigan and David Lowy — have considered the deal and concluded it is in the interests of all shareholders and not just something to help the 38% shareholder, James Packer.

Colleague Glenn Dyer yesterday wondered why Packer doesn’t sell all PBL’s stake to CVC and be done with it, leaving both PBL’s “new media” vehicle, Consolidated Media, and CVC’s 9/ACP company in cleaner and better shape.

That is logical, but it overlooks the great intangible asset that Packer retains. For just a 5% investment, James remains a media mogul, with all the influence that title can buy when dealing with governments. A new NSW casino licence anyone? A little influence in federal policy on occasion?

Internet job ads, Ticketek and a slice of pay TV are all very nice, but they don’t carry the weight that comes from controlling 60 Minutes and the Women’s Weekly. A 25% stake might still enable John Alexander to try to sool a news director onto a business competitor.

Which brings to mind another talent — Alexander’s ability not to be at the scene of the accident. Having wrecked the old 9, he stepped back and David Gyngell/Sam Chisholm/Eddie McGuire became the fall guys as the results became apparent. Alexander was no longer ACP’s CEO just before the magazine cost-cutting topped out.

And now it’s Ian Law who’s left with responsibility for the old media empire, but Alexander retains an ability to meddle. Quite a talent, indeed.