The entire Australian commercial TV market won’t be falling to privateers from the US and Europe, with Network Ten to remain in the hands of its long time controlling Canadian shareholders, the CanWest Global media group.

But it wasn’t a lack of trying to match the deals involving Seven and Nine which saw KKR pick up 50% of Kerry Stokes’ TV business, plus magazines and a couple of other assets. Nine is now 75% owned by the CVC Media (sorry, CVC/CVC Asia group). That also incudes ACP Magazines, Ninemsn and some other assets.

But despite trying for the best part of nine months, Canwest couldn’t get a sale away to investors which included the private buyout arm of Merrill Lynch, Hellman and Friedman of San Francisco, where PBL boss Brian Powers works. Also negotiating were the New York-based buyout groups, Carlyle and Blackstone.

In all cases the $3.10 or more a share Canwest wanted from the sale, was too much and the buyers eventually passed. Ten shares remain suspended, having last traded Monday at $2.97, down 13c in morning trading as news of the failed sale spread.

CanWest will now opt to take control of the TV group by converting its 56.4% economic interest into voting shares, something that has been expected for some weeks after talk about the sale died away.

CanWest chief executive Leonard Asper said in a statement overnight that the company had decided to hold onto its investment: “We have spent the last several months considering our strategic options regarding our investments in the South Pacific,” Mr Asper said in a statement.

“In the case of our New Zealand operations, we determined to divest our investment position. In Australia, however, we have determined that retaining our investment in Ten to be in the best interests of our shareholders.”

CanWest is selling its NZ TV business, CanwestMediaWorks, to Ironbridge Capital of Australia. The deal still needs official approval and acceptance by all shareholders.

Peter Fray

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