Don’t believe the stories in the media about the sale of the Nine TV sites in Sydney and Melbourne being a done deal. They might be in the eyes of the Nine Network and its real estate agent advisers, and in the eyes of PBL Media and its board, but the major sticking point, the huge TV broadcasting antennas on both properties are not shifting or being sold to Valad, as suggested.

“As part of the deal, Valad is understood to have agreed to also buy the two television towers at Willoughby and will deal with them in the future,” the SMH said today.

Far from it: the Nine towers are not Nine’s to deal with: they are owned by a company called TX Australia (TXA) one third owned each by Seven, Ten and Nine. There is no way Nine can assign the mast to any buyers. That includes the land on which the tower sits at the Nine lot in Willoughby.

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It is understood that the prospects of a subdivision of Nine’s Willoughby property are doubtful unless a solution can be sold. Nine has been pressuring its partners, Ten and Seven to come to an arrangement that would allow it to pass the towers to someone like Valad, which would then be able to deal with the respective councils. Willoughby Council in Sydney has been opposed to any development involving residential property while the mast and its electromagnetic radiation is there.

The problem is that there is nowhere else in the city to site a new mast: all TV aerials are tuned to point towards the direction of Willoughby to receive Nine. The ABC is nearby at Gore Hill and its mast has been retained on the site of a light industrial park built on the broadcaster’s old site.

SBS is also transmitted from there, along with ABS and SBS radio. Seven and Ten are broadcast (along with some commercial FM stations) from just West of Nine at Artarmon. Nine’s standby transmitter is on the Seven and Ten mast.

The mast has to stay at Willoughby because to move it would require many TV viewers to get a second aerial to receive Nine. Seven, Ten, the ABC and SBS are not going anywhere.

The location of the masts and the lack of space on them will be a major constraint in coming years for any planned fourth TV network, or any move to introduce a more widespread mobile TV service.

As part of an attempt to resolve the apparent impasse, Nine is understood to have been pushing for TX Australia to be sold to an infrastructure fund. Nine sources say the pressure for the sale of TXA is coming from the private equity owners of Nine and PBL Media, CVC, with support from Consolidated Media/PBL. The push started when Nine was run by Eddie McGuire and his mate, Jeff Browne, who is now in change of GTV Nine in Melbourne.

But the TV operations side of Nine know the technical and operational problems if there is a sale of the shares in TXA: the TV industry also knows how the ABC and SBS resent having to pay Broadcast Australia large sums of money that increase every year for doing the same thing every year.

ABC executives say if they had their time over again they would never have sold the transmission facilities, or rather, agreed to the Federal Government push to sell them.

Macquarie Bank would be a leading candidate. It’s sponsored the Macquarie Communications Infrastructure Group which in turn operates Broadcast Australia which runs, among other things, the ABC and SBS radio and TV transmitters and antennas across the country.

It also lobbied the previous Federal Government extensively (and has chatted to the ALP) to try and get the inside running on the auction of the so-called Digital A and B narrowcasting licences which were a centrepiece of the last government’s new media policy.

They were to be have been auctioned before the election but technical problems in parts of the Sydney and South East Queensland TV markets and a dispute over whether gambling services could be allowed, has delayed it. The ALP has yet to decide if the licences will be sold off.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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