The annual results for the 38% James Packer-controlled Consolidated Media reveal a slump in second half contributions from its 25% minority stake in PBL media, which houses the core Nine Network stations and the underperforming ACP magazine business, as well as several other business.

The second half loss on an equity accounted basis on the 25% of PBL media however was overshadowed by the already reported strong result from Foxtel (25% owned) and Seek, 27% owned. The company revealed today that the star business was the 50% owned (with news Ltd) Premier Media Group, which controls Fox Sports and several other pay TV channels and is a highly profitable part of the Pay TV industry.

In the statement to the ASX today Cons Media directors said:

CMH has recorded a $7.5 million post-tax equity accounted profit (before abnormals) on its investment in PBL Media for FY08. PBL Media’s revenue for FY08 was $2,082 million and its EBIT (before associates and minorities) was $463 million.

In the interim profit statement to the ASX in February, Cons Media directors said:

CMH has recorded a $12.6 million pre-tax equity accounted profit on its investment in PBL Media for the half, the first full reporting period where PBL Media is equity accounted. PBL Media’s revenue for the half was $1,073 million. Earnings before interest and tax (‘EBIT’) (including the contribution from associates and less minorities) were $266 million.

So it looks as though just over $5.1 million of that interim equity accounted contribution at the December 30 halfway mark went missing in the second half, without an explanation.

This is how Executive chairman, John Alexander explained the performance of PBL Media in today’s statement:

As a minority shareholder in the PBL Media group, we continue to support our partners CVC Capital Partners in improving and developing the PBL Media businesses. This is demonstrable by the improved ratings performance of the Nine Network in FY08, and the number of strategic wins by ACP Magazines throughout the year including the purchase of Emap Australia, a 50% interest in OK! Magazine and the launch of Grazia magazine.

Not a mention of the difference between the interim and full year equity accounted results. Nor was there of course a mention of the 7.8% fall in the circulation of ACP’s Magazine in the year to June: that included double digit falls for the likes of profit powerhouses, Woman’s Day and the Australian Women’s Weekly, plus losses for other smaller men’s and women’s group titles.

Strategic wins for ACP basically went down the tube in the great unmentioned circulation slump. Oh, and the killing off of The Bulletin wasn’t mentioned, at all, either.

Nine’s ratings rebound has been solid so far this year, but it obviously hasn’t translated into earnings.

By the way the figures for EBIT for PBL Media of $463 million for the first half was before interest. Just how much interest is being paid by PBL Media on the estimated $4.2 billion debt taken on by its 75% owner, CVC, is one of the great mysteries of Australian business.

We already knew from last week’s announcement how well Foxtel went during the year (so well that it paid out another $100 million to Cons Media, Telstra and News Ltd last month), but Cons Media revealed today just how much of a gold mine Premier Media has become, especially Fox Sports.

Peter Fray

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