It was Kerry Stokes’ turn to up his stake in Consolidated Media yesterday, after James Packer boosted his holding the day before.

Mr Stokes bought enough shares yesterday to take his stake to just under the 20% threshold where he would be forced to make a takeover bid if he bought more shares now. He can buy more shares in six months: another 3%.

James Packer’s private group, Consolidated Press, now owns just over 40% of Cons Media, meaning that between them, the two control close to 60% of the company that owns 25% of Foxtel, 50% of Premier Media Group (Fox Sports) and 27% of Seek.

Mr Stokes is considered likely to continue buying 3% every six months as he has did in Seven for a decade as he tightened his grip: he is also doing it in West Australian Newspapers (but unfortunately he’s lost the best part of $200 million or more as WAN shares fall).

But according to a couple of market analysts, there’s no reason why Mr Stokes can’t lob a bid at $3.50 a share (compared to the market price of around $2.60 -$2.70 in recent dealings). That way he puts Mr Packer on the backfoot and forces a defence and a valuation, which would then produce a price rise, giving Stokes a bigger profit on his current holding.

Mr Stokes would be joined by KKR. Senior directors have been in the US recently and there’s talk they’ve been chatting to KKR. An offer might entail the Seven Media Group, 50% owned by Seven Network Ltd and the rest by management and KKR, being sold into Cons Media and in effect re-establishing the old PBL of Kerry Packer.

When Kerry Packer was alive, PBL owned the Nine Network, ACP , the stakes in Foxtel and the then Fox Sports (Now Premier), stakes in Seek, and various other odds and sods.

Because of that there would be no cross media problems as Foxtel and Premier Media are not really captured by the changes to the media laws by the Howard Government. Foxtel is a national voice and effectively exempt.

The downside for Mr Stokes would be the greater concentration in the media, but he has shown no fear of doing that, despite broadcast and magazines being on the nose with the market and the fashionable analyst set who believe all the guff they write about Facebook, MySpace and Twitter (which don’t make money and won’t). They will be part of the landscape, but they won’t be the pillars of the new look media sector.

By launching a bid at Cons Media Mr Stokes would also test James Packer’s belief in the new media world of Pay TV which he chose to stick with when he quit TV and magazines in PBL Media.

Mr Stokes has more resources to launch a bid than Mr Packer and he would sit if Mr Packer launched a counterbid, thereby blocking it. Some analysts have likened the developing situation to that in Perth where the Nine Network station was controlled for years by Sunraysia TV with Bruce Gordon and his WIN group sitting there with over 40% and locked out of the board. That eventually changed and Mr Gordon and WIN now own Perth.

There are first rights over the Foxtel and Premier Media stakes that could revert to News Ltd in some circumstances, but Seven is understood to believe there’s a way of not triggering them.

A bid for Cons Media would also force Rupert Murdoch to move: he’s been reluctant to buy anything because he doesn’t believe the US media sector is recovering, so he wants to husband his cash. News would try to assert its first right of refusal if Mr Stokes moved, but as with the C7 case (the appeal from Seven has still to be decided on by the Federal Court), the Seven chairman has shown far more resilience than the Packer and Murdoch camps believed he had. he would fight all the way.

Then there’s the chance for revenge over C7: the best way to get revenge is to own the assets one way or another, and then enforce your will.

Would News, Packer and Telstra really try use Foxtel to counter any bid for Cons Media from Mr Stokes? Heaven forbid!

Peter Fray

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