Interesting article in The Age this morning regarding James Packers plans for Channel Ten. The article, with no sources cited, states:

JAMES Packer’s $250 million-plus raid on the Ten Network is part of an elaborate plan that could lead to the axing of Ten’s sports channel, One HD, and its replacement with a free-to-air version of Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News service.

By closing the Ten sports channel, Mr Packer would eliminate a big competitor for the sports channels on Foxtel – the pay TV network that he jointly owns with Mr Murdoch’s News Ltd and Telstra.

Under Mr Packer’s plan, Sky News would still be screened by Foxtel but would use one of Channel Ten’s new digital free-to-air stations as another distribution point, giving it a much bigger potential audience reach.

James PackerIt’s all very pie in the sky. When you consider that Sky News Australia is 33% owned by Channel Seven, 33% owned by PBL Media (who operate Nine), and 33% by BSkyB, the idea of Channel 10 broadcasting a service owned by their two largest competitors takes some considerable liberties with common sense.

Further to this, consider the ramifications for Foxtel. They’ve been experiencing retention issues with their customer base following the launch of the FTA channels. With such a strong offering available to audiences for free, many current and potential Foxtel customers are not finding the value in the Foxtel service. It would not be in Foxtels interest for one of their more significant drawcards to suddenly become available for free as a FTA digital channel. With CMH owning 25% of Foxtel, why would Packer want to engage in a business practice that will be so damaging to the pay television company?

The media have been reporting that Packer is reportedly very critical of the 2.5 hour news block Ten will be launching in 2011 and of the poor performance of their sports channel One. With the AFL rights currently in play and the Govt likely to be relaxing anti-siphoning legislation, it seems far more likely that Packer would want to see Ten get the exclusive FTA rights to the AFL, with the Pay TV rights shared with Foxtel (where he is also an investor).

Packers involvement with the media policy discussions related to the anti-siphoning laws were confirmed by Stephen Conroy, who was cited in The Australian as saying:

Mr Packer had been “part of an ongoing discussion I’ve been having with all of the parties” over new media policy that would govern sports broadcast rights. “He’s been involved in the discussion in that he is a player on the pay-TV side of the debate so he is conscious of the discussions but the government hasn’t made a final decision yet.”

James Packer may be critical of the proposed 2.5 hour news lineup, but what is more likely: Packer striking a deal to move Sky News Australia (owned by Channel 10’s competitors) to Channel 10’s digital platform which would then in turn drastically harm Foxtel (25% owned by CMH)? Or is it more likely that Packer will chase after the AFL rights and endeavour to control that across both FTA and STV platforms?

I wouldn’t be betting on seeing Sky News Australia on Freeview TV ads anytime soon.