So will Kerry Stokes and David Leckie give a hand to Ten next year and sell them two AFL games a week for a cheapish price? The money would be handy, it always is. But why would Seven, Stokes and Leckie do a favour for the former Seven sales chief, James Warburton, and his fledgling program director, Adam Boland, especially when both have sued their former employer?

Better to let Ten and Warburton swing in the air, with nothing to program on the One sports channel for five years from 2012 and programming holes on Saturdays that will have to be filled, and weaken Ten in AFL markets as well. Filling these gaps will chew up what ever savings Ten was looking for from not bidding with Seven for the two games.

Seven wants a permanent 40% share of free-to-air ad dollars and by keeping the two extra AFL games it achieves that and strengthens itself in the southern AFL markets. It also helps the already-solid 7mate digital channel, which Ten is targeting with its revamp of One next month.

And don’t let anyone tell you that Foxtel is the real winner. Kerry Stokes is because it brings his control of Premier Media Group and Foxtel that much closer.

He did nothing to rock the AFL boat in the negotiations and has allowed Foxtel to improve its position.

That helps his new best mate, James Packer, who did his bit by resigning from the Ten board after Lachlan Murdoch poached Warburton from Seven.

The end game for that poaching has yet to play out, but don’t think Murdoch and  Packer are mates.

Stokes and Packer are mates and pals in Consolidated Media, which controls 25% of Foxtel and 50% of Premier Media (Fox Sports).

Control of Cons Media is the end game for Stokes, or at least a share of control with Packer on a 50-50 basis.

Stokes has his eye on a bigger say at Foxtel and at Fox Sports, so the AFL broadcasting advantage handed to the pay TV group and its CEO, Kim Williams (and the new CEO of Premier, Patrick Delaney, the former No.2 at Foxtel), will have to be converted into a significant boost to subscriber numbers by this time next year, otherwise Stokes and  Packer will want changes.

Foxtel’s subscriber numbers as at December 31 were 1.55 million, excluding wholesale customers (or 1.63 million including them). That’s the base figure to use when assessing the success of the new AFL-driven sales push that will come from Foxtel in the next few months.

Of course, Foxtel and Austar will have to do a deal in the meantime. That will get the numbers up, sort of.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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