Peter Tonagh

Outgoing Foxtel CEO Peter Tonagh

The ambitious Patrick Delaney, head of Fox Sports, has won the battle of the pay TV titans at News Corp and Foxtel after it was announced he will be replacing existing Foxtel boss, Peter Tonagh, immediately. It is a decision that will upset some at News and Foxtel as Tonagh is seen to have gotten the short straw in trying to clean up the mess of two business decisions green-lit by his seniors.

Tonagh has only been in the job since early 2016 (after losing out in a power-play with News Corp chair and chief executive Michael Miller regarding who would run the Murdoch family’s Australian arm). Tonagh was lumped in with the ambitions of Lachlan Murdoch and his crew who wanted to use Foxtel to buy a stake in the Ten network in its final financing round in 2015. Foxtel did and blew nearly $70 million in the lead-up to Ten’s collapse last year, a loss that can be sheeted home to Lachlan Murdoch and Bruce Gordon, another former Ten shareholder. That investment by Foxtel was overseen by former CEO, Richard Freudenstein.

Tonagh was left to pick up the pieces, including finally ending the loss-making Presto streaming joint venture with Seven West Media which cost Foxtel more than $60 million in wind-up and other costs (including forgoing $16 million in costs-owing from Seven). Presto was created under Freudenstein as well, but Tonagh had to try and make it pay — a tough call, being third into the market up against Netflix and Stan. It was killed it off in mid 2016 and Foxtel Now was created the next year.

The announcement comes in the final stage of negotiations on the merger between Foxtel and Fox Sports between News Corp and Telstra. Telstra will sell 15% of its stake to News giving it 65% of the merged company. Peter Campbell, a former AFL, Fox Sports and Foxtel executive who returned to Fox Sports as chief operating officer under Delaney, will fill in as interim CEO and should get the top gig in the merger.

Media analysts had been expecting a decision on the top job, but the return to work of Lachlan Murdoch’s right hand executive in Siobhan McKenna this week, a former director of Ten, seems to have decided the issue — in other words she chose Delaney, meaning so did Lachlan Murdoch.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey