Seven West Media CEO Tim Worner belled the cat yesterday and confirmed that his company has been trying to snuggle up closer to the Murdoch clan’s News Corp. Specifically that Worner’s chairman and major shareholder Kerry Stokes, who owns 41% of SWM, has.

Worner said in a briefing on his company’s weak 2017-18 results that Stokes’ media arm has plans to “deepen commercial ties” with News Corp. Worner said News Corp and Seven’s audiences were “far more compatible” and there “may well be development in that regard” but added that it was unlikely this would involve a corporate transaction like a merger.

“There’s a range of things we can do. We’re already in partnership with News in a number of areas. We’re printing for them in Western Australia, they’re providing us with content in Western Australia,” said Worner.

The admission means all those people in the media, the markets and elsewhere fretting that News Corp might do a deal — inspired by Nine’s $4.2 billion takeover bid for Fairfax Media — should take a chill pill. Rupert Murdoch and his family don’t need any takeovers: they already have a lock on the content and future of Australian commercial media.

No one company or family controls a western country’s media like News Corp and the Murdochs do. Not the UK, not the US, not Canada, not New Zealand. And even if the proposed Nine takeover of Fairfax Media goes ahead, it will concentrate News Corp influence, not lessen it.

Seven is broadcasting the AFL with Foxtel (65% owned by News) and will share the cricket this summer with them too. Seven and News now have a news sharing deal in WA (Seven did News a favour by buying the Sunday Times in 2016). Foxtel shares NRL coverage with Nine and rugby union games with Ten, especially test matches involving the Wallabies.

News has a metro media publishing and printing deal with Fairfax, which will continue into a relationship with Nine if the merger is approved by Fairfax shareholders. Nine will also have a deal with Sky News to broadcast a business channel from next month, simulcast on Foxtel’s Sky Business. Meanwhile, Sky will have a 24 hour news channel with WIN, the regional affiliate of the Ten, in the next month or so.

The Sky Business deal and NRL broadcasting has ensnared Nine’s regional affiliate, Southern Cross Austereo. The NRL is vital to Southern Cross’s regional TV business in NSW and Queensland. Seven’s regional affiliate, Prime Media Group (15% owned by WIN’s Bruce Gordon), can’t exist without Seven’s AFL feed and this summer’s cricket, both of which would be uneconomic for Seven alone.

Only the ABC and SBS are independent from direct Murdoch influence, but we know that the compliant Coalition government has already done the bidding of News, Fairfax and Nine by holding an inquiry into the way the public broadcasters are “hampering competition”. Meanwhile, federal governments (and this includes the ALP) have given handouts to commercial TV operators totaling in excess of $400 million by abolishing licence fees, plus $30 million to Foxtel (even though Foxtel has never paid a licence fee). The $40 million a year fee that the free to air industry will now pay is a pittance.

And who has Turnbull hired to run an efficiency review of the ABC and SBS ahead of their new funding round? Former News and Foxtel executive Peter Tonagh.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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