Australia’s newest aspiring media magnate Antony Catalano has decided that the best way to build a small media empire is to buy into someone else’s deal.
Months after buying Fairfax Media’s regional newspaper assets from Nine for $125 million (with help from his bestie, Melbourne billionaire and Thorney Investment CEO Alex Waislitz), “the Cat” now wants a seat at the Prime Media takeover table.
These sorts of interventions have consumed and crippled media companies over the years — as seen at the likes of Herald and Weekly Times, Seven West Media and Network Ten.
There is no reason to believe that Catalano and his mates’ plan won’t head in the same direction with Prime, a company which only exists to broadcast Seven’s TV signals in regional NSW.
Through WA Chess Investments Catalano and Waislitz have lifted a stake in Prime to 10.26% from 4.9%, ensuring that Seven West Media can’t complete its all-paper bid for Prime (at 17 cents a share) without making a deal with the dynamic duo from Melbourne. Seven’s merger needs approval from 50% of shareholders and 75% of votes cast.
Media reports say some of the shares were purchased from major Prime shareholder and rival WIN Television owner Bruce Gordon, who was forced to sell down his Prime stake after breaching media ownership laws by building his stake to 26%. Waislitz’s Thorney Investment Group has a small stake in Prime.
Fairfax Media reported: “Sources familiar with Mr Catalano’s thinking said he is now not looking to derail the bid but wants to ensure his newspaper business is involved in part of a broader media play.”
Why anyone wants to play in regional media is puzzling. The sector is dying, not just because of the economy, but because media consumption is changing around the world.
Prime has to pay Seven $55 million in 2019-20 in regional affiliation fees (which all ends up as profit and valuable cash for Seven). The $55 million affiliation fees will be a big weight on the company if it remains independent or Catalano manages to get control.
Prime’s revenue fell 4.9% to just over $191 million in the year to June — and is forecast to fall again this financial year. This has seen Prime write down the value of its media assets by $14 million, because of the clouded outlook for revenue in the coming year.