Lachlan Murdoch will be kicking himself even more following his failed takeover bid for Ten, with industry executives predicting that not even a change of the media laws would give his family company the ability to purchase a TV network.
Murdoch’s joint bid with Bruce Gordon for Ten was the overwhelming favourite once the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced last week it would not oppose the offer.
Speaking at the time of the decision, ACCC chairman Rod Simms was satisfied that if Murdoch’s bid for Ten was successful, it wouldn’t reduce the quality and range of news content due to any alliance with News Corp or Foxtel.
“Even though incentives to compete may be weakened if the proposed acquisition proceeds, Ten and Foxtel/News Corporation will remain competitors in a number of markets and will be subject to our competition laws which prevent them from making anti-competitive agreements,” he said.
“While this transaction will result in some reduction in diversity across the Australian media landscape, we have concluded it would not substantially lessen competition, which is the test the ACCC is required to assess acquisitions against.”
However, in a shock move, Ten’s receivers (PPB Advisory) and administrator (Korda Mentha) revealed they would instead be handing over the reins to US media giant CBS on Monday.
Industry sources have since told the Australian Financial Review that if Murdoch or News Corp would struggle to get approval from the competition watchdog if they wanted to buy a different TV network.
Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes hasn’t given any inkling that his TV assets are on the market, while an AFR source close to News Corp denied it was interested in buying Nine, which doesn’t have the shareholder clout to block its sale.
The AFR’s sources also revealed that while the Murdoch-Gordon bid for Ten was made in a personal capacity, plans were already well underway to integrate some of the TV network’s operations before CBS swooped.
According to the sources, Sky News would have taken over production of Ten’s evening news bulletins, while Fox Sports would have had a hand in producing the free-to-air network’s sports coverage, with both companies already sharing the broadcast rights for rugby, supercars and soccer.
Meanwhile, the Greens have warned the federal government that any attempt to block CBS’s acquisition of Ten could threaten efforts to secure an agreement on media reforms.
Sarah Hanson-Young, communications spokeswoman for the Greens, told the AFR that she fears News Corp would force the government to intervene in the Foreign Investment Review Board’s assessment of the bid by CBS.
“In Australia’s increasingly concentrated media landscape, the emergence of a new player on the field is desperately needed to protect diversity,” she said.
“The Treasurer must resist any pressure to block this acquisition – doing so would mean job losses and give legitimacy to baseless foreigner fear-mongering.
“Pretending that a multinational-Murdoch sale would be ‘more Australian’ or better for Australian audiences is laughable. Everyone knows that’s poppycock.”