Network Ten called in the administrators on Wednesday when its billionaire major shareholders blinked and refused to underwrite its debts after their existing guarantees expire in December.
Just a few hours after that announcement, the two men who refused to guarantee debt, WIN TV owner Bruce Gordon (15 per cent) and News Corp co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch (7.7 per cent), began a power play over the network’s future, announcing they have created a joint venture using their shareholdings.
That gives them over 22 per cent of Ten and makes them the biggest shareholding group.
While administration is bad news for Ten shareholders, the truth is if you are a fan of Ten programs, you’re not going to notice any difference in the short term.
“There are no plans to change programming under administration,” said a spokesman for the administrators, KordaMentha.
The Ten board called in administrators because they had no other option. To do anything else would have been to risk the company going broke later in the year, which could have resulted in directors being prosecuted.
But no one at Ten is happy about it.
“The directors of Ten regret very much that these circumstances have come to pass,” a company statement said.
If you are a fan of some of Ten’s high-profile ratings successes, like The Project, MasterChef Australia, The Bachelor or Family Feud, the administrators are going to be trying to keep you happy.
That’s the only way they can keep ratings figures up, maintain value and find a buyer or new investors, which is the name of the game.
Mr Murdoch and Mr Gordon have dealt themselves into that process early by building a power base to make them key players in the refinancing or sale the administrators will be aiming to achieve.
Calling in the administrators is a way of protecting a troubled company while it is guided back to financial health.
The move by Mr Gordon and Mr Murdoch ups the ante in a couple of ways. Firstly, their joint 22.7 per cent holding could breach the 19.9 per cent limit above which a takeover offer must be made to all shareholders – but there is no sign of that yet.
Secondly, it pushes the envelope on media reform legislation due in Parliament on Thursday that will have to pass the minor-party-controlled Senate.
That legislation would get rid of the “two out of three” rule that bars media companies owning TV, radio and newspapers in the same market and allow TV interests to be exposed to 100 per cent market reach. It prevents both Murdoch and Gordon interests buying Ten.
Independent media analyst Peter Cox told The New Daily, “Ten has been well below Seven and Nine in the ratings, but it has been improving lately”.
“Biggest Loser was failing but Gogglebox has been doing well and MasterChef has at least been holding its position or is only down a bit.”
While the administrators had been called in because of the failure of the two moguls to guarantee a loan, debt levels are not that high.
“It’s a $200 million facility but it has only drawn down to $60 million,” Mr Cox said.
The Murdoch-Gordon move will increase pressure on crossbench senators Nick Xenophon and Pauline Hanson to pass the media reforms, Mr Cox said.
If the changes pass, they could see the Murdoch family’s News Corp grab control of the network on the Gordon-Murdoch stake and a further 13.9 per cent held by Foxtel, itself 50 per cent owned by News Corp.
“I don’t think it’s all necessarily bad news for Ten,” Mr Cox said.