Peter Coleman: Oh lord, it's hard to upscale things...

Oh lord, it's hard to upscale things, when you're the biggest in 'most every way. Somehow the Mac Davis song made famous by Kenny Rogers came to mind with reports of Michael Miller's presentation to the Mumbrella 360 conference last week.

Interviewed by Tim Burrowes - who has himself just sold his publication to a larger company - the News Corp Australia executive chairman somewhat ironically bemoaned the lack of scale which made it hard to compete with global tech companies.

He wants more consolidation, giving Australian media companies access to a more level playing field, but admits that Australia's competition watchdog might be an obstacle - what he called "an ACCC concern" - despite freeing up of media ownership laws last year.

"While the regulation has changed to enable us to, we still have a regulator we have to pass through," he said.

And also that infuriating Bruce Gordon fellow, and his WIN Group - which own shares in a number of companies - "that have made transactions more difficult". Specifically, Gordon also has interests in Australia's Nine Entertainment and was (News executive co-chairman) Lachlan Murdoch's partner in a plan to privatise the Ten Network until CBS slipped in and purchased it instead.

Despite frustration of the deal for which last year's reframing of media ownership laws may have been most focussed, Miller told the conference that News doesn't have a free-to-air TV network "on our shopping list". Instead pay-TV channel Foxtel and its interests are the priority, although "having a business which has more access to consumer and advertising revenue would be the preference," he said.

Burrowes says that in what was "a helluva week", a highlight - in the context of AT&T being allowed to buy Time Warner - was getting to ask Miller whether News Corp was too powerful.

His take is that when either Disney or Comcast have bought "the bits of 21st Century Fox they want", the remaining bits - to be known as New Fox - will be "highly complementary" with those of News Corp Australia, leading to a remerger and "a News Corp that is bigger than before, led by a Murdoch family wealthier than ever before".

Miller says there is "a lot of dancing", with various companies flirting with the prospect of buying and selling, and talks both of rationalisation - to address an advertising "pie" shared by more media players - and the need for scale.

Perhaps current manoeuvres, in which News has sold its home magazines to Bauer Media and is in talks with two groups about selling some or all of its regional and local newspaper businesses - some of which it bought from APN News & Media only last year - are to set the scene for further non-print acquisitions.

From the top, Rupert Murdoch has already indicated that he won't be buying any more newspapers. There's also the awful thought that disposal of this unsexy market share might make the ACCC easier to persuade.

Free-to-air TV, like every media business today, is changing and becoming more interactive, and News has been ploughing funds into building Sky News online, through pay-TV and via a new association with Nine. Are they shopping? At Mumbrella360, Miller admits, "Never say never."

Peter Coleman