Ten bid: ACCC is OK with 'reduction in media diversity'

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With the floor now cleared for Bruce Gordon and Rupert Murdoch's son Lachlan to acquire Australia's Ten Network, pressure is on administrators to give them the go-ahead.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission this morning announced that it will not stop Gordon's Birketu and Murdoch's Illyria Nominees Television from each acquiring half of the troubled business.

Administrators Korda Mentha are now under pressure to make a decision, with the duo - with fellow shareholder James Packer - setting a deadline of tomorrow week for the current $30 million loan support to be repaid.

And while the duo's reported $250 million bid is likely to be the top offer, the acquisition would still depend on the government's stymied media reform legislation being passed. Another offer - from Oaktree Capital with Anchorage Capital Group - is understood to have been withdrawn.

Ten's problems stem from the decision of its board to seek voluntary administration months ahead of the December deadline for the original $200 million facility.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims says the Birketu-Illyria acquisition is "unlikely to result in a substantial lessening of competition in any relevant market, despite it lessening competition via a greater alignment of Mr Murdoch's, Mr Gordon's, and Ten's interests".

The potential for overlap between Gordon's WIN interests and Ten is not a cause for "significant concerns" as the networks broadcast in separate geographic areas.

Sims says the ACCC's review focussed on how the transaction would result in an expansion of Murdoch interests in Australian media, "when they already have a significant influence in newspapers, Foxtel, radio, and television production.

"We considered whether the acquisition would significantly reduce competition, by causing a reduction in the quality and range of news content, or increasing the negotiation power of the combined Ten/Foxtel/News Corporation."

The ACCC considered feedback from a wide range of market participants, including broadcasters, sports rights holders, independent content producers, and advertisers.

"On the issue of the effect on competition in the supply of news services, the ACCC took into consideration competition from news providers on other media platforms and in particular, the other free-to-air networks, given Seven and Nine have a stronger position in the market than Ten. Ten news in particular suffers the lowest news ratings of the three commercial networks and has a relatively small online presence," he said.

"The ACCC also considered the effect on competition in the acquisition of sports rights and other types of content. The parties will continue to face competition from the remaining free-to-air networks as well as streaming services for the acquisition of content."

In assessing the effect on the advertising market, the ACCC says it took into account that Ten and Foxtel are already commercially aligned through their MCN joint venture. MCN acts as an agent for both Foxtel and Ten to sell advertising.

"The ACCC is not oblivious to the fact that significant influence can be exerted through partial shareholdings and family connections, however the ACCC did take into consideration that this is a proposed 50 per cent acquisition by Illyria.

"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."

"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," Rod Sims said.

"The Australian media market is becoming increasingly concentrated and we will continue to closely examine future media mergers in light of the impact any future loss of competition may have on both choice and quality of news and content produced for Australian audiences."

Gordon's Birketu currently owns about 15 per cent of Ten, while he also controls WIN Corporation, which with Birketu hold 14.97 per cent of Nine Entertainment Holdings.

Lachlan Murdoch's Illyria currently holds 7.44 per cent of Ten, and Murdoch is co-chairman of News Corp and executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, with interests in News Corp, 21st Century Fox, Fox Sports Australia, Foxtel, Endemol Shine and the Nova Entertainment Group.

Ten was put into voluntary administration on 14 June 2017 and receivership on 1 July 2017.

News will take control of Foxtel - increase its stake from 50-65 per cent - if a proposed merger between the pay-TV group and Fox Sports proceeds, potentially making the Murdoch-Gordon acquisition of Ten harder without media law reform.

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