Packer resigns, Warburton in…the media circus continues

Ten Network Holdings today announced the appointment of a new Chief Executive Officer, Seven Media Group’s Chief Sales and Digital Officer James Warburton. The announcement comes after the Ten board last week removed long-time CEO Grant Blackley . As a result of the announcement Lachlan Murdoch steps down as Acting CEO.

Today’s announcement followed a one-page press release from Ten which abruptly announced the resignation of James Packer as a director of the company, effective immediately. Mr Packer has been a director of Ten since November 2010 and with Mr Murdoch holds a 17.88% in the Company.

Ten Holdings Chairman, Brian Long welcomed the appointment of Mr Warburton and said:

“James is a high calibre media executive with an enviable track record in television and digital media sales. He has forged an exemplary reputation in the media sector in Australia and has strong relationships within the media and advertising community.”

The announcement of Mr Warburton as new Ten CEO from 14 July 2011 (when he will also join Ten Holdings Board) is a blow to Seven Media Group (and the soon to be formed Seven West Media) as he was seen as a likely replacement to current CEO David Leckie when he retires. On this point, media commentator Glenn Dyer in today’s newsletter (subscription only) notes

“Warburton has been a frustrated CEO in the wings at Seven, but has been unable to find a way of moving past David Leckie, Seven’s successful CEO and former Nine boss. Leckie was named CEO of the about-to-be-created Seven West Media (formed by the sale of Seven Media Group to West Australian Newspapers in a deal orchestrated by Kerry Stokes). Warburton had the sales chief gig as well as heading up digital, but there have been reports he wanted the CEO’s role.”

In respect of Packer’s resignation there has been no further comment from the Ten Network or Packer’s Consolidated Media Holdings (ConsMedia). The Australian speculates that Mr Packer was uncomfortable with poaching Mr Warburton from Seven as Kerry Stokes is Seven’s controlling shareholder and also owns a 22% stake of Packer’s Consolidated Media Holdings. According to The Australian

“It’s unclear if this represents a falling out with co-shareholder in Ten Lachlan Murdoch, who has been in an acting CEO role. But it appears to represent a difference of opinion over who should be the new CEO.”

The other media news today is a report from the Australian Financial Review that Telstra and ConsMedia have agreed in principle for Foxtel (stakeholders are Telstra own 50%, ConsMedia 25% and News Corp 25%) to make a $2 billion takeover bid for regional pay-TV provider Austar.

Austar (ASX code AUN) in a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange this morning confirmed they had received no proposal of a potential takeover bid from Foxtel. However Austar did state:

“Austar understands that verbal discussions have taken place between Foxtel and Liberty in relation to a possible acquisition of Austar. No assurance can be given that those discussions will lead to a proposal being put to Austar or its shareholders.”

Liberty Gobal Inc owns 54% of Austar and on the back of the takeover speculation Austar stock traded 16% higher at A$1.32 at 12:45pm in Sydney today, according to Bloomberg.

Until we hear further from Ten or Mr Packer as to the reasons of his departure speculation will run rife as to the reasons. One theory could be that a merged Foxtel/Austar entity, in effect with a monopoly on the Australian pay-TV market could create conflict issues for Mr Packer as a stakeholder in Foxtel and a director of Ten.


Seven Media Group CEO David Leckie has released a statement regarding the departure of James Warburton:

“Seven Media Group wishes James Warburton well in his new role at Ten, which he will be taking up subject to his contractual commitments.

We’re sorry to lose him.

We are acknowledged as having the best management team in media – with great people in key roles at Seven, Pacific Magazines and Yahoo!7.

We’ll be making some announcements in the coming days that will underline and confirm the strength and depth of our management team across Seven Media Group.”

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