James Packer Aussie Media And Gambling King Quits Ten For Good Of Team

Written by:
Greg Tingle
Published on:
Mar/04/2011
James Packer

In a surprise move, James Packer resigned his directorship of Ten Network as a matter of principle, so the story goes, after his mate and co-investor Lachlan Murdoch's raid on a Seven executive breached a truce with Kerry Stokes, so the story goes...It was circa September 2009, Packer and the Seven Network top dog made a truce in which they split up the offerings of what is described as the the new media landscape.

This past Wednesday's announcement that Ten had successfully lured a Seven executive, James Warburton, to come on over and head up the network was a crystal clear breach of that arrangement. It's good to hear that some people are still as good as their word, billionaire or not. While there was speculation Packer's resignation reflected a fresh falling-out between him and Mr Murdoch, the move satisfies both Murdoch and, more importantly, Stokes, who is said to be "Vesuvian" at  Warburton's defection. Murdoch still gets the main man to run Ten and Stokes can see 'Our James' is a man of his word. For the best part of a year, Stokes had been eyeing off Packer's then sole remaining media asset, Consolidated Media Holdings, the company that owns a 25% share in Foxtel and a half-share in Fox Sports.

The Perth media magnate had snatched a 19.9% stake in CMH and appeared poised to make a takeover bid for the pay TV investment platform. However at the 11th hour a deal was cut, thus giving Stokes 2 seats on the CMH board so long as he backed off from buying more shares for 12 months. Its also understood that a further reaching deal was also put in place...both gents agreed to not undercut each other or tread on each other's media turf. The Network Seven boss actually kept his end of the bargain, surprising some, and since has been rewarded in an indirect fashion by a share buyback scheme at CMH under which Packer has moved up to 49.87% and Stokes to 24.4% Note that Packer put forward $285 million for a 10% stake in Ten towards the conclusion of year. Stokes and Packer met up in the U.S - the Colorado ski fields to be precise back in January and it is believed Stokes has been keen to keep things pleasant, or at least not piss off, the Murdoch family and friends after his substantial $200 million legal eagle court action against the Packers and Murdochs some five years ago.

Time may help heal old wounds, and he doesn't wish to aggravate the situation in the slightest. Mind you, moods can change quickly, depending upon "art of war" strategy. Within the last 48 hours it was Murdoch, who appointed acting chief executive just last week, who recruited Warburton from Channel Seven. "We're sorry to lose him" was the official company line from Seven boss David Leckie, wishing Warburton "well in his new role". Industry exec hinted Seven had taken their eyes off the game re staff and management, apparently failing to lock in tight Warburton. Warburton will start at Network Ten this July. Murdoch and Packer remain mates despite ups and downs over the years, and no one will ever forget One.Tel, the telephone company which was a major bomb of the worst kind. Packer's push for control since last year has seen the exec chairman Nick Falloon, a former Packer family exec at the Nine Network, get the 'Don't come Monday', but in a more diplomatic fashion. Before Packer and Murdoch could take their seats on the Ten board, Grant Blackley was named as the chief executive. He was swiftly removed of his duties last month, linked to his criticism of the network's costly news programming strategy. Ten's new shareholders had been keen to snatch a new man into the role and it is understood Murdoch approached Warburton less than a fortnight ago, leading to his defection and Packer's surprise response Wednesday.

Warburton has sphere headed Seven's sales and digital businesses arm since 2008. He's in line to snatch up a cool base salary of $2.2 million that could be boosted towards $4.4 million a year should bonuses kick in. Warburton had previously gone on the record via press that he had a goal to lead a company. Following the latest corporate moves at Seven, in which its long-term boss, Leckie, was promoted to head the proposed merger between West Australian Newspapers and Seven Media Group, Warburton was seen to be being forced to wait a tad longer to assume the top job at Seven. The chairman of Ten, Brian Long, said Warburton was "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 Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which is already examining the move on the Ten register, declined comment.

Packer Step Down From Ten Board Linked To Gents Deal With Seven's Stokes...

James Packer resigned from the board of Ten Network Holdings in order to honour an agreement he had with Seven's boss Kerry Stokes. A deal was made with history going back to September 2009, after Stokes had built up a 19.9 percent stake in Packer's Consolidated Media Holdings (CMH). Had Stokes added to his holding, he would have been required to launch a formal takeover bid. Packer headed off that possibility by offering Stokes two seats on the CMH board, in return for an assurance that the Seven chairman would not buy any further shares for 12 months. The gents had reportedly agreed on a further truce, under which the pair would agree not to undercut each other or tread on each other's patch. That agreement was breached when Ten Network Holdings poached James Warburton to serve as its chief executive. News Limited's The Australian had reported that Packer voted against Warburton's appointment. Packer's resignation from the Ten board yesterday was announced abruptly to the stock exchange in a one-sentence statement. No reason was given for his exit. Warburton had not tried to hide that he had higher ambitions in the corporate world, advising media journal AdNews last year that he desired to run a company. His leadership aspirations were highlighted by a report last November that Seven had been constructing a "succession plan" that would see the sales chief take over from David Leckie, Seven Media Group's current chief exec. Ten appears back on track, and we don't expect world war III between Ten and Seven anytime soon.

James Packer Awesome Family Gifts; Best Money Can Buy...

Erica Packer's mum, Sheelah, celebrated a birthday, and 'Our James' delivered an awesome gift...American country singer legend Kris Kristofferson, for some good old ho down with the clan. Our friends at News Limited secured "Sheelah is a huge Kristofferson fan so all her children sang his biggest hits and then the man himself stepped on to the stage". Packer Grandchildren Indigo and Jackson, young members of the tribe, were understood to have really enjoyed the celebration.

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*Greg Tingle is a special contributor for Gambling911

*Media Man http://www.mediamanint.com is primarily a media, publicity and internet portal development company. Gaming is just one of a dozen sectors covered

*The writer owns shares in Ten Network and Crown Limited

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