Don Groves is a Deadline contributor based in Sydney.
If Kerry Stokes’ Seven Group Holdings is serious about lodging a counter bid for Consolidated Media Holdings, topping News Ltd.’s $A2 billion play for control of the Australian pay-TV investment company, many investors aren’t convinced. The share price of CMH is trading at $A3.41, below News’ offer of $3.50 for the firm which owns 25% of dominant pay-TV platform Foxtel and 50% of the lucrative Fox Sports channels. “The share price hasn’t moved because the market does not believe Stokes will make a higher bid,” one media analyst tells Deadline. Stokes owns 24% of CMH, the second largest shareholder behind James Packer’s Consolidated Press Holdings which has 50.5%. The proposed deal, which Packer welcomed, would give News full ownership of Fox Sports and 50% of Foxtel. Two days after News revealed its bid, Seven Group Holdings asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to review a proposal for Seven to acquire of all of the shares in CMH which it does not own. The analyst noted that Stokes could afford the $1.5 billion-plus he’d need from the resources of Seven Group Holdings and related company Seven West Media to make a counter offer, but doubted that’s his intention as News controls the management of Foxtel and Fox Sports. “He may be trying to extract a higher offer from News,” said the analyst. The ACCC has the power to block mergers or acquisitions which would substantially lessen competition. The regulator said it is seeking to find out if the proposed acquisition would give Seven a greater opportunity to partner with Foxtel, or to prevent Foxtel from partnering with other free-to-air broadcasters to buy the rights to major sporting events, movies and other premium content. Separately, Seven announced David Leckie has stepped as chief executive of Seven West Media after nine years, replaced by former Woodside Petroleum boss Don Voelte. Leckie takes on the new position of executive director of media at Seven Group Holdings, taking an “advisory and counsel role” in Seven’s television business. The stock market didn’t welcome that announcement, slicing 6% off Seven West Media’s share price, perhaps due to Voelte’s lack of media experience.