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Seven Network

Overview

This profile looks at the Australian Seven television network. It includes a page on Alan Bond's competitor Christopher Skase and the failed Qintex group.


This page covers -

  • the group
  • the network's history
  • life after Skase
  • studies

The group

Seven, currently controlled by civil engineering equipment czar Kerry Stokes, comprises six network owned-operated stations (five in capital cities, one in Regional Australia) and four independently-owned affiliates outside the major metropolitan centres.

It also embraces magazine publishing operations - claimed as embracing "one in four magazines read by Australians" and "two of the three most widely-read magazines in Australia" - which include operations that were formerly part of Rupert Murdoch's News group.

The group operates Telstra Dome stadium in Melbourne's docklands and is a major shareholder in B Digital which provides mobile telephone handsets and services to over 280,000 Australians (eg repackages airtime from Optus). Ticketmaster7 is a joint venture with US entertainment ticketing company Ticketmaster. AOL|7 is a partnership with Time Warner's America Online arm and telco AAPT.

The network's history

The network originated as an alliance of stations owned and operated by Fairfax (in Sydney) and the Herald & Weekly Times (in Melbourne).

The Melbourne station was sold to Fairfax following Murdoch's takeover of H&WT; Fairfax in turn relinquished ownership of the Sydney and Melbourne flagships through the disastrous privatisation by Warwick Fairfax Jr.

The buyer was the Qintex group (discussed in more detail on the following page), controlled by colourful entrepreneur Christopher Skase, a former Australian Financial Review journalist who had leveraged ownership of a small mining company to acquire specialist retail assets (eg the upmarket jeweller Hardy Bros) and then move into property development, notably the three Mirage resorts in Queensland and Hawaii.

Qintex already held a station in Brisbane; following acquisition of the Sydney and Melbourne flagships it purchased stations in other capital cities.

Qintex collapsed ingloriously after an unsuccessful takeover of MGM/UA, the Hollywood studio that has been recurrently bought and sold by Kirk Kerkorian.

Life after Skase

Qintex's television interests were subsequently consolidated within a separate company, which was listed on the stock exchange but buffeted by competition and turmoil in the broadcasting sector as players such as Packer and Telstra jostled for position in free-to-air and subscription television.

Entrepreneur Stokes had acquired the Canberra Times from Packer for $110 million in 1989 during the churn of media assets in the period following the News takeover of H&WT and deconstruction of Fairfax, partly with a loan from News. That loan was considered in an ABA report (PDF). The paper was sold to Rural Press in 1998 for $160 million and thus returned to Fairfax family ownership.

In 1995 Stokes acquired a dominant stake in Seven (initially around 20% but subsequently increased to over 40% through purchases and share buy-backs).

In addition to property and earth-moving equipment dealerships (eg the Caterpillar franchise in Western Australia) he previously had television interests in the Golden West regional network (Western Australia) - purchased and then sold by Westfield Capital subsidiary Northern Star during Frank Lowy's brief foray into broadcasting - and 7's Canberra affiliate CTC-7.

Stokes has subsequently extended his interests (eg with an equipment dealership in China and a stake in leasing group National Hire).

In 1996 Seven joined with Kerkorian to takeover MGM/UA from French bank Credit Lyonnais for US$1.3 billion. The studio group had been sold to Giancarlo Parretti, who proved unable to keep up with payments. Seven sold its stake to Kerkorian in 1998 for US$389 million.

Seven developed an internet presence through its i7 online content division in the late 1990s. That was expanded in 2001 when it joined up with AAPT and AOL to create AOL|7. Performance appears to be underwhelming (eg garnering only 90,000 subscribers) and in 2004 the partners sold AOL|7 to Primus Telecom for $23 million.

In July of that year Seven's Pacific Publications paid $77 million for Murdoch Magazines, the Handbury family-controlled publisher that had been spun off from News Corporation. Pacific's titles as of July 2004 included New Idea, That's Life, Marie Claire, Men's Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Home Beautiful, Your Garden, Family Circle, Girlfriend, K-Zone, Total Girl, TV Hits, Golf, Leisure & Lifestyle and Monument. Seven had bought a 50% stake in Pacific from PMP (another News spin-off) in 2001, moving to full control in 2002.

Britain's ITV sold its 11.6% stake in Seven for £87 million in 2006.

In November 2006 Seven announced that it would form a joint venture with US private equity firm KKR, which would acquire half of its television and magazine interests (along with Seven's 50% stake in the Yahoo7 joint venture) for $735 million. Seven had earlier paid $343m for 14.9% of WAN.

KKR is to pay $735 million for its 50% economic interest in the joint venture, Seven Media Group, which will also hold $2.5 billion of debt.

Studies

There has been no major academic study of Seven or biography of Stokes.