SYDNEY — Alternately friends and foes for 30 years, Aussie media titans Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer on Thursday resolved their latest tiff, over the rugby SuperLeague and Fox product, prompting speculation that the great media carve-up planned by the duo 14 months ago is on again.
Interestingly, the deal was brokered by the titans’ sons, James Packer, 29, and Lachlan Murdoch, 25, who are managing directors of Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting and News Australia, respectively. The two, who are on better terms than their fathers, are said to have met during Murdoch’s Christmas visit to Sydney.
Packer’s Nine web inked a deal for free-to-air rights to Murdoch’s $235 million rebel SuperLeague rugby competish, which was established to provide Murdoch’s Foxtel cabler with a sports draw, and spoil Packer’s sports ratings on Nine and cabler Optus Vision (OV), in which Packer has a strategic stake.
In return, Packer’s Nine has agreed to drop a lawsuit to force Murdoch to deliver to Nine all new Fox film and TV product, which will now remain on Kerry Stokes’ Seven web, in which Murdoch has a 15% stake.
“The combined energies of SuperLeague and the Nine Network will ensure a first-class season of exciting rugby league action,” News Corp. chairman and chief exec Rupert Murdoch said. “I applaud the successful outcome of negotiations between SuperLeague and the Nine Network, and I am pleased to resume cordial commercial relations with Nine. I have the highest regard for Mr. Packer as a distinguished Australian businessman and broadcaster.”
Such compliments are a far cry from Murdoch’s catcalling in 1996, which culminated with Murdoch denouncing Packer as a “welsher” in TV and press reports. Those outbursts were prompted by the Federal Court’s global ban on SuperLeague in March 1996 after OV and the established Australian Rugby League (ARL), which also airs on Nine, sued.
Packer and Murdoch had allegedly agreed in November 1995 that Packer would convince the ARL and OV to abandon their lawsuit in return for Murdoch giving Nine the terrestrial rights to SuperLeague, plus yanking from Seven rights to all Fox film and TV product in favor of Nine. At the time, the two titans seemed so cozy, having also set up joint racing and news services for their competing Oz pay TV operations, that media analysts were certain an unwritten carve-up of media interests was in the making, with Packer to be given unobstructed run at tak-ing over the much-prized Fairfax newspaper empire.
But by April, all deals were off and a potentially embarrassing day in court for the Fox lawsuit, picking over the details of the deals, loomed.
“We are pleased to have resolved this dispute on terms satisfactory to both parties,” James Packer said.
“This removes the final impediment between Publishing and Broadcasting Limited and News in relation to Super-League and allows us to concentrate on what we both do best — creating new and exciting businesses,” added Lachlan Murdoch.