Oz’s Optus takes over cable net

SYDNEY — In the first step toward rationalizing the hemorrhaging Australian pay TV industry, telco Op-tus Communications is taking over Optus Vision, the cable network in which it already had a 46.5% stake.

In a deal finalized Friday after weeks of negotiations, Optus Vision’s other investors — US West (46.5%), Kerry Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd. (5%) and Kerry Stokes’ Seven network (2%) — will get shares and op-tions in Optus Communications, which plans to raise more than $1.5 billion in a partial stock market float later this year.

This settles a court action brought by Seven that had claimed a secret shareholding deal between PBL and Optus Vision breached the shareholders’ agreement. If successful, the suit would have forced the other investors to sell their shares to Seven for a fraction of their value.

Optus Communications CEO Ziggy Switkowski said Optus can now press on with talks with rival telco Telstra about an arrangement where Telstra would gain access to Optus Vision’s overhead cables, and Optus would enter the local telephone market.

Optus is soon expected to unveil plans to spin off the pay TV programming and marketing divisions into a separate company.

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