TV’s sporting life

Murdoch, Packer sell Oz gaming channel

SYDNEY — Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer are renowned gamblers in running their business empires, but they are unloading their jointly owned horseracing and sports network Sky Channel.

Packer’s Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd. and News Ltd. announced Tuesday the sale of the web to the New South Wales government-owned gaming operation TAB Ltd., which is due to be privatized mid-year, for $A260 million ($176.8 million).

The deal paves the way for the TAB to launch the channel, currently seen in TAB betting shops, hotels and clubs, on Aussie pay TV services Foxtel and Optus Vision in August. Sky is already beamed by satellite to 15 countries, including the U.S., New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates.

The sale is a windfall for both PBL and News, as the channel posted an operating profit of about $10.2 million on revenues of $45.8 million in the 1996-97 fiscal year.

Analysts estimate that News, which bought 50% of Sky from PBL in 1995 for $51 million, will emerge with a profit of about $37.4 million.

Sky screens horse races, trotting, greyhounds and boxing matches. The transaction is conditional on NSW racing clubs agreeing to give pay TV rights to Sky. The TAB float is expected to raise more than $680 million. As part of the deal, PBL and News will each get a 5% stake in TAB.

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