For the past 50-odd years, two families have dominated Australia’s media landscape: the Murdochs, with their newspaper empire, and the Packers, with top-rating Aussie web the Nine Network.
But all that changed last week when James Packer — son of the late Kerry Packer — quit the board of their company Publishing and Broadcasting.
James Packer’s departure puts an end to a media dynasty that owned Nine, the first Aussie web to broadcast, in 1956, and went back two generations to Aussie newspaperman Robert Clyde Packer. His son Frank formed Australian Consolidated Press by merging with Sydney Newspapers and Associated Newspapers in the 1930s.
James Packer’s move was not a surprise, as it has been long known that he has little interest in media, preferring his high-stakes, high-profit gambling enterprises such as Melbourne’s Crown Casino and casino resorts in Macao. He made clear from the outset that media was his father’s game.
Last year, Packer fils sold a controlling stake in PBL, a listed company the Packers controlled, to private equity firm CVC Asia Pacific in a deal worth $A4.5 million ($2.9 million), much of it thought to be earmarked for casino growth.
Further proof of his willingness to sell out of media was a failed accord earlier this year that would have seen Lachlan Murdoch, son of Rupert, buy into Packer’s media holdings. The $1.9 billion pact faltered due to issues over price and a jittery stock market.
James Packer’s exit from the board marks the first time since the company began back in the 1930s (when it set up iconic mag the Australian Women’s Weekly) that a member of the Packer family won’t have direct input in the media group. It is also expected Packer will eventually exit entirely, divesting himself of his remaining shareholding; which now stands below 20%.
The Packer name has been synonymous with television, with the Nine Network Oz’s top-rating web for decades until it was deposed by Seven last year. It is an asset Packer’s fatherloved.
However even Packer pere had his price, selling the network in 1987 for an amazing A$1 billion to businessman Alan Bond. It was a tough decision for Kerry and he seemed pleased when three years later, he bought it back from the bankrupt Bond for a third of the price.
His famous quote at the time was the wry: “You only get one Alan Bond in your lifetime.”
It is oft reported, particularly in the local media, that this most recent discarding of Nine by his son would make Kerry turn in his grave but the Bond incident showed that even the elder Packer could not pass up a good deal.