Australian TV networks floated idea of merger, report says

Seven Network held discussions with rival broadcaster ViacomCBS about a possible combination of forces, according to a new report.
The logo of media company ViacomCBS.
The logo of media company ViacomCBS. (Image: ViacomCBS/Handout, Graphic: The Desk)

Australian broadcaster Seven Network discussed a possible acquisition by American media giant ViacomCBS earlier this year, a move that would have created a merger between it and rival Network Ten, according to a new report.

On Sunday, Melbourne-based newspaper The Age reported talks between Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes and his counterparts at ViacomCBS over a possible acquisition of the company. The move comes as Stokes is attempting to sell off parts of his media empire in order to reduce the company’s debt, the newspaper said.

Discussions over Seven Network began in April between Stokes and ViacomCBS chief executive Robert Bakish, the newspaper said. A preliminary discussion included an outline of what the proposed merger would look like. The proposal was put together by investment firm Goldman Sachs, sources told the media outlet.

ViacomCBS acquired Network Ten in 2017 after the broadcast network declared bankruptcy. The acquisition was valued at $123 million, and it brought Network Ten under common ownership with Eleven, a free-to-air general entertainment channel that was launched in 2011 through a consortium comprised of Network Ten and ViacomCBS. (The channel is now called Ten Peach.)

In addition to Network Ten, ViacomCBS operates several pay TV networks in Australia, many of which carry the same branding as their stateside channels. Variants of Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central are offered there as well as a video on demand service called Paramount Plus.

Talks between Stokes and Bakish eventually ended when both sides concluded ViacomCBS’ ownership of Network Ten and the channel formerly known as Eleven already gave it a significant chunk of the broadcast market in Australia. A proposed merger between ViacomCBS and Seven Network would likely not pass regulatory scrutiny because of how much market share the combined company would have in Australia, they figured. The merger would have left Australia with two commercial television broadcast operators instead of three.

The move indicates Stokes is willing to part with his broadcast media empire, and other suitors could be in line to discuss a possible acquisition of his company.

In the United States, several media companies have international subsidiaries, including Comcast, AT&T, Walt Disney Company and Discovery Networks. Of those four companies, Disney is the only one to have abandoned the Australian television market, though its streaming service Disney Plus is available in the country.

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