The future of Australia’s Ten Network is in doubt after big shareholders, including Lachlan Murdoch, son of News Corp founder Rupert Murdoch, decided not to back a financial restructuring of the struggling broadcaster.
Financial advisers to Illyria Limited, an investment vehicle linked to Lachlan Murdoch that owns 7.7 per cent of Ten, told the company on Tuesday that Illyria would not extend or increase its support for the broadcaster’s credit facility.
Birketu Limited, owned by Bruce Gordon, an Australian media mogul who holds 15 per cent of Ten, has also withheld support for a proposed new A$250m loan to enable the company to refinance its debts, said Ten Network in a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange. Following that news, Ten requested a 48-hour trading halt in its shares.
“Ten’s board is considering the position of the company in light of the position being taken by Illyria and Birketu and the range of restructuring and refinancing initiatives it has under way,” said Ten Network. “Pending these determinations over the coming days, Ten considers that its shares will not be able to trade on an informed basis and, accordingly, requests the trading halt.”
Shares in Ten surged last month as a proposal by Canberra to abolish media ownership restraints and make a number of other changes sparked expectations of a wave of consolidation in the sector.
Under existing laws designed to maintain media diversity, Mr Murdoch and Mr Gordon, who are both connected with other media assets, are excluded from taking full control of Network Ten.
Ten is a distant third in Australia’s TV broadcasting market and needed to secure a loan guarantee from its wealthy backers to ensure survival.
The company reported a net loss of A$156.8m (US$118m) in the year through August 2016, and it had net debt of A$54.5m as of the end of that month. Its stock has fallen more than 80 per cent so far this year.
Ten has a A$200m credit facility due to expire on December 23, which is guaranteed by Mr Murdoch, Mr Gordon and casino mogul James Packer. Analysts say the company could be placed in voluntary administration unless it can find new financial backers.
The shareholders’ decision not to back a new credit facility increases the likelihood of Ten Network going into administration, said Brian Han, an analyst at Morningstar. “Ten’s chances of survival are much smaller today than they were yesterday. It makes it more difficult to attract new financing when two big shareholders on the inside have walked away,” he said.
Free-to-air broadcasters around the world are contending with falling circulation and advertising revenues as digital competition heats up.
In Australia, Ten — best known for its airing of Big Bash cricket and MasterChef — lags behind its two main commercial rivals, channels Seven and Nine, and has borne the brunt of structural changes affecting broadcast media.
Its share register includes some of Australia’s wealthiest investors, including Lachlan Murdoch, who initially bought almost 9 per cent of Ten in 2010 and served as interim chief executive in 2011.
Mr Gordon, the media mogul who controls the WIN regional TV network, owns a 15 per cent stake in Ten Network. Foxtel, a pay TV company that is a 50-50 joint venture between News Corp and Telstra, owns almost 14 per cent.
Mr Packer, who owns Australian casino operator Crown Resorts, holds a 7.7 per cent stake in Ten but is not expected to extend financial support to the broadcaster.
Get alerts on Ten Network Holdings Ltd when a new story is published