Major Australian TV network Nine posts $160 million loss

By ROD McGUIRK Markets Associated Press

Nine Entertainment Co. is the latest Australian free-to-air television network owner in the red, posting a 203 million Australian dollar ($160 million) loss for the last fiscal year due to a weak advertising market and asset write downs.

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Seven West Media Ltd., which owns Nine Network's main ratings rival Seven Network, posted a AU$744 million loss on Aug. 16 in another indication of the financial strain on Australia's traditional media landscape that has prompted the government's latest attempt to loosen ownership restrictions.

Ten Network Holdings Ltd., owner of the only other major free-to-air broadcaster, Ten Network, appointed administrators in June after its billionaire backers, Lachlan Murdoch and Bruce Gordon, refused to guarantee a new AU$250 million bank loan when a current AU$200 million loan is due to expire in December.

Nine reported on Thursday a A$260 million write down in the network's value plus a AU$86 million provision to break a contract to buy Warner Bros. U.S. dramas and comedies.

The AU$203 million loss for the year through June followed a AU$33 million profit in the previous year.

The network blamed a weak ad market plus Seven Network broadcasting the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro for a 4.4 percent fall in revenue to AU$1.08 billion. The total Australian television advertising market declined by 3.5 percent in the year.

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Murdoch, who co-chairs News Corp. with his father Rupert, and Gordon, who owns regional network WIN Television, want to each buy a 50 percent share in the Ten Network.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said Thursday it would not oppose the joint bid, saying it was unlikely to result in a "substantial lessening of competition in any relevant market."

But the deal is blocked by federal laws passed in the 1980s to ensure diversity of media ownership.

Murdoch is blocked by a ban on a single company owning a TV station, radio station and a newspaper in one city. Companies can own any two, but not all three.

Gordon is blocked by a prohibition on a single company having a license to broadcast to more than 75 percent of the Australian population, because of his regional television reach.

The main opposition party, concerned by News Corp.'s dominance in the Australian newspaper market, opposes the changes. So the government is negotiating with independent lawmakers and minor parties in a bid to get the reforms through the Senate.