ConsMedia rises on more Seven talk

Speculation is reaching fever pitch on whether Australia’s Seven Network, controlled by Kerry Stokes (pictured, left), will make a move on Consolidated Media Holdings, the last vestiges of the Packer family’s media empire.

ConsMedia’s shares rose as reports appeared that Seven may seek an overseas backer for a full takeover attempt, after amassing a 19.9% stake over the last few months. Seven has large cash reserves (some A$1.4 billion at the end of 2008, although that would have dwindled as Seven has increased its stake) but ConsMedia is now valued at around A$2.1 billion. Investment banks are also reportedly courting both ConsMedia and Seven, hoping to be involved in any deal.

A holding company for the interests James Packer did not dispose of following his father’s death at the end of 2005, ConsMedia has pay-TV and new media interests including 25% of digital TV platform Foxtel and 50% of Premier Media Group which operates the Fox Sports channels. Foxtel's solid results during last week fueled the speculation over Stokes' long-held pay-TV ambitions.

Complicating matters is the interest of Telstra, Australia’s incumbent telco which owns 50% of Foxtel, in having a greater stake in the pay-TV operator. New chief executive David Thodey said last week he would like the company to own 100% of Foxtel, although whether competition authorities would allow that is moot.