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US media giant to buy Ten, launch streaming service

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US television network CBS has agreed to buy the struggling Network Ten as part of international expansion plans that include bringing its streaming service to Australia.

The purchase, announced this morning, keeps Ten on air and appears to sideline plans by billionaire shareholders Bruce Gordon and Lachlan Murdoch to take over the free-to-air network.

If approved, the move will introduce a powerful new player to Australia’s media market and stabilise Ten, which went into voluntary administration in June.

Today, receiver PPB Advisory and administrator KordaMentha said that CBS, which owns Ten shows including NCIS and was among the network’s creditors, had entered into a binding transaction document to acquire the business and its assets.

“As part of the agreement to purchase the Network Ten business, CBS will provide immediate financial support to ensure continuity of operations ahead of the upcoming meeting of creditors,” KordaMentha administrator Jarrod Villani said.

As well as being a key supplier of programming to Ten, CBS owns a stake in its digital channel Eleven.

Last week the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission green-lighted the Gordon/Murdoch plan to purchase Ten.

Today, CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves said his network had agreed to buy the core Ten station, as well as digital stations Eleven and One, and the TENPLAY digital platform.

“At the same time, by leveraging Network Ten’s linear and digital assets, CBS will also launch CBS All Access, the company’s digital subscription video on-demand service, in the Australian market,” the company said in a statement.

Moonves said Ten was a “prime broadcasting asset”.

“We have been able to acquire it at a valuation that gives us confidence we will grow this asset by applying our programming expertise in a market with which we are already familiar,” he said.

The president of CBS Studios International, Armando Nuńez, said the two networks had enjoyed a close working relationship for nearly 20 years.

“We also look forward to working with the outstanding team at Network Ten to enhance and expand on its great legacy of Australian news, drama, reality and sports programming,” he said.

“This acquisition not only presents CBS with considerable broadcasting opportunities in Australia, but also allows for further multi-platform distribution and growth.”

CBS All Access, launched in the US market in 2014, offers a library of current and past CBS series, as well as movies and some sport. The corporation announced its international expansion earlier this month.

The transaction is subject to a Foreign Investment Review Board approval and the compulsory transfer of shares in Ten to CBS, which will require approval from the Australian Securities and Investment Commission and an order by the court.

Ten chief executive Paul Anderson said the network was very excited about further developing its relationship with CBS as the company’s new owner and the strength it will provide during this “critical time”.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the purchase meant the Federal Government’s media reforms were no longer necessary.

“The case for abolishing the two-out-of three rule was to save Channel Ten,” he said. “Well CBS has saved Channel Ten so we don’t need to tamper with media diversity laws.”

Timeline of Ten’s troubles

Ten’s recent history shows Australia’s third free-to-air network struggling against a backdrop of declining advertising revenue, increasing competition and leadership tussles.

2005 – Ten shares hit a record high of $32.99 in January.

2009 – Canadian media group Canwest sells 50 per cent stake in Ten to institutional and sophisticated investors.

2010 – Months after Ten’s annual profit jumps to $150 million, James Packer buys a 16 per cent stake, half of which he sells to Lachlan Murdoch. The pair join the board, as does Gina Rinehart after buying a 10 per cent stake.

2011 – Chief executive Grant Blackley is sacked just two months into the job and the board launches a performance review that results in mass staff cuts. Packer resigns from the board as Seven executive James Warburton is named chief executive, but his appointment is delayed by legal action and Murdoch takes control.

2012 – Murdoch appointed chairman and Warburton becomes CEO, before more jobs are cut and Ten twice raises hundreds of millions of dollars from shareholders as its share of TV ad revenue hits historic lows.

2013 – Warburton is sacked and is replaced by former News Corp executive Hamish McLennan, fuelling speculation of a News takeover.

2014 – Murdoch steps down as chairman, Rinehart quits the board, and Ten enters talks with Foxtel and US cable company Discovery about a combined takeover offer.

2015 – No takeover deal is agreed on and Foxtel buys a 15 per cent stake in Ten. McLennan steps down and is replaced by Paul Anderson.

June 2017 – Murdoch and fellow shareholder Bruce Gordon say they will not guarantee a new credit facility Ten needs before December. Ten enters voluntary administration on June 14 and shares are suspended, having last traded at 16 cents, down more than 90 per cent over the previous two years.

July 2017 – Murdoch and Gordon signal their intention to take over the besieged network, seeking a review of a joint bid from the competition regulator.

August 22, 2017 – Ten says it did not tell shareholders that billionaire James Packer was pulling the plug on his financial support for the troubled broadcaster because his backing was not a factor in its share price.

August 24, 2017 – Murdoch and Gordon are given the regulatory all-clear to launch a joint takeover of the embattled free-to-air network.

August 28 2017 – Ten is snapped up by US media giant CBS in a deal that should keep Australia’s third commercial free-to-air broadcaster on air.

– with AAP

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