IT WAS once the cornerstone of Kerry Packer's multibillion-dollar fortune, but after two full days of talks among creditors Channel Nine was last night still fighting to stave off bankruptcy.
Sydney played host to a group believed to include Nine's chairman Peter Bush and chief executive David Gyngell.
The couch potato's guide to Nine's woes
BusinessDay columnist Malcolm Maiden analyses the Nine Network's debt debacle.
The private equity owners of the broadcaster were locked in talks to stop the banks from taking charge, seeking breathing room to restructure nearly $4 billion worth of debt.
Last night the group agreed to approve the $525 million from the sale of its Australian Consolidated Press (ACP) magazines division to Germany's Bauer Media group.
That's enough to buy some time - probably a month - before the next tranche of Nine's debt, estimated at $2.2 billion, is due in February.
''It's one box ticked on a very long list before this is all resolved,'' said a source last night. ''This was a bit of a formality, but at least we are heading down the right path.''
Under the deal some seminal magazine titles, including The Australian Women's Weekly and TV Week, will transfer to German ownership. But it may not be enough to save Nine.
Even after the ratings buzz from the London Olympics, Howzat! and the revival of downmarket Big Brother, the network that for years went by the catchphrase ''Still The One'' is in for the fight of its life.
James Packer severed his father's long-standing links to the broadcaster in 2007 when he sold most of Nine, and its related assets, to private equity fund CVC Asia Pacific, which paid him $1.46 billion cash and took on $3.6 billion in debt.
The private equity firm has since lost the $2 billion it injected into Nine and is attempting to push out its debt repayments among its financiers, who are mostly made up of hedge funds.
Nine's board will be obliged to call in the receivers if it believes there is no prospect of a balance sheet overhaul, and a deal needs to be agreed next month to be in place by February.
The change in ownership of Nine coincided with a savage downturn in advertising, at the same time as free-to-air networks are battling the higher costs of running multiple digital channels. Traditional broadcasters are steadily seeing their audience eroded by pay television and newer forms of internet television, where high-rating shows are being downloaded direct from US studios. Meanwhile, the cost of debt has skyrocketed, putting pressure on Nine's interest payments.
CVC must repay $2.8 billion of debt by February and a further $1 billion a year later, but a breach of its quarterly debt covenants could trigger immediate payment of all the debt, according to Nine's financial accounts.
Nine's heads are believed to have met with representatives of the key creditors - Steven Sher of Goldman Sachs, distressed debt specialists Ken Liang and Edgar Lee representing hedge fund Oaktree, and Asia Pacific head of hedge fund Apollo, Steve Martinez, along with his colleague, Kevin Crowe.