RUPERT Murdoch's News Corp has triumphed over Kerry Stokes in the battle for James Packer's Consolidated Media to emerge as the unassailable player in Australia's pay TV industry.
The competition regulator yesterday blocked Seven Group Holdings' bid to buy ConsMedia, controlled by Mr Packer (49 per cent) and Mr Stokes (23 per cent), saying it would give it an advantage acquiring commercial sports rights and lessen competition on free-to-air TV.
The move appears to mark the end of Mr Stokes' long-held ambition for a big slice of pay television in Australia, coming after the long-running and costly court action into his failed C7 venture and a share raid on ConsMedia to force his way into the industry.
But the decision also paves the way for further consolidation in the media industry, freeing up hundreds of millions of dollars for the billionaire moguls to invest.
Seven Group will sell its stake in ConsMedia into News Corp's offer, leaving Mr Stokes with a $500 million war chest to invest across a diverse conglomerate of media and mining services assets.
Mr Packer exits his family's long-held media investments - except for a small stake in Ten Network - with around $1 billion. He is expected to redirect the funds towards his growing gaming empire, including a potential play for a greater slice of Echo Entertainment, the owner of Sydney's The Star casino.
News Corp emerges as the dominant figure in pay television, doubling its stake in Foxtel to 50 per alongside Telstra but with operational control and complete ownership of Fox Sports Australia, the lucrative provider of content to Foxtel.
The flipside to blocking Seven's deal means Mr Murdoch could be expected to be blocked from buying a free-to-air television network and raising questions over whether the News chairman would be able to do any further major media deals in the country of his birth.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims rejected the Stokes proposal to buy ConsMedia, citing Seven's substantial interests in free-to-air and pay television, as well as a 50 per cent stake in the company involved in the acquisition of the sports rights broadcast by Foxtel.
''The ACCC is concerned that the proposed acquisition would put Seven Network in a position of advantage over other free-to-air networks in relation to joint bids and other commercial arrangements with Fox Sports for the acquisition of sports rights,'' Mr Sims said.
''Being able to come to such arrangements with Fox Sports would enhance Seven Network's ability to acquire the rights to premium sports.''
Seven Group Holdings immediately responded to the ACCC rejection, saying it would accept News Corp's offer for its stake in ConsMedia. It declined further comment.
Analysts say Seven appears to have decided to concentrate its efforts on free-to-air television.
A spokesman for News Ltd in Sydney declined comment.