Glory days … former media mogul Kerry Packer. Photo: Supplied
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 powerful group, believed to include Nine's chairman, Peter Bush, and chief executive David Gyngell.
They met representatives of the key creditors - Steven Sher of Goldman Sachs, distressed debt specialists Ken Liang and Edgar Lee representing the hedge fund Oaktree, and Asia Pacific head of hedge fund Apollo, Steve Martinez, along with his Hong Kong-based colleague, Kevin Crowe.
The private equity owners of the cash-strapped 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 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,'' a source close to the negotiations said. ''This was a bit of a formality, but at least we are heading down the right path.''
The Bauer deal will see some of Australia's seminal magazines, including Australian Women's Weekly and TV Week, transferred to German ownership. But it may not be enough to save Nine.
Even after the ratings buzz from the London Olympics, Howzat! Kerry Packer's War and more recently 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 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.