Nine Entertainment Co chief executive Hugh Marks has talked down the possibility of an imminent deal with Macquarie Media, despite the owner of radio stations including Sydney's 2GB and Melbourne's 3AW renewing its contact with top-rating presenter Alan Jones.
Mr Marks signalled last year he could look to purchase the shares in Macquarie Media that Nine doesn't yet own since its $4 billion merger with Fairfax Media last year. Nine is the owner of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
The merger gave Nine a 59 per cent stake in property listings portal Domain, full ownership of video streaming platform Stan and a 54.5 per cent share in Macquarie Media.
Last month, Macquarie Media re-signed star host Alan Jones for two more years, ending months of negotiations. Some media industry observers believed Nine was unsure about progressing with a deal while the contract was unresolved.
"I think it's important [the contract was signed] for the certainty of that business. I think it was important from that perspective," Mr Marks said in his first public comments on Macquarie Media since Mr Jones was re-signed.
Despite this, he said the successful outcome after the extensive negotiations was "not a reason to - or not to - do a deal with Macquarie".
"That will depend on what the business looks like, its profitability, its viability and what a deal might look like," he said.
Macquarie lowered its 2019 financial year forecasts for earnings (before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) last month to a $27 million to $29 million range, down from $29 million to $32 million previously, citing weaker than expected advertising market conditions.
At the company's half-year results, earnings were down 4.9 per cent over the year on the back of a 0.4 per cent fall in revenue and a 1 per cent increase in costs.
Any deal would mean securing advertising executive turned pub baron John Singleton's 32 per cent stake in the radio group, worth under $100 million on the current prices.
Media sources close to the discussions believed Nine's decision to sell 170 regional titles known as Australian Community Media to former Domain boss Antony Catalano, and the recent sale of some of its major events including City2Surf, would help pave the way for a deal on Macquarie.
"Just seeing how the media market's adjusting through this period . . . obviously we've got a lot on our plate already," Mr Marks said.
"How many things can you at once? I don't want to over-stretch the team. It's just working out your priorities all the time."
Mr Marks did not list getting full control of Macquarie as a "priority" for the business, instead saying Nine was still in the process of bedding down the businesses it gained following the Fairfax merger.
"We're still doing integration work, obviously still finalising the sale of ACM, still talking to parties about New Zealand [business Stuff] and talking to people about Stan. So there's a lot of stuff that's already on our agenda," he said.
"You don't want to over-complicate [it]. We run a pretty small team."
- SMH/The Age