LACHLAN MURDOCH has sold down his stake in the regional television and commercial radio group Prime Media, exiting a company that was his first major entry into the Australian media as a private investor. His private investment vehicle Illyria sold for 68? a share, netting him $22 million, sources close to the business confirmed.
The sale was at a small discount of 2.9 per cent to Prime's last traded price of 70?. Illyria held an 8.87 per cent stake in the company.
Mr Murdoch bought into Prime in April 2009 and has since built up his media investments to include 8.9 per cent of Ten Network, of which he is non-executive chairman, and half a share in the radio company DMG, which operates radio stations Nova 969 in Sydney and Nova 100 in Melbourne, among others. The other half of DMG is owned by the British media group Daily Mail and General Trust.
Mr Murdoch's exit from Prime came as a surprise to the company, which had yet to make a statement to the stock exchange last night. Its chief financial officer, Lesley Kennedy, said: "We have not heard anything. It is news to us."
The company's major shareholder is the private hospital magnate Paul Ramsay as well as Kerry Stokes's Seven Group Holdings. Prime operates as the Seven affiliate in northern and southern NSW, Victoria, the Gold Coast area in Queensland and all of regional Western Australia. It also operates radio stations in regional Queensland.
Prime is one of the few media stocks that has not been hit as hard by the downturn in advertising. In the half year, its revenue rose by 4.9 per cent to $138 million with post-tax profits rising by a similar amount to $16.1 million.
There has been persistent speculation that Seven would buy Prime if rules that prevent no one company from reaching 75 per cent of the population are scrapped later this year by the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, as part of his convergence review.
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