Nine dealmaker bows out
Jeff Browne, who by legend introduced the terms "shit sandwich" and "boning" into the media lexicon with his pal Eddie McGuire, is standing down as managing director of Nine Network Australia after seven years of turbulence at the free-to-air broadcaster.
There will be a month in Europe, Mr Browne said, and mulling over the offers he has received to complement a new part-time role of executive director (commercial) of Nine Entertainment Co.
"This job has been 24-7 for many years now," Mr Browne told BusinessDay, adding that turning 60 recently had led to a desire for a better lifestyle. "There's a host of things I want to do."
Sources close to the free-to-air TV network said Mr Browne's resignation, effective August 1, was spurred by the view that his role is no longer necessary after Nine signed cricket and rugby broadcast deals and sold its magazine arm to Germany's Bauer.
The exit of Mr Browne - effectively second in charge of the network - does not affect David Gyngell who remains as chief executive of Nine Entertainment.
Mr Browne's time at Nine has spanned changes of ownership, a near-collapse, and an affidavit from a former employee that publicly aired the company's colourful phrases "shit sandwich" and "boning", the latter meaning sacking.
A lawyer, he famously said that a TV station was "just a bucket of contracts". And Nine, once the jewel in the Packer crown that boasted about its ratings dominance, had plenty of big ones.
McGuire left as Nine chief executive in 2007 after a short stint, leading to comments the boner had become the boned. David Gyngell, whose father Bruce is credited as the first person to appear on commercial TV, took the reins and won plaudits for leading Nine through survival talks.
Those talks came about because private equity firm CVC Asia Pacific paid $5.5 billion for Nine before the financial crisis. Crippled by debt, it reached a deal with financiers last October, leaving US hedge funds Oaktree and Apollo in charge of a trimmed down business that nonetheless remains under pressure from a revitalised Seven.
More recently, Nine has won international cricket rights after seeing off interest from rival network Ten and the threat of legal action by Cricket Australia.
Nine has inked a deal to buy media mogul Bruce Gordon's WIN television stations in Adelaide and Perth, and was part of a $1.1 billion five-year deal for the broadcast rights to rugby league.
There is speculation Nine, which also contains digital and ticketing businesses, might list on the sharemarket if equity markets remain strong.
Media buyer Harold Mitchell said on Wednesday it was "always difficult to fit into a media organisation if you haven't been there your whole life. Mr Browne came to it later in his career".
There was a period of adjustment when he joined, Mr Browne said, and those tough years of rebuilding. But he said he was proud of his work at Nine.
David Gyngell described the departing MD as the "best closer in the business". He said: "I'll miss him not only as a robust and talented managing director, but the best deal closer in the business, a friend and simply a terrific bloke. He leaves us in a much stronger position than when he came on board, which is a fitting tribute."