BILLIONAIRE media heir James Packer has moved to quash suggestions his Consolidated Press Holdings is poised to pounce on the ailing Nine Network, telling an audience of Perth business leaders free-to-air television is not on his radar "at the moment".
Mr Packer sought to distance himself from speculation he was poised to take back the debt-laden Nine Entertainment that he sold to private equity group CVC Asia Pacific at the top of the market in 2006.
Nine's financial woes since have sparked industry talk that Mr Packer may want to repurchase the network, in the process emulating the feat of his late father, Kerry, who sold Nine to Alan Bond, only to repurchase it soon after, when Mr Bond's empire was crumbling, for a fraction of the original price.
"In the free-to-air space, which our family has been associated with historically, Kerry [Stokes, Seven West Media chairman), Peter [Gammell, Seven Group chief executive] and David Leckie [SWM chief executive] . . . have done an amazing job taking the Seven Network to where it is today," he said. "I can't see us as a company going back aggressively into the free-to-air industry at the moment. Seven's position is too strong."
It comes as CVC struggles to nut out a restructure of Nine's near-$4 billion debt load, which is being haggled over by hedge funds and a group of Nine's original lenders. CVC has insisted there is no urgency to refinance before Nine's February 2013 deadline, providing the network remains within its banking covenants.
Mr Packer's comments came after he announced plans to rebrand the Burswood Entertainment Complex as Crown Perth, in line with the flagship Melbourne and Macau operations, to try to attract more of the VIP market from Asia. Consolidated Press Holdings is a 46 per cent shareholder in Crown and holds 50 per cent of listed media group Consolidated Media Holdings.
Mr Packer said the rebranding would allow Burswood to leverage off the reputation of the Crown brand among high-net-wealth Asian tourists. The name change is slated to occur late next year on completion of a $750 million revamp of the casino and entertainment complex. "This property . . . is going to be of the equivalent standard to the two other properties that carry the Crown brand," he said. "We don't think we're there yet, [but] by putting the Crown brand on it it's a statement that we are going to get there."
About a third of Crown's business, which includes Crown Melbourne and Crown Macau, is generated from international visitors.