The billionaires with much to lose from any collapse of the Ten Network — News Corp co-chair Lachlan Murdoch and TV pioneer and WIN Corporation owner Bruce Gordon — are working on a rescue plan for the free to air television station.
Together they control almost a quarter of the company. Murdoch’s Illyria Pty Limited has 7.7% of the network and Gordon’s Birketu Pty Limited 15%.
It was these two who refused to extend or increase the $200 million credit facility they have been guaranteeing past December this year.
According to a letter from Gordon’s Birketu, the two shareholders have agreed to work “exclusively” together to negotiate a restructure of Ten.
“In the event of a default by Ten of its obligations under the existing facility, there is a risk of Birketu and Illyria each being exposed to a significant liability under their respective guarantees together with a complete loss of their respective investments in Ten’s equity,” the letter, from Birketu, says.
“In such circumstances, given the commonality of the parties’ interests in Ten as shareholder guarantors of Ten’s debt, it may be in the parties’ respective commercial interests to consider whether a proposal could be formulated and agreed between Birketu and Illyria under which Ten’s existing secured debt would be repaid and any guarantee support would be removed over an appropriate period.”
The letter goes on to discuss a “Restructure Proposal”, an early version of which appears to have been thrashed out between the two investment vehicles.
Gordon and Murdoch have emphasised that their working together does not mean a takeover bid for Ten.
The two are looking at ways for Ten’s debt to be paid down at the Commonwealth Bank and for Birketu and Illyria to be repaid over time.
Foxtel, half owned by News Corp (where Lachlan Murdoch is the co-chair), has a 13.84% holding in Ten.
Two other billionaires also have significant holdings in Ten. Casino operator James Packer has 7.7% and mining magnate Gina Rinehart 8.2%.
Ten in April posted a loss of $232.19 million for the half year in a tough advertising market. At that time, the company said the current debt facility was drawn down by about $66.2 million.
The board of directors said today the company was left with “no choice but to appoint administrators”.
Mark Korda, Jennifer Nettleton and Jarrod Villani of Korda Mentha have been appointed as voluntary administrators.
“The administrators have advised the company that they will work closely with management, employees, suppliers and content partners while they undertake a financial and operational assessment of the business,” the company said.
“During this period, the Administrators intend to continue operations as much as possible on a business as usual basis.”
Ten has been working on cost cutting, including renegotiating contracts with program suppliers in the US, a significant overhead for a television network.
And foreshadowed changes to cross media ownership laws would also benefit Ten, making it more attractive to other media groups, including News Corp where Lachlan Murdoch serves as co-chair of the global group and executive chair of 21st Century Fox.