Oz's Seven Network vs the Rest of the Media Industry

22 July 2005

Kerry Stokes, top shareholder in Australia's largest commercial TV broadcaster Seven Network, is not someone to forgive and forget easily.

Five long years ago, Seven's new pay sports channel C7 lost the rights to show Australian League Football games, following several years of losing or sharing rights with rival networks for the broadcasting of National Rugby League, FA Premier League and the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

C7's much-reduced programming line-up led to its axing by television providers Austar and Optus, since when Stokes has been baying for their and others' blood, seeking A$1.1 billion ($839m; €688m; £478m) damages.

Defendants in the mammoth lawsuit also include TV networks Nine and Ten, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, the AFL, the NRL, Fox Sports and Telstra.

Under Australia's Trade Practices Act, Seven accuses the parties of breaching contracts, colluding to prevent competition in the marketplace and denying C7 access to cable networks. Among other claims. Many others.

All of which adds up to the biggest trial in Australian media history, with lawyers licking their lips in glee in anticipation of the estimated $200m in legal fees.

Although Stokes is no stranger to judicial processes boosting his commercial success, some believe this time it's more than just the money that's at stake.

An imminent overhaul of Australia's cross-media and foreign ownership laws is likely to spark a host of media asset acquisitions. And if in such volatile times Stokes can exert pressure on some of the country's top media players, so much the better for Seven.

It's still unlikely to bring much comfort to Seven's other shareholders.

Data sourced from Sydney Morning Herald; additional content by WARC staff