'United We Stand,' Insists Young Gun Packer

24 February 2006

Defiantly defending the family homestead from marauding bushwhackers (aka analysts and dissident investors), James Packer on Wednesday stood resolute in the face of calls that the Publishing & Broadcasting group should separate its media and gambling businesses.

Reporting a robust first-half net profit - 13% up to A$387 million (US$284.9m; €239.35m; £163.53m), the new young chairman told analysts he was comfortable at the helm of a "well diversified" company.

This was no accidental turn of phrase: there is a faction among local entrail-rakers calling for the $A11 billion group to hive-off its media assets on grounds that they are draining value from the gaming business.

And it was not without a touch of relish that Packer reminded the assembled analysts that five years ago, they had employed the reverse argument.

However, the group's H1 results underscored the spin-off lobby's case. PBL's net profit was buttressed by better than expected results at its Burswood and Crown casinos, between them compensating for yet another fall in earnings at the Nine Network.

Profitability rather than ratings is the name of the future Nine game, promised Packer and PBL ceo John Alexander - telling the assembled haruspices what they wanted to hear.

"In the past the focus was on spending whatever it took to keep the number one ratings spot but that has shifted and now the focus is on being the most profitable network," nodded Investors Mutual fund manager Andrew King.

Turning to the eyebrow-raising appointment earlier this month of gameshow host Eddie McGuire as Nine's new chief executive [WAMN: 14-Feb-06] Packer assured his audience that McGuire's role has changed.

Although the TV personality will oversee programming and advertising sales, PBL chief operating officer Pat O'Sullivan will control Nine's costs along with those of all other PBL companies.

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