Antony Catalano welcomes Seven's stake in Prime, calls for board shakeup after shareholders reject TV takeover

Seven will continue to supply programs such as My Kitchen Rules to regional affiliate Prime despite the failure of its takeover bid.
Seven will continue to supply programs such as My Kitchen Rules to regional affiliate Prime despite the failure of its takeover bid.

The time is right for "a change in board members and a new direction" at Prime Media Group following Seven West Media's failed takeover bid for the regional TV broadcaster.

That's the view of Australian Community Media owner and executive chairman Antony Catalano after Seven's $64million proposal to swallow its regional free-to-air affiliate was rejected by shareholders on Thursday.

Of the more than 236 million shares voted, 53.53 per cent were voted against the takeover.

Mr Catalano, who holds more than 14 per cent of Prime with ACM co-owner Alex Waislitz's Thorney Investment Group, led the opposition to Seven's bid for control of Prime.

The Bermuda-based billionaire owner of WIN Corporation, Bruce Gordon, who holds more than 11 per cent of Prime, also opposed the deal.

Shortly after Thursday's shareholder meeting in Sydney, Kerry Stokes-controlled Seven announced that it had acquired 54.6 million Prime shares from Spheria Asset Management - a 14.9 per cent stake - which means it is now Prime's biggest shareholder.

Regional broadcaster Prime has a long-standing relationship with Seven.

Regional broadcaster Prime has a long-standing relationship with Seven.

Mr Catalano said the rejection of Seven's takeover plans and its new stake in Prime was "a good outcome for Prime and a good outcome for regional media".

"Seven is backing the business," he said.

"Seven, like us at ACM and WIN, now share a common interest in the long-term financial position of Prime and creating a growth strategy for the future. It demonstrates the significance of regional media."

Regional publisher ACM owns this website, and its network of newspapers includes The Canberra Times, Newcastle Herald, The Courier in Ballarat and The Examiner in Launceston.

Mr Catalano and business partner Mr Waislitz took control of ACM from Nine Entertainment Co in July following Nine's merger with Fairfax Media.

ACM owner and executive chairman Antony Catalano and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher in Wagga in November.

ACM owner and executive chairman Antony Catalano and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher in Wagga in November.

Seven's play for Prime was given the green light on Wednesday by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

In a statement issued after the takeover offer was rejected, Seven chief executive James Warburton said that while his company was "disappointed with the outcome of today's vote, we remain committed to Prime".

"As Prime itself has said, the business is under pressure to meet regional Australia's needs and today's outcome is an unfortunate result for them and their shareholders," he said.

Under the deal with Spheria announced hours after the shareholder vote, Seven will issue 30 million new Seven shares in exchange for Spheria's 14.9 per cent stake in Prime.

Mr Warburton said the investment in Prime aimed "to provide stability for the business, to support regional Australia and regional news".

"We look forward to continuing our longstanding relationship with Prime, delivering outstanding content for them in 2020," he said.

Seven said it acquired a stake in Prime "to provide stability for the business, to support regional Australia and regional news".

Seven said it acquired a stake in Prime "to provide stability for the business, to support regional Australia and regional news".

Mr Catalano said he could understand why Seven would be "frustrated that their plans to own Prime solely were thwarted".

"In the long term I hope they will realise that there are other regional media businesses that want to work with Prime to create a stronger media business," he said.

Mr Catalano has been urging the federal government to reform media ownership laws to help media companies serving regional Australians compete with digital giants like Facebook and Google.

Prime chairman John Hartigan retired following Thursday's shareholder meeting.

He told The Sydney Morning Herald that Prime would continue to push ahead for a deal with Seven, and called Mr Catalano and Mr Gordon a "couple of bullies" who were using Prime as a "plaything".

Mr Catalano hit back at the comments.

"Only a few months ago they saw us as reasonable suitors when they were shopping the business around but now we are supposed to be acting like bullies and hijacking the vote when we oppose the board's unanimous decision to accept a deal their own independent expert described as unfair," he said.

"The facts are clear - the shareholders rejected their decision and now they have to listen."

Mr Catalano said the time was right at Prime for "a change in board members and a new direction for the company to serve the needs of its major shareholders".

"We would expect to have board representation," he said.

"ACM, WIN and Seven are all shareholders which means we are all partners and the directors of the company in the future will have to act in the interests of all shareholders."

This story Call for board shakeup as TV takeover fails first appeared on The Canberra Times.