, Sydney, May 24 – Hollywood magnate Harry Sloan was reported Thursday to be in takeover talks for Australia’s Nine entertainment empire, which is struggling under debts that could see it default within months.
Nine, which owns several television stations, the ACP Magazines stable, ticketing agency Ticketek and online assets, is racing a February deadline to repay Aus$2.8 billion (US$2.7 billion) in debt.
If it fails to refinance its balance sheet it risks losing control to hedge funds Apollo Global Management and Oaktree Capital as early as September, according to the Australian Financial Review (AFR).
Sloan — formerly chair of MGM studios — had met Nine chief David Gyngell on a possible deal, also engaging Merrill Lynch for discussions described as “very preliminary” and “highly speculative” by the newspaper.
Under the potential Aus$3 billion deal with Nine’s backers CVC Asia Pacific and Goldman Sachs, Sloan’s Global Eagle Acquisition Corporation would repay Nine’s creditors and list a newly-refinanced Nine on the Nasdaq.
The refinancing was likely to be such a long and complicated process that the AFR said “the view (was) that the Global Eagle deal will not proceed”.
Gyngell had reportedly also met with media companies Time Warner, Disney, News Corporation and Israeli-American entrepreneur Haim Saban during a recent trip to the United States, the paper said.
Australia’s Fairfax — publisher of the AFR — was also considering a tie-up with Nine, but the business daily said it was considered “highly unlikely”.
Nine’s television assets are performing strongly but its magazine division is struggling with the transition to digital platforms.