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End of an era

Is James Packer jumping the sinking traditional-media ship?

Last week’s reports that James Packer is considering getting out of the media industry to concentrate on his burgeoning gaming empire marks the end of an era. Or, to look at it another way, it is further confirmation that a new era is here.

The Packer family has been involved in content creation through the traditional media for over a century, since the dynasty’s founder, Robert Clyde Packer, became a journalist in the early 1900s. The family fortunes grew with the establishment of Australian Consolidated Press (ACP) by Robert’s son Frank (later Sir Frank), who also saw the advent of television as an opportunity…

And so it proved as the Packer clan’s influence and financial wellbeing reached their financial zenith under Sir Frank’s son, Kerry. Charismatic to the point of being abrasive, ‘KP’ became Australia’s richest man through his ownership of, among other things, ACP and, twice, the Nine Network.

On Kerry’s death in December 2005, his son assumed control of the family’s interests. Insiders and onlookers alike watched with interest as he moved away from the Packers’ traditional media interests in favour of gaming. His highest-profile move to date had been selling Channel 9 to a private equity company in 2006, but selling his 50.1 per cent stake in Consolidated Media Holdings (CMH), owner of ACP and a significant stakeholder in the likes of Foxtel, would mark a true end of an era.

Typically, CMH itself is being rather coy: ‘CMH has had very preliminary discussions concerning a possible control proposal,’ it said on Friday. ‘No control proposal or other form of offer has been made to CMH.’

Nevertheless, it would seem the youngest Packer has seen the writing on the wall regarding traditional media and sees gaming as a better bet (pun intended) for ensuring the family’s fortune continues to grow. Coming hard on the heels of the news that head of Australia’s other media dynasty, Rupert Murdoch, believes newspapers have only a decade left and it further confirms how drastically online and social media content has changed the media landscape.

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