Shareholders support major media merger in Australia

Fairfax shareholders have overwhelmingly backed a takeover by Nine Entertainment, paving the way for both companies to merge by the end of this year.

At the Fairfax annual general meeting today, more than 80 percent of votes were in favor of the deal.

Fairfax shareholders gave “overwhelming” support for the multi-billion dollar merger. The deal was possible after Australia relaxed its media ownership laws last year. The new business will be called Nine, losing the well-known Fairfax name.

Fairfax chairman Nick Falloon said the change was expected to be implemented on 7 December, subject to court approval.

The deal wraps in Nine’s television network, one of the nation’s biggest, and Fairfax newspapers including The Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne’s The Age and The Australian Financial Review.

It also includes Fairfax’s many radio and digital assets, including news websites in other cities and property listings business Domain.

The new entity, which will simply be called “Nine”, will own the Nine Network, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review, a majority stake in Domain, streaming service Stan and a 54.5 percent stake in radio network Macquarie Media.

It will be led by Hugh Marks and Peter Costello, the chief executive, and chairman of Nine Entertainment.

“Media consolidation provides significant potential by leveraging the increased scale of audiences and marketing inventory to grow,” Falloon said in a statement.

Until last year’s law changes, proprietors had been prevented from owning newspapers, radio and TV stations in the same city – a rule designed to protect media diversity.

“The letter contains no actual proposal that could be considered by Fairfax shareholders as an alternative to the proposed scheme of arrangement with Nine,” Fairfax said in a statement.

“The Fairfax board believes that the value and strategic opportunities offered by the scheme reflect a compelling proposition for Fairfax shareholders.”

The merger was already approved by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) earlier this month.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said at the time that Australia would be “slightly worse off” because of the lessening of competition in the news market.

But the competition watchdog approved the deal because it would not “substantially” lessen competition, particularly given the recent rise of online news providers such as The Guardian, The New Daily, BuzzFeed, Crikey, and The Daily Mail.

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