Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Lachlan Murdoch was named acting chief executive officer of Ten Network Holdings Ltd. in his most senior role since leaving his father Rupert’s News Corp. in 2005.
The appointment is effective immediately, after the firing of Grant Blackley, while the board seeks a permanent replacement, Sydney-based Ten said in a statement today. Blackley headed Ten for 10 weeks after replacing Nick Falloon at the least watched of Australia’s three commercial broadcasters.
Ten’s ratings have slid this year as it expanded prime-time news and current affairs programming to appeal to older viewers and moved youth-oriented shows such as “The Simpsons” and “Neighbours” to a new digital channel. The younger Murdoch and billionaire James Packer joined the board in December after acquiring 18 percent of Ten, as did Australia’s richest woman Gina Rinehart, who bought a 10 percent stake.
“The ratings performance of the new lineup has been disappointing and Blackley looks rather like the fall guy for it,” said Mark McDonnell, an analyst at BBY Ltd. in Sydney, who has a “hold” rating on the stock. “The new directors clearly aren’t as wedded to the strategy as Blackley.”
Ten fell 3.4 percent to A$1.285 at the 4:10 p.m. close of trading in Sydney, giving it a market value of A$1.34 billion ($1.34 billion). The stock has dropped 9.2 percent this year, lagging behind the 2.1 percent gain for Australia’s benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index.
Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization will fall to A$103 million in the six months ending Feb. 28, from A$117 million a year earlier, Ten said today. The broadcaster is scheduled to report earnings on April 7.
Packer, son of the late media tycoon Kerry Packer, teamed with Lachlan Murdoch in October to buy the stake in Ten before they both accepted board roles. Rinehart, who is worth $9 billion according to Forbes Asia, acquired a 10 percent holding in November, according to regulatory filings.
Lachlan Murdoch, who remains a director of News, quit as the New York-based company’s deputy chief operating officer in July 2005 to move to Australia with his family.
His sister Elisabeth Murdoch is expected to join the News board upon completion of its purchase of her U.K.-based television production company Shine Group Ltd. for 415 million pounds ($672 million), an agreement announced this week.
In 2009, Lachlan Murdoch’s private company Illyria Pty. acquired a 50 percent stake in Daily Mail and General Trust Plc’s radio network in Australia.
Jeannette McLoughlin, a Sydney-based spokeswoman for Ten, said Blackley wasn’t available for an interview and has left the company.
“The board continues to be responsible for all decisions regarding the strategic direction of the company, and has decided to conduct an immediate strategic review of the company’s operations,” Ten Chairman Brian Long said in the statement.
Ten, which airs “Hawaii Five-O” in Australia, had 14.4 percent of viewership in Australia’s five largest cities in the week ending Feb. 5, according to market researcher Oztam Pty. which compiles television ratings in the nation. Seven Media Group had 19.2 percent of viewers, and Nine Entertainment Co. had 16.3 percent.
Seven this week agreed to be bought by West Australian Newspapers Holdings Ltd. for A$1.98 billion and A$2.1 billion of assumed debt. Nine, controlled by buyout firm CVC Asia Pacific, may seek an initial share sale this year, Reuters reported Jan. 11, citing an unidentified person.
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