Nine Entertainment has taken a 9.99 per cent stake in regional broadcaster Southern Cross Media, in the first of expected moves in the sector as players position themselves ahead of a likely change in Australian media ownership rules.
Nine acquired the shares from Macquarie Group for A$1.15 each, a 3Ac discount to the target's closing price on Thursday, paying A$88.3 million for the entire stake.
The move comes just weeks after the federal Government introduced new media ownership laws to Parliament in an effort to remove regulations prohibiting significant media mergers.
The Turnbull Government's proposed changes include scrapping the two-out-of-three rule that prevents a media owner controlling more than two of three radio, television and newspaper outlets in an area, and another rule that prohibits a proprietor from controlling a TV licence that reaches more than 75 per cent of the population.
News Corp and Nine have been expected to lead any industry consolidation because their balance sheets are in much stronger shape than other media players.
Nine holds diverse interests including stakes in Mi9's news and entertainment portal, Allphones Arena, Sky News Australia and ASX-listed financial services company Yellow Brick Road.
Southern Cross Media owns 104 television channels with contracts with Nine's arch-rivals Network Ten and the Seven Network, and also owns 78 commercial radio licences across Australia in a network that includes the Triple M and 2DayFM radio services.
On Thursday, Macquarie sought offers to sell part of its 26 per cent stake in Southern Cross, which it owned through a merger of Macquarie Media Group and Southern Cross Broadcasting in 2007.