This morning the High Court dealt another blow to the proposed merger between NZME and Fairfax, rejecting an appeal of the Commerce Commission's decision to block the move.
While both companies expressed disappointment at the decision, it has cleared the path for Fairfax's local arm to be included in a potential acquisition deal of its business across Australia and New Zealand.
Earlier this year, private equity firms TPG Capital and Hellman & Friedman lodged bids to acquire Fairfax assets across both Australia and New Zealand.
While both these deals fell over, they suggest interest in the business and a possible post-merger route for Fairfax.
Fairfax would not comment on whether it was shifting its attention to selling its assets (including the New Zealand business), sticking to an official statement that focused on growing the local business.
"While the merger brought synergies that would have sustained journalism at scale in New Zealand for many years, our New Zealand business has continued to implement its own strategy and shape a separate future," Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood said in the statement.
The latest rejection leaves both businesses in the same place they were before the merger was even an idea and they almost certainly face a future as independent entities.
NZME chief executive Michael Boggs said that he plans to review the decision, including the option to appeal the High Court's decision.
However, this stands to further prolong a saga that already stretches back 14 months, and Mark Lister, the head of private wealth research at Craigs investment Partners, doesn't believe it's worth taking the matter any further.
"It was always going to be somewhat of a long shot to get that Commerce Commission overturned, and I suspect there is little to be gained from spending more time, energy and money from here," Lister says.
Asked which of the two businesses he thought was in a better position independently, Lister said NZME, which publishes the New Zealand Herald.
"I just think they have a stronger franchise, better quality assets and that they've got a better chance of moving with the times and addressing some of the structural challenges the broader industry is facing."
These thoughts correspond with those of First NZ Capital's head of institutional research Arie Decker, who previously said Fairfax was in a "more challenging" position because it lacks NZME's radio assets.
The radio industry has weathered digital disruption better than most traditional media channels, maintaining both audience and advertising spend.
"With Fairfax NZ's lack of diversity (no radio) its terminal valuation calculation is in our view more challenging than that of NZME, which has the critical mass of radio to help support an online-only news and entertainment business," Dekker said in November.
At the time of making this statement, Dekker advised that NZME should renegotiate the terms of the agreement, given the business had performed better than Fairfax since the initial deal was struck.
Should the merger process be progressed through another appeal, this could see the original deal become almost two years old.
Both NZME and Fairfax have evolved significantly in that time, and the terms of the original deal aren't as relevant as they once were.
Hywood said today that Fairfax would continue to look for partnerships to support growth "as we have done with our ISP, energy and health insurance products".