Sometimes even the Murdoch family doesn't get its own way.

Still, what would they expect from would come from any situation relying on the whims of Pauline Hanson?

Lachlan Murdoch's best laid plan to get his hands on the Network Ten spectacularly backfired last week. Instead, with the help of the unpredictable Queensland Senator, he delivered the TV network to a cashed up rival who will challenge his family's TV interests in Australia.

The tale began in 2010 when Lachlan Murdoch and fellow billionaires James Packer, Gina Reinhardt, and Bruce Gordon each spent hundreds of millions of dollars buying shares in Ten.


The network was struggling at the time and continued to do so despite having so many billionaires, or their representatives, around the boardroom table.

So to help prop up the ailing network, Murdoch, Gordon and Packer guaranteed Ten's existing A$200 million ($222.8m) loan from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. This gave the three considerable power over Ten and, in June, Murdoch and Gordon declined to support a replacement A$250m loan the network needed to stay afloat.

In itself, that is fair enough. Like everyone else, they have the right to decide what they do with their money.

But what they did at around the same time suggests to me that Murdoch and Gordon had bigger plans. Murdoch and Gordon wrote a letter to the other directors, threatening to sue them for trading while insolvent if they went ahead with a recovery plan for the network. The directors said they had no choice but to call in the administrators, would obviously try to sell it as a going concern.

And who better to buy it than Murdoch and Gordon? The Murdoch family already has significant TV interests in Australia through their ownership of the Foxtel pay TV network and Gordon, an 88-year old who lives in Bermuda, owns the regional WIN television network.

And as shareholders of the network, the pair were in the box seat to acquire it.
So far so good for Murdoch and Gordon.

But there was one sticking point.

Australia's current cross media laws would prevent both of them from making a takeover. Because they already own newspapers and radio stations, the Murdoch family would be ruled out under the 'two out of three' rule which prevents proprietors owning print, radio and free-to-air television in the same market.


Gordon, was also barred by the 'reach' rule, which stops proprietors from owning TV networks that covered more than 75 per cent of the population.

These rules are out of date in a digital era where the internet and streaming services play a huge role in the media landscape. In fact, the government is planning to change them.
The two media moguls were expecting the media ownership laws to be changed in time for them to buy the Ten Network. The legislation had been passed by the lower house of Parliament. All it had to do was to pass the Senate.

And this is where Murdoch and Gordon made their fatal misstep.

To be passed by the Senate, the new rules needed the support of Pauline Hanson. The Queensland Senator is unpredictable at the best of times, and she refused to vote for the legislation. Hindsight is, of course, a wonderful thing, but any plan that relies on a politician who wears a burqa in the debating chamber to somehow illustrate a point, isn't great strategy.

By precipitating the sale of the Ten network then being left unable to buy it back, Murdoch and Gordon opened the way for US TV giant CBS to swoop in, which it did last week.

The takeover - which will likely be approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board - means existing shareholders are unlikely to get anything for their shares. Seven per cent of Ten is in Murdoch's name, Murdoch-controlled Foxtel owns around 15 per cent and Gordon owns 14.9 per cent.

CBS has deep pockets and the management expertise to make Australia's third-ranked free-to-air network a competitive threat. It will be able to comfortably absorb the A$50-A$100 million Ten loses a year.

But it gets worse for the Murdochs.

The family's US-based 21st Century Fox has supplied Ten with programs for several years and is owed a large debt by Ten, but will likely receive only a few cents in the dollar.

Of more concern, CBS is planning to launch its CBS All Access streaming service and to use Australia as a test market. The Murdochs' Foxtel is already being challenged by some other streaming services, including Netflix. A competitor like CBS, with deep pockets and access to programs such as The Big Bang Theory and NCIS, will only add to that pressure.

Lachlan Murdoch will likely come to regret opening the hen house to CBS.