Yesterday's news that the Australian mega-merger of Nine and Fairfax would be named Nine has struck a nerve in the journalism community, which has long associated the 177-year-old Fairfax brand with the news.

"Watching the name disappear from our media landscape is like a death in the family," wrote News Corp columnist Paul Syvret in response to the move.

As poignant as the media moment might have been, the details of the deal made no secret of which party was the bigger brother in the A$4 billion ($4.35b) agreement.

Nine will come away with a 51.1 per cent share to Fairfax's 48.9 per cent, and the chief executive and chairman will both come from the entertainment company. Make no mistake, Nine will be running the show as the change rolls out.


Addressing concerns about the merger's impact on Fairfax's journalism, Nine chief executive Hugh Marks told investors that his company would be happy to adopt the Fairfax charter of editorial independence.

What about NZ?

One thing notably absent from the merger announcement in Australia was any mention of the New Zealand arm of the business, Stuff.

The first clear reference to New Zealand came during the investor call, when First NZ Capital managing director Arie Dekker asked Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood specific questions on what the deal meant for Stuff.

Hywood said that challenges facing New Zealand were the same as those in Australia, and that consolidation was an equally relevant consideration in this market.

Fairfax has made no secret of its desire for consolidation in New Zealand, pursuing a merger with Herald publisher NZME since 2016. But the Commerce Commission has dug in its heels and any potential merger remains subject to a Court of Appeal decision set to be released later this year.

Even if the NZME-Stuff merger went ahead, Hywood noted that the original terms of the deal had lapsed and that a new agreement would have to be struck between the two media companies. What that might look like or how much it would be worth is anyone's guess.

Asked for his thoughts about the impact the announcement might have on Stuff, Dekker said there would be no immediate change.

"However, Fairfax is a free agent in NZ and has other options in this market if the merger [with NZME] does not get up or it decides there are better options," Dekker said.


"A successful merger with Nine, which has extensive news and entertainment assets, might see Fairfax look at other consolidation opportunities in the New Zealand market," Dekker said.

"For example, a merger of the Fairfax NZ business with MediaWorks would add diversity, with Fairfax combining its print assets with the radio and television assets of MediaWorks."

This speculative glimpse at what the nation's media future might look like coincides with news reports of an April letter in which MediaWorks CEO Michael Anderson suggested to a ministerial advisory group that his company might have to pull out of television in the future due to the continued challenges of operating in the local market.

While Anderson has since assured his staff there are no immediate plans to pull out of television, the letter provided yet another reminder of the struggles faced by the TV arm of the business.

In this context, Dekker believes the combined strength of Fairfax and Nine may add value to MediaWorks as the company continues to toil against declining TV audiences. It is, however, questionable whether Nine would have the appetite to manage its way through two mergers across two countries.

Not done yet

An alternative possibility could see Stuff sliced away from the Australian business.

Would Newshub be interested in a merger? Would NZME be a buyer?

"We remain interested in the assets, that's why we were in the Court of Appeal a month ago," said NZME chief executive Michael Boggs.

In fact, the deal in Australia is far from done and there's still a chance — if small — that the Australian regulator might step in to block the mega-merger. There have already been calls from the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to block the deal.

"This takeover reduces media diversity. It threatens the editorial independence of great newsrooms at Nine, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age, Canberra Times, Illawarra Mercury, Newcastle Herald, Macquarie Media and more — right around the country," said Marcus Strom, president of MEAA Media.

"Nine and Fairfax must explain how they intend to defend the integrity of independent quality journalism in any combined entity."

Hywood seemed confident the ACCC wouldn't block the deal, telling investors there weren't many "areas of competitive overlap" between the two businesses.

The regulator might take a different view on the matter and Hywood's confidence may be tested over the next few months as the parties work towards getting approval to create their media juggernaut.