Former Domain CEO Antony Catalano makes play for Fairfax Media

Former Domain CEO Antony Catalano has launched an attempt to block Fairfax Media’s merger with Nine, the Australian Financial Review has reported.

Catalano, who abruptly left his role at Domain earlier this year, wrote to Fairfax chairman Nick Falloon last night proposing to buy a 19.9% share of the publisher, which owns The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review.

Catalano left Domain in January

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Catalano promised to acquire the 19.9% at ‘above market prices’ and generated a strategy which would provide more value to shareholders. He told the SMH it wasn’t a “deliberately planned” 11th-hour attack, but was genuine, given his 26 years of involvement with Fairfax.

The bid is a last minute effort to prevent the proposed merger of Nine and Fairfax Media, which shareholders are set to decide on this morning. According to previous reports, Fairfax Media shareholders are supportive of the deal.

According to the AFR, Catalano has asked for the meeting of shareholders to be delayed, so they can consider his offer. He told the AFR if Fairfax pushes ahead of the vote and the merger does receiver shareholder approval, he will change the deal when it goes to the Federal Court.

Catalano’s proposal comes eleven months after his resignation from Fairfax Media’s real estate arm, Domain. Several weeks after his departure, Catalano was accused of overseeing a ‘boy’s club’ culture.

Nine’s merger with Fairfax Media, which will see Nine own a 51.1% share of the combined entity, was first announced in July, but was subject to Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) approval, as well as shareholder and court approval. At the time, it told the viewers the deal would conclude by the end of 2018.

It is the biggest proposal to come out of the media reforms – which include the repeal of the two out of three and 75% media ownership rules, since they were passed late last year.

Two weeks ago, the ACCC revealed it would not object the merger, arguing it would not significantly lessen competition in supply of advertising opportunities or in the creation and provision of news and non-news content.

The combined business will include Nine’s free to air network, digital businesses Domain, 9Now, its joint venture with Fairfax Media – Stan – as well as Fairfax’s mastheads, which includes The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review. It will also include Fairfax Media’s 54.5% holding in Macquarie Media.

As of Friday, Fairfax Media’s market capitalisation sat at $1.41b, while Nine’s was at $1.42b.

Nine declined to comment.

In a note on the ASX, Fairfax Media said the letter contained “no actual proposal” that could be considered by Fairfax shareholders.

“The letter from Mr Catalano does not constitute a Super Proposal under the terms of the Scheme Implementation Agreement between Fairfax and Nine, and therefore the Fairfax board is unable to consider it in any events,” the note said.

More information on the Nine and Fairfax merger:


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