Nine and Fairfax merger draws 177 years of Australian media history to a close

The Nine and Fairfax merger sees the end of the Fairfax family's 177-year association with Australian media, writes Mumbrella's Paul Wallbank.

When John Fairfax purchased the Sydney Morning Herald in 1841, Fairfax became a national company. It went on to launch the Australian Financial Review in 1953 and cemented its broadsheet portfolio with the acquisition of Melbourne Age publisher, David Syme & Co, in 1983.

The soon to vanish Fairfax Media brand

The acquisition of David Syme was followed by Warwick Fairfax’s debt-funded venture to take control of his great-grandfather’s business. Its eventual failure in 1990, which put the group into liquidation, saw the family lose control. In late 2011, John B. Fairfax sold the family’s remaining 9.7% stake in Fairfax Media for AU$189 million.

In 1993, the company was re-listed on the Australian Stock Exchange as John Fairfax Holdings, with Canadian newspaper tycoon Conrad Black holding 25% of the shares, and Kerry Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting Limited owning 15%.

The concerns over Fairfax’s ownership and News’ acquisition of the Herald and Weekly Times saw the Keating Federal government introduce its media ownership restrictions, which remained in place until last year.

Throughout the disruption of the Australian media over the last twenty years, Fairfax has seen a number of changes. Between 2011 and 2015, Fairfax shed 30% of its full-time employees.

Another move saw Fairfax merge its Rural Press operations into what became Australian Community Media in 2006. Earlier this year, the company restructured the regional and suburban business after axing several Sydney suburban titles.

Last year, Fairfax spun off its real estate publishing arm, Domain, in a stock market float worth $2bn.

One notable digital success for Fairfax was Stan, its joint streaming venture with Nine. Today’s announcement will see Stan become a fully-owned part of Nine.

Ironically, the Fairfax family were early movers in the Australian television industry, acquiring the ATN7 Sydney licence in 1956. It affiliated with Herald and Weekly Times-owned Melbourne station HSV7 seven years later, in order to compete with the Packer-owned GTV9 and TCN9 stations.

Fairfax sold the television stations in 1980, following News Limited’s earlier attempts to buy Melbourne’s Herald and Weekly Times in the late 1970s.

Some Fairfax journalists have expressed desperation at the merger, however many believe the move may be the best hope for the company’s titles. While the Fairfax name will soon be gone, the family’s legacy will continue to resonate for years to come.


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