Television

Media mogul Kerry Packer dead

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MUMBAI: Media mogul and Australia's richest man Kerry Packer died in his sleep overnight at the age of 68.

In combat with health problems over long years, he did not let that affect his business interests. His empire meant a holding of 30 per cent in Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd., which operates Australia's Channel Nine television network, publishes a bunch of magazines, and has interests in Australian casinos.

In India, Packer had ambitious plans to set up empire but unfortunately that dream did not live for long. In 2000, he entered into a joint venture with HFCL. The HFCL-Channel Nine JV sealed a deal with Prasar Bharati, agreeing to pay a whopping Rs 1200-odd million for a three-hour prime time band on the floundering DD Metro channel.

This revenue model was unsustainable, as was proved later when Channel Nine withdrew from renewing the contract on the same commercial terms.

Though known for his control over media business in Australia, Packer will be remembered more for his contribution to the game of cricket. 

Cricket Australia (CA) described Packer as one of the most influential figures in Australian cricket history who ranked alongside Sir Don Bradman "as one of the giants who have influenced the shape of Australian cricket."

Cricket was one of his great passions and Packer transformed the sport in the 1970s through his World Series gambit, one-day internationals and modern television coverage. 

"That cricket is today taken for granted as a natural part of the Australian way of life is in no small measure due to his influence," said CA chairman Creagh O'Connor.

In 1977, he became furious at the Australian Cricket Board's refusal to accept an A$1.5m bid for the television rights to Australian Test matches and Sheffield Shield Cricket, a domestic competition.

Describing his action as "half-philanthropic," he exclusively signed up more than 50 of the game's top players under the brand of World Series Cricket with his fast-moving version of the game.

He was willing to pay cricketers unprecedented remuneration to win their loyalty, ushering in the fully professional era in the sport. His World Series introduced coloured clothing, white balls, floodlights to cater for television viewers to the international game. His fast-moving version of the game angered traditionalists.

But, Packer ultimately achieved his goal when the Australian Cricket Board awarded him television rights to top matches.

A heavy smoker, Packer had suffered a series of health scares over recent years. In 1990, he suffered a near-fatal heart attack during a polo match. He underwent a kidney transplant in November 2000. He has been unwell several times since.

The second son of Sir Frank and Lady Gretel Packer, Kerry entered the family business, Australian Consolidated Press, in 1956. In 1974 he took over running the conglomerate. Just three years later he was taking on the cricket establishment, signing the game's top players under the banner of World Series Cricket.

He gained full control of the media company in 1982, in a move which ultimately allowed him to make his multi-billion dollar fortune. He sold the Nine Network to Alan Bond for $1bn in 1987, and bought it back for a quarter of the price three years later.

Packer combined his media and gaming interests into Publishing & Broadcasting in 1994, eventually handing over to his son James in 1998. He recently acquired a 50 per cent stake in the British gaming company Betfair's Australian and New Zealand operations. 

Packer's son, James, is set to run the dynasty's sprawling media and gambling empire.

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