Oaktree Capital ups MediaWorks stake as Rabo exits

US hedge fund Oaktree Capital, which is in the process of floating Australia's Nine Entertainment, has lifted its stake in local free-to-air broadcaster MediaWorks, whose stable includes TV3 and Four, and radio stations including the Rock, MoreFM and RadioLive.

Los Angeles-based Oaktree, which manages US$79.8 billion of assets worldwide, increased its ownership of the broadcaster's ultimate holding company, MediaWorks Investments, to 43 percent on Nov. 8, taking on Rabobank's 14.6 percent stake, according to filings with the Companies Office. A spokeswoman for Rabo confirmed the bank's exit in MediaWorks, without commenting on details of the transaction.

The date of the transaction was the same day the media group's lenders completed their recapitalisation of MediaWorks, which reduced the company's debt levels to about $100 million from more than $700 million beforehand.

Oaktree emerged as a debt-holder in MediaWorks last year, buying $125 million of the media group's debt at a reported discount of 50 percent. At the time, then-owner Ironbridge was coming under pressure from rival private equity firm TPG Capital, which had also bought a chunk of MediaWorks' debt.

The June appointment of the receivers was to oversee a restructuring plan where the broadcaster's assets would be placed in a new entity owned by the debt-holders. The transaction put a value of $285 million on MediaWorks, according to the Overseas Investment Office's August approval of the deal.

The new MediaWorks company is chaired by Australian businessman Rod McGeoch. Former Eyeworks Touchdown boss Julie Christie, best known in New Zealand for a string of reality TV series, and ex-PBL director Martin Dalgleish join him on the MediaWorks' board.

The deal ended Ironbridge's involvement in the business since its debt-funded purchase of CanWest's 70 percent stake in 2007, valuing the broadcaster at some $741 million.

The insolvency event also meant MediaWorks' $172.7 million in programme rights commitments over the coming five years were open to termination. As a result of those talks, MediaWorks dumped content arrangements with Fox, where it bought all the programming from the international network.

Instead, it will pick and choose between programmes offered by CBS, NBC Universal, Sony Television and, if it can agree on terms, a selection of Fox material.

Last year, the broadcaster said it planned to spend more on local television programmes as it wound down its deal with CBS Broadcasting and stopped taking new shows from the most-watched network in the US.