ACM makes second attempt to strike deal with SXL

Company News

by Glenn Dyer

Struggling rural print and digital media group Australian Community Media has made a second attempt in six months to interest struggling radio and regional TV group Southern Cross Media Group (ASX:SXL) in an asset deal.

According to a Tuesday statement from Southern Cross, ACM has offered assets including 14 daily print and digital news publications, regional and metropolitan titles, and its agriculture division.

Southern Cross said on Tuesday that ACM’s new proposal "relates to a portfolio of 14 of its daily print and digital news publications, key regional/metro titles, and its agriculture division. The proposal is materially different from ACM’s previous proposal that was rejected by SCA in November 2023."

The Southern Cross Media board said it is looking at the proposal if it aligns with its strategy, particularly the prospective value in Australian Community Media's digital arm and regional focus, according to the filing.

ACM first approached SXL last November while the latter was in the midst of a takeover from rival radio owner ARM, with backing from private equity player Anchorage Capital. That deal fell over earlier this month (in its second iteration) when Anchorage pulled out of the proposed offer.

SXL had rejected ACM’s approach last November because it was intent on dealing with ARN and Anchorage.

Southern Cross told the ASX on November 10 (confirming media reports) that it had recently been approached by Australian Community Media with a proposal involving the merger of SCA and the regional publications and digital assets of ACM.

"ACM’s proposal was unsolicited and contemplates SCA acquiring assets from ACM in return for the issue of new shares in SCA.”

Five days later, SXL knocked back the ACM offer, saying "SCA has considered, with the assistance of its advisers, the ACM Proposal and determined that it would not be in the best interest of SCA and its shareholders to further progress the ACM Proposal."

"One of the reasons for this is that the ACM Proposal involves the acquisition by SCA of regional print and digital assets which is not consistent with SCA’s strategy.

“All About Audio” is a key driver of SCA’s strategy, differentiation, and growth pathway. SCA’s operating strategies and investments are focused on building Australia’s leading audio company to deliver compelling returns for our investors,” Southern Cross said in its November 15 statement.

This time around, the Southern Cross statement did not disclose what ACM wants in return for the titles and other assets - presumably it would be shares, and presumably, Southern Cross would have the same reaction to its November 15 rejection.

ACM has been trying to sell some of the titles (Canberra Times, the Illawarra Mercury, and Newcastle Herald) But it also has The Examiner and The Advocate in northern Tasmania, the Border Mail in Albury, and dozens of smaller papers now reduced to existence as a lonely website. The Land and Queensland Country Life are the core of the “Agricultural Division" which has been offered to SXL.

The Canberra Times, The Illawarra Mercury, and the Newcastle Herald were on offer in March, according to media reports, with no takers. Fairfax reportedly knocked them back.

Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

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