Australia's Nine makes new proposal on deal with lenders: sources

MELBOURNE/SYDNEY Tue Oct 9, 2012 3:01am EDT

MELBOURNE/SYDNEY (Reuters) - CVC Capital Partners Ltd's CVC.UL beleaguered Australian television network Nine has put forward a new proposal to senior lenders to restructure some $3.2 billion in debt, three sources familiar with the negotiations said on Tuesday.

It is the first time that Nine Entertainment Co's management has put forward its own plan to try and reach a compromise between the lenders and prevent Nine from falling into the hands of receivers, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The lenders are discussing a debt-for-equity swap that would give them control of the network and any deal is expected to wipe out CVC's $1.8 billion in equity in the business -- the largest ever loss on a single private-equity deal in Asia.

The people declined to provide details about the fresh proposal from Nine management, saying that no agreement had been reached and none was expected on Tuesday.

CVC and Goldman Sachs, which have had one plan for a debt-for-equity swap rejected by hedge funds that own most of the network's senior debt, declined to comment.

CVC paid A$5.3 billion in cash and debt for Nine in two deals during at the peak of the buyout boom in 2006-2008, overloading on cheap debt just before the global financial crisis hit.

Since then, advertising revenues have collapsed across the media sector, slashing profits at Nine and rival TV networks.

Nine Entertainment, one of the biggest private equity-owned companies in Australia, has assets including the Channel Nine free-to-air network; ticketing agency Ticketek; and a 50 percent stake in online site ninemsn.com.

Nine owes A$2.2 billion to senior lenders -- mostly rival private equity firms and hedge funds that include Apollo Global Management (APO.N) and Oaktree Capital Group (OAK.N) that bought the debt from original bank lenders on the secondary market.

The debt must be repaid by a February deadline, and negotiations are going close to the wire for a complex deal that would take some months to finalize.

"They (management) want to get this done as soon as possible," said one source, adding that a deal would provide certainty to the network so it can line up programming for 2013.

If Nine does fall into receivership, the receivers will sell parts or whole of the business to repay debt owed to secured creditors.

Funds managed by Goldman Sachs (GS.N) own another A$975 million in mezzanine debt, which is due to be repaid in 2014.

The hedge funds, including Oaktree and Apollo, rejected the last month's debt-to-equity swap proposal put by Goldman Sachs and CVC last month due to differences over the valuation of Nine.

The hedge funds and private equity funds believe there is no more value in Nine than its $2.2 billion in debt. But Goldman says it is worth more and proposed a plan that would see Goldman and its investors end up with a 30 percent stake in Nine, with the balance to be held by the senior lenders.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Aldred in Hong Kong; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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