a media industry resource

Australia: Broadcasting


This page considers Australian broadcasting networks, supplementing the introduction to Australian media and providing a point of entry to profiles regarding individual groups.

It covers -

  • introduction
  • television
  • Packer, Bond and the Nine Network
  • Ten Network
  • Seven Network
  • Prime
  • WIN
  • Southern Cross
  • Radio
  • landmarks


Australia has a mixed broadcasting regime, with commercial and public television and radio networks developing concurrently.

The initial commercial radio stations were launched by manufacturers (eg electronics group AWA, the local counterpart of NBC-owner GE), enthusiasts (Sydney station 2GB's call sign reflects the Theosophical Society's enthusiasm for Giordano Bruno) and newspaper groups. Most stations operated in isolation, rather than as tight networks.

The granting of commercial television licences in the 1950s and 1960s largely benefited incumbent broadcasters, with existing print-based groups such as Packer, Fairfax, the Herald & Weekly Times and Launceston Examiner extending their profile from radio into television. Entrepreneurs such Ansett Transport Industries' Reg Ansett, owners of major non-metropolitan radio stations such as the Lamb family and associates of the major groups (eg Fairfax executive Rupert Henderson) also gained licenses.

The 1980s and 1990s saw a restructuring of the Australian broadcast landscape, with reduced involvement by Rupert Murdoch, churning of television stations between entrepreneurs, the establishment of true television networks and significant consolidation of radio broadcasting. During the boom of the mid-80s Alan Bond, Christopher Skase and Frank Lowy moved in and out of the three national commercial television networks in Australia.


There are two government funded networks: the ABC and SBS. Since the introduction of television in the 1950s, the federal government has committed to maintaining at least one independent, non-commercial television network. The SBS, originally wholly funded by government, now features a small amount of advertising.

Australia has three commercial national free-to-air television networks - Nine, Seven and Ten - and a number of affiliated regional networks, primarily servicing regional/rural Australia. Pay television, which has penetrated around 30% of households, is dominated by Optus and Foxtel (a partnership between the dominant telecommunications company Telstra and the Packer and Murdoch groups).

Number of commercial tv stations in Australia

1956 4
1960/61 10
1961/62 20
1963/64 24
1965/66 39
1967/68 44
1970/71 45
1980/81 50
1990/91 43
2000/01 48

Commercial television now garners around two thirds of all advertising expenditure in Australia. Aggregate station advertising revenue in 1998/99 was around $2,611 million and has been growing faster than the overall economy.

Packer, Bond and the Nine Network

The dominant commercial television network has been Nine, under the control of the Packer family for most of its history.

Alan Bond, the 'great acquirer' of the 1980s, expanded his unwieldy conglomerate by buying flagship Nine Network television stations from Kerry Packer - perhaps the most striking demonstration of that magnate's sagacity - and went on to gain control of Robert Holmes a Court's Bell companies during the 1987 financial crash.

Packer acquired the two flagships, plus an additional Brisbane station, following Bond's collapse and has subsequently used his clout to secure 25% of the Foxtel pay-tv partnership.

Ten Network

TEN is currently controlled by Asper's CanWest Global newspaper and broadcasting group.

The network dates from Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of the 10 Sydney station and subsequently the 10 Melbourne station as part of his unsuccessful 1979 bid for the Herald & Weekly Times media group. Although that bid failed, Murdoch gained 50% of transport and broadcasting group Ansett, delivering control of the Melbourne station.

Murdoch became a US citizen in 1985, resulting in disposal of the flagship stations to Northern Star, an offshoot of Westfield Capital and thus under the control of Westfield property magnate Frank Lowy.

During 1987 Murdoch's renewed bid for H&WT was successful, requiring the disposal of HSV-7 station. That was sold to Fairfax (which subsequently sold it to Skase's Qintex).

Northern Star - rebadged as TEN - arguably paid too much and was burnt by the 1987 crash. In 1989 Westfield exited from broadcasting through sale of the stations to companies led by Steve Cosser and Charles Curran. The receivers were in control of the flagship stations in 1990, with the network being sold to Asper's CanWest in 1992 through a complicated mechanism that gave the Canadians around 56% of the equity without formal management control.

CanWest and the Aspers have a substantial stake in affiliate Southern Cross.

Seven Network

The Seven television network, currently controlled by civil engineering equipment czar Kerry Stokes, originated as metropolitan stations owned and operated by Fairfax (in Sydney) and the Herald & Weekly Times (in Melbourne).

The Melbourne station was sold to Fairfax following Murdoch's takeover of H&WT; Fairfax in turn relinquished ownership of the Sydney and Melbourne flagships through the disastrous privatisation by Warwick Fairfax Jr. The buyer was the Qintex group, controlled by colourful entrepreneur Christopher Skase. Qintex collapsed ingloriously after an unsuccessful takeover of MGM/UA. Stokes acquired a dominant stake in 1995.


As of 2002 Prime - controlled by health services czar Paul Ramsay - held eight regional television licences, with a potential audience of 25% of the population. Through its wholly owned subsidiary, Golden West Network Pty Ltd (GWN) Prime provides a commercial television service to Remote and Regional Western Australia.

Prime Television New Zealand was established in 1998, with Prime making an unsuccessful foray into Argentina during the following year. In 2001, Prime announced a joint venture with the Nine Network in Australia "pursuant to which Nine would provide programming, marketing and managerial support in exchange for an option to accrue 50% of Prime New Zealand".


As of 2001 WIN Corporation - controlled by Bruce Gordon - held one metropolitan, nine regional and one remote television broadcast licences, with a potential audience of 26 per cent of the population. WIN also has one radio station in Wollongong.

Southern Cross

Ten and Seven Network affiliate Southern Cross Broadcasting had one capital and four regional television broadcast licences in 2001, having acquired Curran Capital Television's Canberra TEN station in 1995.

It also controls six metropolitan radio licences and Sky Radio. The largest shareholding is that of Asper and associates (20%). In 2001 it bought the talkback stations 2UE and 4BC (and Sky Radio) from the Lamb family's Broadcast Investment Holdings Pty Ltd for $90 million.


Radio broadcasting in Australia follows the television model: public broadcasters and competing commercial networks (with affiliates).

During the 1990s around 82% cent of metropolitan and 59% of regional stations changed owners. Since the 1995 amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act some 53 new radio stations have been introduced into regional areas where there was one existing broadcaster. The Australian Broadcasting Authority reports that from 1990-91 until the change in ownership, regional stations were returning, on average, just over 2%. Return on tangible assets rose to nearly 11% in the first year after the regional stations changed hands and subsequently declined slightly to around 9%.

For the APN network see the separate APN page in this profile.

For DMGT Radio see the DMGT profile.

Village Roadshow subsidiary Austereo claims to be the "largest radio broadcaster outside America". It originated with the company that secured secured the first commercial FM licence in Adelaide in 1980 and purchased the struggling FOX FM in Melbourne in 1986 and 4BK in Brisbane in 1987 (converted to B105 FM). Cinema group Village Roadshow sold its Triple M network to Austereo in 1994, for a 53.5% stake. RG Capital radio (with 35 stations) came under control of Macquarie Bank in June 2004, later acquired 57 regional stations from DMGT and was rebadged as Macquarie Media.

It is claimed that there are around 38 million receivers in Australia (ie in domestic and commercial premises and in vehicles). The total service revenue of commercial radio licensees for 1999-2000 was $737 million (up from $635 million in the preceding year, when licence fees were $12.75 million). Total sale of airtime was around $680 million, of which 99% was advertising revenue. In 2005 national regulator ACMA reported that 41 companies controlled the 261 AM and FM licences that use the broadcasting services bands in Australia. The five companies that controlled most of those broadcasting licences in their own right were in a position to exercise control of 60.92% of the licences on issue, while the top ten companies controlled 73.18% of the licences.


1919 first 'broadcast' in Australia organised by George Fisk of AWA

1923 commercial stations 2FC and 2SB (later 2BL) go on air in Sydney

1924 3AR and 3LO go on air in Melbourne, 2BE in Sydney

1925 2UE goes on air

1926 Commonwealth Royal Commission into Wireless

1928 National Broadcasting Service established within Postmaster-General's Department and funded from receiver licence fees

1929 federal government nationalises transmission facilities

1932 Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) established by the Australian Broadcasting Commission Act, replacing earlier service

1932 12 ABC stations and 43 commercial stations

1934 ABC hires first journalist

1936 first Federal News Editor appointed with establishment of national news service

1939 Canberra correspondent begins nightly review of Parliament proceedings

1939 Radio Australia formally incorporated as part of ABC

1939 launch of ABC Weekly

1939 ABC subscribes to cable news service and gains right to re-broadcast all BBC News Bulletins

1940 first woman announcer appointed

1942 Kindergarten Of The Air inaugurated

1942 Australian Broadcasting Act

1946 amendments to Broadcasting Act require ABC to broadcast Parliament when in session

1947 ABC's independent national news service inaugurated

1948 amendments to Broadcasting Act result in direct funding by Commonwealth rather than from licence fees

1948 Australian Broadcasting Control Board (ABCB) established

1951 ABC Weekly ceases

1953 Television Act establishes ABC as national television authority

1955 Fairfax subsidiary Amalgamated Television Services gains commercial television licence

1956 first ABC television broadcast in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart

1956 Packers get Sydney commercial television licence (TCN-9)

1956 H&WT founds HSV-7 commercial television station in Melbourne

1957 Commonwealth Inquiry into FM Broadcasting

1957 Fairfax-controlled television station ATN-7 goes live

1958 TVW-7 granted Perth's first commercial tv licence

1960 Nine television network established when Packers buy 62% of Melbourne station GTV-9

1963 Ansett Transport Industries (ATI) gains Channel 0 (later 10) licence in Melbourne

1964 ATI buys 49.9% of TVQ-0 Brisbane

1965 STW 9 begins broadcasting in Perth

1970 ATI buys remainder of TVQ-0

1971 ABC begins co-productions

1972 Murdoch buys 46% stake in Sydney Channel Ten television, sells Wollongong station

1973 ABC begins colour broadcasts

1974 first ABC shop opened

1974 Whitlam government abolishes radio and television receiver licenses

1975 first ABC 24 hours a day rock station

1975 2EA and 3EA multilingual radio stations launched as experiment to promote health insurance initiative

1976 first ABC-FM Stereo radio broadcasts

1977 Murdoch sells WIN-TV, buys stake in Ten Sydney

1977 est 73% of Australian viewers have colour tv sets

1977 ABCB replaced by Australian Broadcasting Tribunal (ABT)

1978 STW Perth affiliates with Nine Network

1978 Fairfax acquires full ownership of Macquarie Broadcasting Holdings radio group

1978 Special Broadcasting Service formally established, assuming responsibility for 2EA and 3EA

1979 Robert Holmes a Court's Bell makes unsuccessful bid for ATI

1979 Murdoch makes unsuccessful bid for H&WT, gains control of Channel Ten Melbourne and 50% of Ansett Transport Industries

1979 AUSSAT established

1980 SBS television begins broadcasting

1980 ATI sells TVQ

1980 0-10 Network rebadged as Network Ten

1980 Village gains FM licence in Adelaide

1982 Bell Group buys TVW-7

1993 Australian Broadcasting Corporation established by Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983

1983 pay-tv operator Broadcast & Communications (Broadcom) listed

1983 teletext service for ABC-TV in Sydney and Melbourne

1983 Bond Corporation buys control of STW-9

1985 Eva Presser gains control of STV Mildura (Sunraysia Television)

1985 Rupert Murdoch becomes US citizen

1985 Lowy's Westfield Capital Corporation buys 20% stake in Northern Star on expectation of media sector churn

1985 ABC Radio 1 network renamed Metropolitan network, Radio 2 renamed Radio National

1986 News sells stake in Network Ten Holdings to Westfield Capital Corporation for $840m

1986 Village buys FOX FM in Melbourne

1986 Sunraysia Television buys 19.9% of Mackay TV

1987 second ABC Regional Radio Network launched

1987 Packer sells Nine network stations in Sydney and Melbourne to Alan Bond for around $1bn

1987 Bell makes unsuccessful bid for H&WT

1987 Murdoch gains control of H&WT for $1.8bn, sells HSV-7 Melbourne to Fairfax for $320m

1987 Fairfax sells Seven network flagships (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane) to Skase's Qintex group

1987 Bond buys Nine flagship tv stations from Packer and gains control of Nine Network

1987 Northern Star establishes TEN tv network

1987 Stokes and Jack Bendat sell Golden West regional tv network to TEN

1988 ABC Parliamentary Broadcasting Network launched

1988 Sunraysia sells Mackay TV stake to Qintex

1988 Qintex buys Perth and Adelaide Seven stations

1988 commencement of third commercial channel in Perth

1989 Westfield Capital sells its 51.3% of Northern Star, with 19.7% to Cosser's Broadcom (for $22m) and 31.6% to institutional investors. Sale transfers control of TEN Network flagships

1989 Charles Curran's Capital Television buys Canberra, Adelaide and Perth stations from Northern Star

1989 Gordon buys Crawford Productions

1989 aggregation of regional television starts

1989 ABC's Triple J radio network launched

1989 Television buys STW 9 from receivers of Bond Media for $95m, sells STV Mildura for $18m to ENT

1990 Westpac bank puts receivers into TEN network

1990 Packer regains control of Nine network Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane stations for around $250m

1991 Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991

1992 Broadcasting Services Act 1992

1992 Australian Broadcasting Authority replaces Broadcasting Tribunal

1992 Asper's CanWest buys control of Ten network for $245m using complicated ownership structure

1993 pay-tv operator Australis lists on stock exchange

1993 Seven listed on stock exchange

1994 Packer takes option to buy 15% of telco Optus for $318m

1994 Optus and Continental Cablevision announce joint venture to build cable tv network

1994 SBS Independent (SBSI) created as film/television production house

1994 Village Roadshow sells Triple M network to Austereo for a 53.5% stake

1994 Seven joins then withdraws from Optus Vision partnership with Nine network and Optus

1995 Kerry Stokes takes 20% stake in Seven Network

1995 Grundy game show production bought by Pearson Television

1995 Murdoch's News and Telstra launch Foxtel pay-tv joint venture

1995 Packer sells Fairfax stake to News, News takes stake in Nine

1995 Seven buys 72% of Sunshine Broadcasting Ltd

1996 Australian Competition & Consumer Competition blocks merger between Foxtel and ailing Australis

1996 Prime buys Golden West Network

1997 CanWest increases stake in New Zealand's TV3 to 100%

1997 CanWest launches TV4, New Zealand's second commercial tv network

1997 Optus buys out Optus Vision partners

1998 Australis goes into receivership, some licences and assets acquired by TARBS

1998 Packer gains 25% stake in Foxtel

1998 Prime Television New Zealand established

1999 Prime buys 50% of controlling interest in Buenos Aires Canal 9 tv station (TV Azul)

2000 CanWest buys 70% of RadioWorks NZ, second largest radio group

2000 TEN announces acquisition of 60% interest in online and outdoor advertiser Eye Corp

2000 RG Capital radio network floated by Reg Grundy

2001 Southern Cross buys Sky Network and radio talkback stations 2UE and 4BC from Lamb family's Broadcast Investment Holdings for $90m

2001 Southern Cross buys Telecasters Australia

2001 Prime sells 50% stake in Azul Television, Argentina, for US$67.5m

2002 DMG buys GWR's Australian broadcast interests for £35m

2002 TEN acquires remaining 40% of Eye

2004 Reg Grundy sells radio interests

2004 TARBS goes into receivership

2004 DMGT sells 57 Australian regional radio stations to Regional Media (later Macquarie Media) for $193.5m

2005 Seven vs News, Packer, Foxtel etc

2006 Macquarie share raid gains 13.6% of Southern Cross