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moguls-clockwise from left, Cameron O'Reilly, Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer-are moving into the future with big plans for expanding their family businesses throughout the Asia-Pacific region. RIVAL MEDIA SCIONS PLOT GROWTH IN ASIA-PACIFIC SONS OF MURDOCH, O'REILLY, PACKER SEE OPPORTUNITIES FOR NEWSPAPERS, TV, MAGAZINES

By Published on .

[sydney] The sons of three of the world's most powerful media barons-Lachlan Murdoch, 24; Cameron O'Reilly, 32; and James Packer, 28-are preparing to expand their future empires in the burgeoning Asia-Pacific region.

Lachlan Murdoch has signaled TV will be his focus in Asia. The third-generation media baron is deputy chief executive of News Ltd., the parent company of Rupert Murdoch's $10 billion News Corp., which controls book, film, magazine, newspaper and TV properties worldwide.

James Packer, chief executive of Publishing & Broadcasting, the $2 billion company that dominates TV and magazine publishing in Australia and son of Kerry, said recently that he plans to move key magazines into the region, with editions printed locally. TV sports programming alliances also are in the cards.

O'REILLY FIRE INTACT

The O'Reilly family plans are less clear, except the knowledge that patriarch Anthony J.F. O'Reilly has passed along his fire.

"My son Cameron [chief executive of the family company, Australian Provincial Newspapers] is ready to do battle with Jamie Packer and Lachie Murdoch," said the senior Mr. O'Reilly in a recent interview, adding that he plans to reduce his own workload.

He's chairman of all family enterprises as well as chairman, president-CEO and major stockholder of H.J. Heinz Co. in the U.S.

Within the past two years, the O'Reillys have launched a major expansion of their Australian and European newspaper empire, spending more than $500 million to buy into newspaper groups and radio networks in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa.

BATTLE AHEAD

The first major battle between the three young men may well be over control of Sydney's John Fairfax media group; the publisher of major Australian newspapers and magazines boasts a valuable cash flow from its dominant position in classified advertising.

Tony O'Reilly tried to buy Fairfax in 1991, but lost out to Canadian publisher Conrad Black, who now controls the group through a 25% stake held by his The Telegraph Group in London. Mr. Black wants to increase his stake but is stymied by Australia's current foreign media ownership rules, and some observers predict he eventually may sell out in exasperation.

The Packers hold 17% of Fairfax, and they make no secret they would like control; however, they, too, are held back by cross-media ownership laws. Mr. Murdoch's News Ltd. has 5%, and has played a waiting game.

Cameron O'Reilly has said Fairfax is in his sights.

Lachlan Murdoch, speaking as deputy chairman of News Corp.'s Hong Kong-based Star TV, a pan-Asian satellite TV network, told a recent International Advertising Association conference that virtually every Asian country has an emerging middle-class with a growing disposable income.

"All of us here are betting on.. . what they do with it, how they use it to change their lives," he said.

GLOBAL PLANS

Mr. Murdoch, who appears to have the same global views about expansion as his father, talked about his company's five priority markets-China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Taiwan.

"Asia-Pacific's multichannel market is already twice as large as Western Europe's. By 2005, 178 million cable and satellite homes are forecast," he said. "About 150 million, or 84%, are expected to be in China, India and Japan."

Mr. Murdoch explained Star TV gears its services to local markets.

"Our service for India is totally different-both in language and program content-to what we deliver to Southeast Asia or Japan

... This localization policy is at the heart of Channel V, our popular music video service," which targets young people.

It's not surprising that the energetic, young Mr. Murdoch focuses on the youth market. Friends say Lachlan has the same enthusiasm and capacity for hard work as his father.

`SENSE OF EXCITEMENT'

In a recent newspaper interview with the rival Sydney Morning Herald, Mr. Murdoch spoke of the "sense of excitement" he has felt since joining News Ltd. 18 months ago: "Starting on relatively small challenges, building up until now I'm at a point where I'm trying to look at the entirety .*.*. to see where our strategic initiatives have to be."

Neither Lachlan nor his older sister Elisabeth, 27, have absolute right to eventual control of the News Corp. empire. The Murdoch family owns 31%, but other shareholders showed during the company's financial crisis three years ago that they would outvote the Murdochs if necessary.

Younger brother James, 22, owns a small record label in New York but says he eventually may join News Corp.

James Packer's media lineage goes back four generations-to great-grandfather Clyde, who founded a Sydney scandal sheet, Smith's Weekly, before taking over the local Daily Telegraph.

Grandfather Sir Frank consolidated the family's magazine empire, starting with the still-dominant Women's Weekly, before handing over the helm to James' father, who has shown a flair for developing TV holdings.

FAMILY TIES

There's been an on-again, off-again 40-year friendship between the Murdoch and Packer families, ever since Sir Frank generously helped the young, struggling Rupert Murdoch keep his small family newspaper interests after Keith Murdoch died in 1951.

Lachlan and James, who share a Sept. 8 birthday, are occasionally seen partying together in Sydney. Lachlan says he and "Jamie get along fairly well ... but are realistic about being competitors."

Lachlan Murdoch has told friends he relishes the expanding local pay-per-view on cable TV fight between News Corp.'s Foxtel and the Packer-backed Optus Vision, and adds with the disarming candor of his father: "It would be pretty boring if you didn't have that sort of fight."

Sydney debutantes have described the cultured and well-mannered Lachlan, who lists Greek philosophy and ancient history among his interests, as "yummy."

James Packer, tall and powerfully built like his father, is seen as a rougher man's man. His interests are football and polo, which he plays well; he drives a black Mercedes convertible and wears T-shirts with slogans such as "Losing is not an option."

"It's like comparing Lachie's chardonnay to Jamie's draft beer," said one young woman.

POSITIVE REACTION

When James Packer earlier this year became managing director of Publishing & Broadcasting, which controls the family's TV and print interests, the stock market reacted positively.

He has been accepted as the logical successor to Kerry, 59, who had a massive heart attack six years ago and has been winding down ever since.

James Packer rarely speaks in public and doesn't give interviews. He has, however, discussed with business analysts his hope of developing Asian editions of the company's top magazine titles, with local language and advertising content.

Those magazines include Cleo, Cosmopolitan and Woman's Day.

The Packers, like the Murdochs, are keenly aware of the huge, growing demand in Asia for sports-orientated TV programs. Packer interests already have exclusive rights to beam horse racing into Australian pubs and clubs via satellite, and are considering expansion throughout Asia.

FREE AND PAY TV TO BATTLE

"Everywhere in the world, domestic sporting competitions are what people want," Mr. Packer has said. And he agreed with Lachlan Murdoch that the struggle between free and pay-TV will be the major battlefield for the two family empires.

The thought of succession doesn't seem to bother Tony O'Reilly, 60.

He says his family's next generation-particularly his triplet sons, Cameron, Gavin and Tony-are well positioned to protect the equities he has built worldwide.

Starting with the 1973 purchase of controlling interest in Dublin's Independent Newspapers, now with assets close to $1 billion, he has expanded into Australia, France, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa and the U.K.

DIFFERENT LIFESTYLE

Cameron O'Reilly is not yet in the same league as young Murdoch and Packer, and he lives a very different lifestyle, with a wife and family. Australian Provincial Newspapers, which he heads, publishes a string of small-town newspapers in New South Wales.

But he is being groomed to take over the family's worldwide media assets, whose recent purchases have included 60% of the Argus group in South Africa and 43% of Newspaper Publishing in the U.K.

In the past two years, O'Reilly family interests also have acquired 44% of New Zealand's cash-rich Wilson & Horton media group, along with interests in pay-TV and radio networks in Australia and New Zealand.

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