Black, Asper and Canadian capitalism
Based on conversations among Canada’s top capitalists (and their heirs), the Conrad Black trial revealed this interesting insider look at their rather incestuous dealings. Much of the article is written around takes on then-PM Chretien, but I find most interesting what this tells us about the real economics of media empires (original here). In the end, Black and Asper turned into adversaries, dare I say competitors, but the relationship was pretty cozy up to that point:
Conrad Black and Izzy Asper were friends and business partners who once dreamed of creating a multimedia juggernaut together. But they also had a dispute over the National Post’s coverage of former prime minister Jean ChrÃ©tien that was so bitter Mr. Asper at one point said he felt â€œembarrassed, humiliated and held up to ridicule and dishonourâ€ by Lord Black.
The relationship between Lord Black and Mr. Asper, who died in 2003, is outlined in a series of letters filed in court this week as part of Lord Black’s criminal trial in Chicago. The letters are from 2000 and 2001, when Lord Black was selling most of Hollinger International Inc.’s Canadian newspapers to Mr. Asper’s CanWest Global Communications Corp.
While the bulk of the correspondence relates to the deal, the two also discussed their thoughts on a range of other issues such as:
… Mr. Asper’s feelings about going into a â€œpost-deal depression, saddened by the realization that the challenge and satisfaction are over, and not likely to be repeated,â€ and discussions with another businessman about his thoughts on the Thomson family who â€œwill be out to kill us and they will stop at nothing â€¦ until their enemy is lying in a pool of blood, mutilated and slowly dying an ignominious death (admittedly, the colour commentary is mine).â€
– Arranging a way for Lord Black to purchase The Globe and Mail, rename it The Toronto Globe and Mail and make it â€œmerely a Toronto edition of the National Post,â€ leaving the Post in CanWest’s hands as the only national paper.
– Teaming up with Ted Rogers, founder of Rogers Communications, to create a â€œbulletproof media position in Canada â€” radio, cable, television, print, magazines, Internet, direct-to-home satellite, multilingual broadcasting.â€
The letters indicate that the men were very close during negotiations for the Hollinger newspapers and talked extensively about their plans for the future. Mr. Asper mentioned discussions he had with Mr. Rogers about mergers in the sports broadcasting world and possible ventures with Shaw Communications. Lord Black appeared thrilled with the prospects, telling Mr. Asper in one letter: â€œYou are very far along in building up an astonishing media company by international standards and I hope to be able to play at least a cameo role in part of that process.â€