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Silvio to sell off his TV biz ‘in a matter of days’

After months of exhaustive negotiations and speculation about the sale of Silvio Berlusconi’s TV and advertising business, Fininvest president-CEO Fedele Confalonieri said June 22 a decision to sell would be announced in “a matter of days.”

The buyer, according to sources close to the Italian media group, is Saudi prince Al Walid Ben Talal, who already owns 30% of Italy-based Arab-lingo TV satellite net ART and a 25% stake in Euro Disney.

Al Walid, who sources said was in Milan June 22 to meet with Berlusconi and Confalonieri, offered to take over a third of Mediaset, the unit which groups TV and advertising, along with other international partners. They include Germany’s Kirch Group and possibly, a U.S. media company. Time Warner has been rumored as a partner but stead-fastly denies those reports.

Under terms of the tentative deal, sources said the Saudi prince would buy 20% of Berlusconi Mediaset, while Kirch and Time Warner are said to be interested in a 5%-10% stake each.

On June 22, however, Fininvest denied any final decision had been made. “We are still in discussions, both with a group of technical partners that includes Al Walid, Kirch and Time Warner, and with Australian entrepreneur Rupert Murdoch,” Confalonieri said.

“Both paths are still open and we want to keep confidential all technical aspects of our discussions,” he said. Among those “technical aspects,” price is believed to be crucial.

While Al Walid assessed the worth of Mediaset at about $4.6 billion, Murdoch valued a 51% stake at about $2.09 billion, or less than $4.3 billion for the whole business.

More important, the Saudi prince’s offer would leave Fininvest free to launch a public offering of a third of Mediaset stocks and keep another third in Berlusconi’s hands.

“The Arab investors are interested in a minority stake and certainly do not want to run the company. They are just interested in having access to the Fininvest library and TV technology,” according to Tunisian producer Tarak Ben Ammar, the principal go-between for Berlusconi and Al Walid.

Murdoch, on the other hand, would not accept being merely an investor. The Australian media mogul repeated in the last few weeks that he was a “serious buyer” but he wanted control of Mediaset.

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