CLT gives Ufa merger go-ahead

PARIS – Compagnie Luxembourgeoise de Telediffusion (CLT) has greenlit the proposed merger between itself and Bertelsmann’s audiovisual Ufa division. The CLT board gave the go-ahead for the merger at a meeting in Paris last week.

The deal will become final following a CLT shareholders meeting on Jan. 13 and will create the largest television group in Europe, with estimated annual revenues of around 20 billion francs ($4 billion).

Under the terms of the agreement, which was first announced eight months ago, Bertelsmann will have a 50% stake in CLT/Ufa, alongside Audiofina – a holding company which is itself indirectly controlled by the Belgium financial holding company Groupe Bruxelles Lambert (GBL).

Barring any unlikely last-minute hitches, CLT/Ufa will have stakes in a raft of European television outlets. Bertelsmann already has interests in German broadcasters RTL, RTL2, Vox and paybox Premiere. CLT’s widespread investments include shares in Gallic web M6, start-up digital platform Television Par Satellite (TPS), RTL Television and the U.K.’s fifth network Channel 5, which comes on air early next year. CLT also has a 50% stake alongside MCA Inc. in startup Polish generalist channel RTL7.

Last week’s CLT meeting also clarified the position of the giant French group Havas as regards the merged company. Havas has a stake in Audiofina via shares in a super holding company, Compagnie Luxembourgeoise Multimedia. Ultimately, however, Havas is in a minority position compared to GBL and has had to look on as the CLT deal with Bertelsmann took shape.

Last week, Havas chairman Pierre Dauzier secured an agreement from CLT and Bertelsmann giving Havas a priority option to acquire GBL’s stake if it ever became available. In other words, if GBL president Albert Frere ever wanted to cash in his CLT chips, Havas could pick them up and in the process become the co-controller of CLT/Ufa along with Bertelsmann.

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