CLT/UFA Letting Go

To cut losses, Gallic firm shedding RTL9

PARIS — CLT/Ufa continues to shed assets in France in an attempt to reduce expected losses for 1998.

Following the decision to sell its 20% stake in digital consortium Television Par Satellite, the Luxembourg-based giant is now set to part company with cable and satellite channel RTL9, probably to French group AB.

Last December, CLT/Ufa top brass refused to sign off on a projected 1998 budget that put estimated losses at around $300 million for the year.

As the group is investing heavily in startup operations such as British terrestrial broadcaster Channel 5 and anticipating heavy losses from German pay service Premiere, CLT/Ufa has had to choose which of its many TV outlets it will continue to support.

Selling its stake in TPS netted a $59 million profit. Although no official figures have been released, the sale of RTL9 is expected to put some $83 million into CLT/Ufa coffers.

Latest estimates say that RTL9, which can also be picked up terrestrially in northeastern France, hits some 2.4 million cable and satellite households, making it the leading cable and sat channel in France. The service is carried exclusively on the TPS digital platform, although an eventual acquisition by AB may throw this carriage into question as AB has its own fledgling digital operation ABSat.

AB execs wouldn’t comment on the RTL9 deal, while execs at the channel confirmed that talks are underway. CLT/Ufa sources also hinted that an agreement is close at hand. If AB does acquire RTL9, it will get a channel which hit breakeven in 1997 and which is expected to show a small profit this year.

The acquisition would be the latest example of AB chairman Claude Berda thumbing his nose at those who predicted his company would go to the wall. AB made its name in the late 1980s by providing hundreds of hours of low-budget sitcoms and children’s programming to private web TF1.

But when Berda decided to launch his own digital platform, rivaling TPS — in which TF1 is a shareholder — the lucrative production deals with France’s leading terrestrial broadcaster dried up.

Berda took the unusual step, for a French company, of going to Wall Street to raise cash. This has given him a fighting fund to finance the acquisition of TV primetime production house Hamster and now RTL9.

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