Heavyweight media trio eyes Kirch stake

German conglom will likely go public in '99

MONTE CARLO — The Kirch Group will probably go public in early 1999, and a partnership of News Corp., Mediaset and Kingdom Holdings, a company of Saudi prince al Waleed ben Talal, are eyeing a total investment of about $2 billion for a 20%-25% stake in Kirch, said Tared Ben Ammar, media adviser and European representative of ben Talal.

Flotation would take place after the German group reorganizes, he told Daily Variety during the annual convention of Mediaset’s advertising company Publitalia in Monte Carlo.

According to Ben Ammar, al Waleed’s stake in Kirch will be larger than the 2.3% he owns in Mediaset. The Saudi investor has a 4% stake in News Corp. and a 25% share of Disneyland Paris.

The financial and industrial alliance among Kirch, Mediaset and Murdoch, code-named “Traviata Plan,” has been the main topic at the Publitalia convention.

“Of course we are still discussing this project with Kirch. They are looking for shareholders who, in the first stage, won’t be hostile,” said Maurizio Carlotti, Mediaset CEO. “It’s more than a financial investment for Mediaset, because the operation will pave the way for a bigger industrial alliance.”

Fedele Confalonieri, Mediaset president, said the Traviata Plan will be focused on free, general-audience TV networks, with each broadcaster in the coalition operating in its own territory, while the launch of a European TV network is not planned. Synergy will be introduced for the production of programs, the acquisition and sale of rights. “With this alliance, we will be strong in Italy, Spain, Germany and the U.K., and France might follow,” Confalonieri said.

The Traviata buzz led to talk of the creation of several “super-alliances.” According to Carlotti, “In the next few years, European companies will go through a consolidation phase … where only a few TV and media groups, probably just two, will survive and compete against American majors. The atmosphere is already electric, as soon as somebody will announce an alliance, everybody will follow.”

“Whatever happens in Europe, this process will lead to the creation of a European major, including at least Kirch and Mediaset,” Kirch CEO Jan Mojto said, hinting at the possibility that News Corp. may only have a a minor role in the venture. “In Europe only four media groups today are strong enough to be international players and meet the real challenge, which is competition and not just survival. They are Mediaset, Kirch, CLT-Ufa and Canal Plus, with Murdoch trying to get in. It’s up to you to guess who will form an alliance with whom,” he said.

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