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RTL is ready to expand U.K. base

Group wants control of Channel 5

Consolidation in the European TV industry is about to get another bump — and one of the key players in this acceleration is continental Europe’s TV station powerhouse RTL.

Company is firmly positioned in Europe’s largest market, Germany, and boasts numerous TV and radio stations around Europe.

RTL broadcasting chief exec Didier Bellens confirmed media speculation Monday that the group is poised to make a big move in the U.K.

With a merger with the U.K.’s Pearson Television now under its belt, RTL is looking to make the most of the collapse of merger talks between United News & Media and Carlton.

“We are looking at all combinations you can imagine and all that can be done, including trying to be a bit creative,” Bellens told Reuters. “In a short period of time, our U.K. position will be stronger than it is today for sure.”

Merger off

British media giants Carlton Communications and United News & Media called off their merger Friday (Daily Variety, July 24), opening the way for a new round of sector consolidation with rival Granada seen as a key player and RTL Group also in the mix.

United pushed to an all-time high on the stock market Monday as rival Granada looked set to make a grab for the group’s prize TV assets.

Carlton is also negotiating to get a piece of the United assets, which include a television arm with three ITV licenses and a 35% stake in commercial web Channel 5.

RTL Group has said it would like full control of Channel 5. Its policy with all its assets is to gain full control where possible. Beginning this month, RTL combines Luxembourg-based CLT/Ufa with the TV assets of Britain’s Pearson to create a broadcasting titan with annual revenues of 4 billion euros ($3.738 billion).

While several other proposed media mergers — including SBS and UPC and the Italian-German alliance Epsilon — have either faltered or stalled, the RTL Group is on a roll. A further financial interest in the U.K. would consolidate its overall position yet further.

Asked whether the group’s U.K. aspirations ended with total control of Channel 5, Bellens said RTL, which will make its first formal appearance in Britain on Wednesday when it lists on the London Stock Exchange, was reviewing all options.

Elsewhere in Europe, Bellens said, RTL was keen to gain a greater foothold in the fast-growing Spanish market, seen as a springboard to Latin America, but said that if its attempts to raise its stake in Spain’s leading television channel Antena 3 failed it would have to reconsider its strategy there.

Bellens was speaking in Luxembourg, where shareholders were meeting to agree to the transfer of CLT/Ufa assets held by Germany’s Bertelsmann and Pearson’s TV biz into the Luxembourg holding company before renaming it RTL Group and listing it in London.

Meanwhile, Carlton’s new CEO Gerry Murphy, who was confirmed Sunday, was already on the job Monday morning. The ex-freight distribution exec comes on board as Carlton goes head to head with Granada for control of the ITV network.

(Reuters, Erich Boehm in London, Liza Foreman in Berlin and Elizabeth Guider in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

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