Hovering over Gaul

AOL TW interested in TPS satellite stake

PARIS — Rumors are swirling in France over AOL Time Warner’s designs on the local media biz.

TF1, France’s No. 1 private web, refused to comment Wednesday on reports that the U.S. conglom has discussed taking a stake in satellite platform TPS.

French utilities group Suez had earlier nixed a rumor that it was selling its cable network Noos, France’s biggest with 840,000 subscribers, to AOL Time Warner.

TPS, which boasts 1.1 million subscribers, is France’s second most popular digital platform behind Canal Plus’ Canal Satellite. It is jointly owned by TF1 (25%), Suez (25%), private web M6 (25%), France Telecom (17%) and pubcaster France Television (8%).

Pullout rumored

While France Telecom has first refusal on France Television’s stake, there have been rumors for a year that both may pull out of the platform, which pushed back its break-even target to 2003.

Rival TV groups TF1 and M6 are expected to hang on to their stakes, however.

Awaiting cable seller

Media watchers were left Wednesday to ponder AOL Time Warner’s likely moves. “The company wants to reinforce its cable activities in France but there has to be a seller,” commented one analyst.

With media stock at low levels, it is thought to be a bad time for Suez to part with Noos. The group announced plans to double the network’s 800,000 subscribers in two to three years.

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