France Telecom pulls out of Satcaster

Co. to sell shares by end of 2003

PARIS — In the latest of the ongoing seismic shifts at TPS, France Telecom has decided to sell its shares in the French satellite platform by the end of 2003.

France Telecom holds a stake of about 16.5% in TPS, and together with France Television holds 25% in the platform via commonly owned France Television Enterprises. For over a year, rumors have been circulating that France Television, too, wants to sell its 7.5% in TPS; if true, that would now put the whole 25% of France Television Enterprises’ stake up for grabs.

Sat merger talks

TPS has been making headlines recently over informal talks with Canal Satellite to merge the two rival French platforms, causing rumors of share-selling among the stockholders. Furthermore, Patrick Le Lay, chairman and CEO of French web TF1, ankled his post as prexy at TPS last week, while Gerard Mestrallet, head of TPS shareholder Suez, left his post as administrator.

Aside from France Television Enterprises’ 25% in the Gallic platform, TF1 holds 25% as do Suez and French web M6. Due to the shareholder structure at TPS, however, TF1 is given first dibs for the 25% held by France Television Enterprises, after which it is offered to Suez and M6.

If TF1 decides to exercise its option on the shares, it could give the French web a stronger bargaining chip when it comes to negotiations with Canal Satellite.

Furthermore, the pricetag France Telecom puts on its stake could affect the upcoming merger talks between TPS and Canal Satellite. Press reports have the French telecom expecting around $154 million, pricing the whole of TPS at about $903 million.

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