TF1’s entering Kirch sweepstakes

Web makes first foray into int'l television arena

PARIS — French TV group TF1 plans to pony up 100 million euros-150 million euros ($109.5 million-$164 million) for a 10% stake in the group created by billionaire Haim Saban to buy bankrupt Kirch Media’s assets, including Teutonic broadcaster ProSiebenSat 1.

The TF1 board was due to vote on the deal Wednesday, topper Patrick Le Lay told shareholders at the annual meeting.

It will be the Gallic leading web’s first foray into the international television arena.

Last month, Saban became the first Hollywood industryite to take over a major commercial TV broadcaster in Germany after inking a $2 billion two-phase deal to buy Kirch Media’s assets.

TF1, which was generally considered Saban’s partner in the bid for the German webs, surprised industry watchers by saying it would take its time considering whether to join Saban; earlier it had declared that it was prepared to invest $375 million-$425 million.

Saban, who is in talks with other potential investors including Italy’s Mediaset, has said TF1 is free to take up to a 50% stake in the group.

While investing in the Kirch assets was too good an opportunity to pass up, Le Lay said the questions of financing and managerial difficulties prevented them from taking a majority stake in Saban’s acquisition.

“We have to be reasonable,” he told the meeting. “We aren’t in a position at this time to take in hand a German television group, with all the problems that it poses.”

Le Lay also said he was pleased with the proposal for settling the wrangle between satcaster TPS and paybox Canal Plus for the rights to the French Soccer League matches.

He said continuing the existing contract for a year would mean only a price hike of 3% for TPS, which TF1 owns with Gallic web M6.

The appeals court plans to rule on the mediated proposal Tuesday.

The French CEO also said there was no reason why Canal Plus’ satellite platform CanalSatellite and TPS should merge, quashing rumors that have been circulating on and off for years.

Le Lay said the idea was put about by Jean-Marie Messier, ex-topper of Vivendi Universal, Canal Plus’ parent company, to damage TPS.

(Ed Meza in Berlin contributed to this report.)

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