Planeta snaps up Antena 3

Spanish commercial web valued at $1.6 bil

MADRID — In a move that is sure to energize Spain’s flagging film and television sector, Barcelona-based publishing and media group Planeta has bought a controlling minority stake in Spanish broadcaster Antena 3.

The 25.1% shareholding was purchased from giant Spanish telco Telefonica, which approved the sale at a board meeting Wednesday. Planeta paid €364 million ($400.3 million) for Antena 3, which values the free-to-air commercial web at $1.6 billion.

The Planeta Group is reportedly backed by Italian group DeAgostini. Planeta and DeAgostini unveiled a joint production-distribution venture, DeAPlaneta, last September.

Telefonica is giving away half of its 59% in Antena 3 to Telefonica shareholders as a top-up dividend against 2002 results. Though only buying 25.1% of Antena 3, Planeta will now effectively control the free-to-air web.

Planeta’s acquisition appears to have frustrated -– though perhaps only temporarily — an attempt by Bertelsmann’s RTL Group to raise its current 17% stake in Antena 3, teaming with a local partner. RTL could now buy shares that trickle onto the market as Telefonica’s shareholders sell Antena 3 shares.

The deal seems designed to allow Planeta, in league with Spanish bank Santander Central Hispano (SCH), which is an 18% shareholder, to maintain control of the channel, whatever RTL’s reaction.

“We really believe in the importance of the Spanish market and our 17% stake in Antena 3. As an already active shareholder we are reaffirming our intention to increase our stake, whether with a Spanish partner, or alone when the shares come on the market later in the year,” said a RTL Group spokesperson.

Planeta’s effective takeover of Antena 3 is another nail in the coffin for the presence of Telefonica in media. Pursuing a piece-by-piece withdrawal from the sector Telefonica has already sold its interests in Argentina web Azul TV and ceded control of satcaster Via Digital to Spanish pay TV leader Sogecable in a digital TV platform merger.

Per press sources, Planeta prexy Jose Manuel Lara will become president of Antena 3. The deal should herald the return to a top Spanish broadcasting post for Maurizio Carlotti as chief executive of Antena 3. A former chief executive of rival broadcaster Telecinco between 1995 and 2000, the livewire, articulate Carlotti turned a loss-making entity teetering towards bankruptcy into one of the healthiest terrestrial webs in Europe. In 1998, Carlotti’s last year at the broadcaster, it posted a $107 million pre-tax profit, off $527 million revs.

In a demotion that ensures a continuing pro-governmental line for Antena 3 newscasts, current Antena 3 chief executive Ernesto Saenz de Buruaga will retain control of the web’s news and current affairs.

Carlotti’s first concern will be to nurse Antena 3 back into the black. Whammied by plunging ad revenues, the acquisition of World Cup soccer rights and mismanagement, the web announced an operating loss of $39.6 million for 2002 against a profit of $36.3 million in 2001.

Planeta’s takeover of Antena 3 is likely to hike DeAPlaneta’s Spanish film production plans. DeAPlaneta has three pics in various stages of production, but channel is obliged by law to invest 5% of its annual revenue in local pic production.

It may also revive DeAPlaneta’s dream of creating its own stand-alone theatrical distribution outfit in Spain. An all-rights films distribber, DeAPlaneta currently sub-distributes films in Spain through UIP and Sherlock Films.

Plans for the stand-alone operation, which would have also seen DeAPlaneta raising the bar on the films it buys for Spain, were abandoned in part because DeAPlaneta lacked a guaranteed free-to-broadcaster buyer in Spain for its films. It now has that TV outlet.

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