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Axel Springer interest boosts ProSiebenSat 1

Poor performance speculated as reason for quick sale

BERLIN — Growing speculations that Haim Saban is negotiating to sell ProSiebenSat 1 to publishing house Axel Springer upped the TV group’s share prices by more than 10% on Monday to E14.20 ($18.50).

According to German weekly Der Spiegel, Saban’s camp also has held talks with Viacom, General Electric and Disney, all of which already have a footing here, and Rupert Murdoch, who was badly burned when his investment in Teutonic TV went up in smoke with the collapse of the Kirch Group.

Berlin-based Axel Springer, which already owns 12% of the multichannel ProSiebenSat 1, appears to be at the top of the list of possible buyers of the group, which is 88% owned by Saban and a consortium of equity investors that includes Hellman & Friedman, Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee.

Once part of the now-defunct Kirch, ProSiebenSat 1 is Germany’s largest commercial broadcasting group.

Axel Springer has declined to comment on the reports, while a ProSiebenSat 1 spokeswoman denied that the group is on the block. The Financial Time Deutschland, however, reported that Axel Springer had begun talks with Deutsche Bank to back the deal.

Local observers point to the group’s less than stellar performance last year as one possible reason why Saban’s financial backers want a quick sale: ProSiebenSat 1’s stock price dropped more than 4% last week after its preliminary figures for 2004 disappointed investors. Analysts had expected revenues to reach $430 million — nearly $12 million more than the group earned.

While Saban has repeatedly said he’s in Germany to stay, most local industryites picture a sale sooner rather than later. Although, Saban could retain his stake in the group while his investment partners sell their shares.

Saban holds 24.9% in P7S1 Holding, which holds the 88% stake in ProSiebenSat 1. Saban’s investment partners own the remaining 75.1%.

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