Prepping to pounce

Berlusconi eyes bid for ProSiebenSat 1

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is mulling a E5 billion ($6.4 billion) bid for Haim Saban’s ProSiebenSat.1, Germany’s biggest commercial broadcasting group.

A spokesman for Berlusconi’s Mediaset said Friday that Italy’s top private TV player will “evaluate making a non-binding bid” for a 50.5% stake during a board meeting on Tuesday.

The spokesman added that cash-rich Mediaset had been invited to make a bid by Morgan Stanley, which is acting as advisor for ProSiebenSat 1.

“Of course we’re interested. It’s our core business,” said the Mediaset spokesman, “but it’s still very early in the game.”

Mediaset has hired Citigroup as advisor on the bid, which values the shares at $38 each, about $8 more than the company’s current share price.

On Friday, shares in ProSiebenSat.1 leaped 4.4% at the opening of trade in Frankfurt before settling at $29.86, up 1.83%. In Milan, Mediaset was up 1.1% at $11.28.

Other potential bidders are believed to include NBC Universal, U.S. equity firms Texas Pacific Group and Blackstone Group, the U.K.’s Apax Partners, as well as several European broadcasters, among which are France’s TF1 and Spain’s Antena 3.

Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan are running the auction on behalf of German Media Partners, a private equity consortium led by Saban.

German Media Partners — which besides Saban includes Providence Equity Partners, Bain Capital, Hellman & Friedman, Thomas H. Lee Partners, Quadrangle Group, Alpine Equity Partners and Putnam Investments — owns the 50.5% stake and also 88% of the voting shares.

Earlier this year, German Media Partners came close to selling the broadcaster to publishing group Axel Springer for $3.2 billion, but Germany’s antitrust watchdog torpedoed the deal.

It’s not the first time Berlusconi has eyed the Munich-based media company.

Mediaset was a minority shareholder in ProSiebenSat.1’s former parent Kirch Media before it went bankrupt in 2002. Mediaset considered taking a stake in ProSiebenSat.1 at the time, but faced loud opposition from German government leaders dead set against the then Italian prime minister expanding his power onto Germany’s airwaves.

Although Berlusconi is now out of office, a Mediaset bid would probably still face hostility in Germany, not to mention monopoly concerns by European regulatory watchdogs.

Yet former RTL topper Helmut Thoma called Mediaset “a logical buyer,” saying there were a number of synergies that could be had in joint acquisitions and content production.

Twenty years ago Berslusconi partnered with German media mavens Herbert Kloiber and Wolfgang Fischer on one of Germany’s first cable channels, Tele 5, prior to taking a stake in Kirch Media.

ProSiebenSat.1 operates free-to-air channels ProSieben, Sat 1, Kabel 1, N24 and 9Live, and recently launched two pay TV outlets, a video-on-demand service and took a stake in German YouTube clone MyVideo.

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