Opposition to Berlusconi takeover gains strength

BERLIN — Speculation over the sale of Haim Saban’s ProSiebenSat 1 heated up Thursday following publication of the broadcasting group’s third-quarter results, which showed increased losses despite a revenue increase.

Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset remains in the running but appears to be a long-shot due to growing opposition in Germany against a takeover by the Italian media conglom as well as a reportedly low offer for the 50.5% held by a Saban-led consortium.

ProSiebenSat 1 is valued at Euros 5 billion ($6.4 billion) in total.

Other potential buyers include equity investment groups Apax Partners, which is partnering with Goldman Sachs, and a consortium that includes KKR Private Equity Investors and Permira, which teamed up to buy pan-European broadcaster SBS.

Local politicos have been loud in their opposition against Mediaset.

Kurt Beck, leader of the ruling coalition’s Social Democratic Party, warned against a Berlusconi takeover of the country’s biggest commercial broadcaster: “The cause for alarm is justified. The problem with Berlusconi is that he combines political power with media power.”

Meanwhile, ProSiebenSat 1 saw its net loss double in the first nine months of the year to Euros 46.6 million ($59.5 million) while revenue rose 7% to $1.85 billion.

Contributing to the higher than ex-pected loss were one-off financial charges in the third quarter stemming from an early repayment of a $255 million bond as well as a new $639 million credit line. In addition, com-pany saw higher marketing and personnel costs in the period, which also affected the bottom line.

ProSiebenSat 1’s third quarter loss more than doubled to $35 million while sales climbed 4% to $550 million.

Company’s new diversification division was bolstered by the full consolidation of call-in/quiz web 9Live and recent acquisitions, including an equity interest in YouTube clone MyVideo.

“The diversification division’s vigorous growth confirms our strategy,” said ProSiebenSat 1 CEO Guillaume de Posch, adding that company’s new digital pay TV and video-on-demand services also contribution to third quarter earnings.

ProSiebenSat 1’s nine-month operating profit (before interest and tax) rose 13% to $326 million.

“Growth in the TV advertising market gave us a helpful tailwind,” added de Posch. “We were able to increase our advertising revenues even in what is seasonally the weakest quarter of the year.”

All four of the group’s main channels, Sat 1, ProSieben, Kabel Eins and N24, saw revenue increases in the third quarter. In stark contrast to its affiliates, however, ProSieben, which primarily airs U.S. fare, saw a 28% drop in operating profit to $23.5 million. Sat 1 posted a 20% boost to $36.7 million; Kabel Eins 30% to $11 million and news web N24 178% to $3.2 million.

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