ProSieben to take on RTL outside Germany

BERLIN — ProSiebenSat 1′s ratings battle against RTL Television is about to spread beyond Germany and into Europe as the broadcast group’s new owners forge plans to merge it with Luxembourg-based SBS Broadcasting.

ProSiebenSat 1 execs are excited at becoming a continental player after private equity firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Permira agreed to buy it earlier this month from Haim Saban and his partners for e3 billion ($4 billion).

“SBS is the leading integrated pan-European broadcasting group,” says CEO Guillaume de Posch. “As the hub of a new European TV group, we would be able to expand our successful corporate strategy on an international scale.”

SBS already competes against RTL in several markets, including the Netherlands, Belgium and Hungary.

RTL has 39 TV channels and 33 radio stations in 11 Euro countries, reaching 172 million households, while SBS has 19 TV stations in nine countries in Benelux, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, 20 Scandinavian pay TV channels, and 24 radio stations in eight countries.

However, SBS reaches just 40 million households. A marriage with ProSiebenSat 1 would up that to 84 million.

With no more room to grow in Germany’s own advertising market, European expansion would make sense for ProSiebenSat 1′s commercial TV operations.

Eastern Europe has been attracting serious interest from major players.

In September, SBS took over Romania’s leading music channel, TV K Lumea, renaming it Kiss TV to integrate it with its Romanian radio station Kiss FM.

This month, publishing giant and ProSiebenSat 1 shareholder Axel Springer agreed to buy a 25% stake in leading Polish commercial broadcaster Telewizja Polsat for $333 million.

The acquisition bolsters the Berlin-based publisher’s print business in Poland, where Springer is the second-biggest newspaper publisher by circulation, with dailies including Fakt and Dziennik as well as the Polish version of Newsweek.

The deal shut out RTL Group, which also had been circling the Warsaw-based network, and came just days after Springer bought into the Turkish TV market with the 25% acquisition of broadcasting group Dogan TV for $481 million.

Springer, which was blocked by German regulators from buying ProSiebenSat 1 earlier this year, has said it plans to hold on to its 12% stake in the group following the KKR-Permira takeover.

ProSiebenSat 1′s new owners are expected to sell it within a few years, as private equity firms are wont to do, and presumably at a profit. European expansion will ensure company growth and a rising share price.

Yet equity investors’ need to turn a quick buck at the seeming cost of jobs and corporate integrity has made them the scourge of every industry in Germany, where they are commonly referred to as locusts.

It was a term coined last year by Social Democrat leader and Germany’s current vice chancellor Franz Muentefering in describing the private equity companies that have been descending on German corporations, often picking them clean and selling off the remains.

German weekly Der Spiegel offered an ominous assessment of the ProSiebenSat 1 deal, pointing out that the broadcaster was now at the mercy of KKR topper Henry Kravis, the leveraged buyout king who once stormed the gates of RJR Nabisco.

As for Saban, he calls the KKR-Permira bid “the most attractive for both the company and current shareholders.”

Indeed, Saban has booked an eyebrow-raising 300%-plus profit.

He and his partners bought the 50.5% share (consisting 88% of key voting shares and 12% of non-voting shares.) in the broadcaster for $1.3 billion, paying about $9 per common voting share, and are selling at $4 billion, with voting shares going at $38.

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