RTL mulls bid for ITV

Media group's ownership of Five could prevent move

LONDON — RTL, the pan-European broadcast giant, is believed to be working with private equity combos on a bid for ITV, the U.K. terrestrial network.

The media group, which already owns Five in the U.K., is assembling a plan that would see private equity groups put up most of the coin needed to buy ITV, already the subject of merger interest from NTL.

According to a report in the Financial Times, the scheme would enable RTL to acquire a minority stake in ITV without needing parent Bertelsmann to fund the deal.

Earlier this week RTL CEO Gerhard Zeiler, speaking at the European Media Leaders Summit, dismissed talk of a bid for ITV as “pure speculation.”

But many analysts and commentators think that an ITV owned by RTL would be a better fit than NTL buying the broadcaster.

“The synergies are obvious,” said one source in the City, London’s financial heart. “They are both terrestrial broadcasters los-ing share who could easily cross promote one another — although it’s always possible that Five could be folded into ITV.

“ITV would fare much better as part of a vertically integrated media group, which is how U.S. networks operate.”

Zeiler has always said that he wants to be either first or second in the markets that RTL operates in.

Five, however, lags behind all the other U.K. terrestrial webs in terms of its audience share.

The channel is struggling in a very competitive fast emerging digital world, where a tight advertising market is making life dif-ficult for private TV networks.

One potential barrier to any purchase of ITV by RTL is how regulators will view RTL owning both ITV and Five.

An RTL spokesman was unavailable for comment.

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