German broadcaster rejects Berlusconi bid

BERLIN —Bidding for Teutonic broadcaster ProSiebenSat 1, which is owned by a group led by U.S. billionaire Haim Saban, is entering its final stages, with Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset excluded from the shortlist, as expected, following intense opposition from leading German politicos and media regulators.

Italy’s top commercial broadcaster had made a non-binding bid Tuesday, for a 50.5% stake in ProSieben, but Mediaset said it had been rejected as a contender just two days later, by late Thursday.

A Mediaset deal, which some experts had estimated to be worth $6.3 billion, would have created Europe’s biggest commercial broadcaster.

But Berlusconi — who as Italy’s former conservative prime minister, and current opposition leader, is frequently under fire for conflict of interest issues — is basically considered persona non grata in Berlin, according to German analysts.

In a statement Mediaset defended its decision to make a non-binding bid rather than a more aggressive offer, saying “the pre-liminary and non-binding expression of interest was well-balanced from an industrial point of view.”

Italian Communications Minister Paolo Gentiloni on Friday expressed regret over Mediaset’s exclusion, but said Italy’s current center-left government had chosen not to intervene in any way.

Now the top ProSieben contenders remain equity investment groups Apax Partners and Goldman Sachs, forming one consortium, and KKR Private Equity Investors and Permira, which teamed up to buy pan-European broadcaster SBS last year, making up another.

Permira, meanwhile, said Friday that it was selling its 5.9% stake in digital paybox Premiere for some $115 million.

A Premiere spokesman called the move “an absolutely normal process.”

Permira took over Premiere from the bankrupt Kirch Group in 2003, saving it from insolvency. After a dramatic recovery, Premiere launched a successful initial public offering last year in which Permira divested its minority stake.

Like Premiere, ProSiebenSat 1 also was part of the Kirch empire, making up the group’s core TV business.

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