Shareholders agree purchase of French arm

LONDON — Shareholders of Dutch TV format giant Endemol approved its planned acquisition of Endemol France on Wednesday, clearing the way for Spanish parent company Telefonica to sell the group outright.

The vote took place at an extraordinary general meeting in the Netherlands.

Telefonica, which bought Endemol for $7 billion in 2000, is expected to launch a long-awaited auction of the “Big Brother” and “Deal or No Deal” producer imminently.

Endemol France was separated from the main body of Endemol ahead of a stock market flotation in November 2005 due to a dispute over bonus payments.

Potential bidders for Endemol have been lining up ever since Telefonica made it clear last year that the company was not a core asset.

One of the most profitable parts of the original Endemol empire, the French arm’s re-amalgamation into the fold was a key for a sale to go ahead.

Among those said to be preparing bids are private equity firms APAX, Cinven, CVC, Permira, Providence and KKR.

Endemol founder John de Mol has been linked with a number of bid partners, including Silvio Berlusconi and Disney.

However, De Mol’s spokesman, Thomas Notermans, told the Dutch media on Tuesday that the TV format impresario was not preparing an offer.

Others said to be in the hunt include the head of Endemol France, Stephane Courbit, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and U.K. broadcaster ITV.

There also has been talk of a management buyout by U.K. chiefs Peter Bazalgette and Tom Barnicoat. The Times of London reported on Monday that this option was looking increasingly unlikely because Bazalgette and Barnicoat would have to resign from their current posts to mount a bid, a move they are not keen on.

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