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Prisa backs its bid for Sogecable

Media unit deposits guarantee with CNMV

MADRID — Prisa, Spain’s biggest media company, has deposited a Euros 2 billion ($3 billion) guarantee with Madrid’s CNMV stock market regulator.

The guarantee underwrites Prisa’s tender bid, announced Dec. 20, for the outstanding 50% shareholding that it currently doesn’t own in Sogecable, Spain’s biggest pay TV operator.

It is backed by bridging finance from the London-based HSBC Bank and its Spanish subsid, according to Prisa.

Whether Prisa will have to draw down on all of its guarantee is another question.

Prisa was forced to bid for the 50% of Sogecable it doesn’t own when it struck a deal to buy the 2.9% stake in Sogecable held by Eventos, a company owned by Spanish department store chain, El Corte Ingles.

The deal takes Prisa’s Sogecable shareholding to just north of 50%. Under Spanish law, it’s now obliged to launch a tender for the rest of Sogecable, which also owns startup broadcaster Cuatro.

In some quarters, Prisa’s tender bid is seen as a first step before it delists Sogecable, spins off its pay TV assets, grouped around Sogecable-owned satcaster Digital Plus, and then sells them off.

The sector was rife with rumors last year that French pay TV giant the Canal Plus Group was circling both Digital Plus and German paybox Premiere.

But a Sogecable sale to CPG isn’t that simple.

“We’re expecting Sogecable to remain listed. Some shareholders may take up Prisa’s offer but we’re not expecting Sogecable to go private,” said Sarah Simon, at Morgan Stanley.

“This is a move to control Sogecable in terms of capital share, and that’s it,” said another analyst.

“Prisa will eventually sell off Sogecable’s pay TV operations, but I don’t think it will happen now,” he added.

Some analysts question whether giant Spanish telco Telefonica will want to offload its 16.7% in Sogecable, at least at the tender’s share price of $40.8.

Also, Sogecable is embroiled in a complex battle with Spanish media company Mediapro for Spanish soccer league rights from 2008-09.

Currently in Spanish courts, there’s little visibility about the battle’s outcome, or how much more Mediapro could squeeze out of Sogecable for pay TV rights, even if Mediapro’s found to own the rights.

“We wouldn’t expect any bid interest in either Premiere or Sogecable at least until it’s known who has soccer rights in those countries, and for what price,” said Simon.

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