Bertelsmann pushes Five merger

Media giant looks to rivals for future

LONDON — Bertelsmann, the German media giant that owns U.K. terrestrial web Five via its RTL subsidiary, has said that the channel only has a future if it merges with commercial rival ITV or pubcaster Channel 4.

The company’s chief financial officer, Thomas Rabe, speaking Tuesday after Bertelsmann announced its financial results, said that Five was not sustainable as a stand-alone broadcaster.

“A transformation of the business or consolidation is necessary,” he added. “Everybody agrees that there will be further consolidation in the U.K. TV market and we are deeply convinced we will be part of it.

“A combination of Five and ITV: everybody can agree this does make sense, if we could agree terms and conditions.”

But Rabe ruled out a cash investment in ITV, which recently reported a loss of $4.1 billion.

Earlier this month pan-European media group RTL, which is 90% controlled by Bertelsmann, marked down the value of Five from $800 million to $342 million.

Both RTL CEO Gerhard Zeiler and Five chairman and CEO Dawn Airey have spoken in favor of a merger with Channel 4, which itself is seeking a public subsidy because of what its execs call “a funding gap.”

Rabe’s remarks are the first time that anyone from the Five camp has talked openly regarding a tie-up with ITV, a move favored by some U.K. commentators.

They argue that, as private webs, ITV and Five have more in common with one another than Channel 4, which is a state-owned pubcaster financed by ad revenue.

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