Star-crossed Pearson rethinks

Pearson, a loser in the bidding for Star TV, on Tuesday unveiled demerger plans intended to enable the British conglomerate to concentrate on the media business.

The announcement came just one day after the company learned it had lost out to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. in attempting to acquire a controlling stake in Hong Kong-based satellite TV venture Star TV (Daily Variety, July 27).

Pearson, whose interests range from oil to television, reportedly had planned to make Star TV the centerpiece of its media strategy, but Murdoch’s deal leaves it searching the globe for alternative TV investments. Sources suggest that the company had hoped to announce its takeover of Star at Tuesday’s press conference.

The British conglom’s media interests include a 17.5% stake in British Sky Broadcasting (ironically, 50% owned by News Corp.) and 14% of the ITV station Yorkshire Tyne Tees TV.

It recently paid T99 million ($ 149 million) to acquire Thames TV, the largest British independent TV producer and distributor, which in turn is a minority shareholder in two British satellite channels, UK Gold and the soon-to-launch UK Living.

Pearson also has an extensive book and newspaper publishing business in the U.K., including the Financial Times.

According to sources, Pearson’s bid for Star TV was actually higher than Murdoch’s $ 525 million for a 63.6% stake. But the Pearson deal, unlike News Corp.’s, would have required Star’s owners, the Li family and Hutchison Whampoa, to remain active shareholders and probably to commit more cash of their own.

It remains unclear what Pearson can now do instead. It was recently named as a possible suitor for the Rank Organisation’s film and TV businesses, but it was believed to be more eager to build a pay-TV biz.

The company remains interested in the highly fluid Asian satellite market. Cross-media ownership restrictions prevent expanding its U.K. broadcasting interests much further.

According to Tuesday’s statement, the group’s fine-china division, Royal Doulton, will be demerged to form a separate company, owned by Pearson’s shareholders. A majority interest in Camco, Pearson’s oilfield services venture, will be sold by public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. Pearson will retain a minority stake for a limited period.

Gross sales from Pearson’s media business were T1.15 billion ($ 1.72 billion) in 1992, with operating profit of T144 million ($ 216 million). Camco and Royal Doulton together generated sales of T490 million ($ 730 million) and profits of T11.2 million ($ 16.8 million).

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