Canal Plus’ Vox stake may pass to Murdoch

OK from Bertelsmann would be clincher

PARIS — Pay television group Canal Plus has confirmed that it is willing to sell its 24.9% stake in German TV weblet Vox to Rupert Murdoch, providing the deal gets the blessing of the Bertelsmann group.

The move would effectively mark the complete withdrawal of the French giant from the German TV market, following last year’s sale of a stake in pay TV service Premiere to the Kirch Group.

However, despite Canal Plus’ willingness to talk with Murdoch, it seems unlikely that Bertelsmann will sanction the deal. Murdoch’s News Corp. already owns 49.9% of Vox, while Canal Plus and Bertelsmann both have 24.9%, with the latter able to block any strengthening of Murdoch’s position in the weblet.

The News Corp. chief recently reiterated that he is prepared to inject substantial sums into Vox if he can up his stake. But Bertelsmann is believed to fear that an improved performance from the channel, which had a 3% average market share last year, would have a negative impact on other Bertelsmann-backed networks in Germany, particularly the country’s leading web, RTL.

Most observers believe that the Bertelsmann position condemns Vox to remaining an ‘also ran’ in the German TV stakes, as well as blocking Canal Plus from its planned exit from Germany.