Pearson has interest in Polygram’s library only

Brit co. is one of ten bidders in fray

LONDON — Marjorie Scardino, Pearson chief exec, hinted strongly Monday that the British media group is not interested in buying Polygram Filmed Entertainment as an operating business.

Speaking at a presentation of Pearson’s interim results, Scardino refused to talk specifically about PFE, but commented, “I don’t think you’ll find us in the big movie studio business.”

That confirms insider reports from Pearson’s TV division that the company is interested only in the possibility of getting its hands on PFE’s library.

Pearson is one of 10 companies that last week made initial offers for PFE as a whole. But that is simply an entry ticket for a closer examination of PFE’s books, after which the serious bidding will begin.

Pearson on Monday reported a strong performance in the first half of 1998, with operating profits on its continuing businesses up 29% to £107.3 million ($176 million), and corresponding sales up 5% to $1.549 billion.

Scardino, who took up the reins 18 months ago, gave a bullish report on her progress toward achieving her target of double-digit earnings growth every year, and streamlining Pearson’s activities by an active program of sales and acquisitions.

Pearson’s core businesses are book publishing, both in the consumer and educational fields; business information headed by the Financial Times newspaper; and television production. The TV division includes Thames TV, Grundy Worldwide, ACI and the freshly acquired All American TV, along with strategic stakes in various international broadcasters.

The company is awaiting final U.S. regulatory approval for its $4.6 billion takeover of publisher Simon and Schuster, which it hopes to complete later this year.

It also recently announced plans to test the waters for a possible sale of its theme park division Tussauds, and Scardino reported that the degree of buyer interest had greatly exceeded her expectations. As a result, she confirmed that Tussauds would likely be sold by the end of the year. Analysts expect the division to attract a pricetag of well over $1 billion.

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