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Cecchi Gori courting buyer for TV business

Debts estimated at $1.1 billion

MILAN — Still saddled with debts of 2 trillion lire ($1.1 billion), Italy’s top film producer and distributor Vittorio Cecchi Gori has started negotiating the sale of his beleaguered TV business to a group of Italian investors, daily La Repubblica reported over the weekend.

The buyers are represented by financier Francesco Micheli, Italy’s representative of the U.S. merchant-bank Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette.

The merchant bank is negotiating the acquisition on behalf of Italian businessmen and does not plan to play an active role in the operation, the report said.

Previous suitors

In September, Cecchi Gori announced that a deal was being negotiated with Rupert Murdoch and Italy’s Telecom Italia for the sale of stakes in his TMC and TMC2 TV channels, but nothing came of the talks.

The sale of the TV business is crucial for Cecchi Gori. It would finally allow him to overcome his financial problems and, if he keeps a stake, give him strong allies in content and technology.

In 1999, both the TV and sports businesses will post a financial loss even if the group expects to reach, altogether, a “significant profit” for the positive performance of its film activities.

Revenue is expected to reach $460 million (compared with $416 million in 1998), $250 million of which coming from films and $110 million from television. But analysts expect the group’s debt to rise up to $1.1 billion from $950 million in 1998.