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Mediaset ’98 earnings up 19.1%

Shareholders reap rewards of rise in dividends paid

MILAN — Silvio Berlusconi’s TV company Mediaset, which controls Italy’s three largest commercial TV channels and their ad sales unit Publitalia, approved Friday its 1998 financial results, which include an increase of net earnings and revenues, and larger dividend paid to shareholders.

The Milan-based company, which has recently announced a strategic alliance with Germany’s Kirch Group and controls Spain’s TV network TeleCinco, announced that net earnings rose 19.1% to $306 million from $256.9 million a year earlier, while sales went up 8.8% to $2.03 billion from $1.86 billion.

Importantly, the TV company announced that the per-share dividend to private investors rose by 19.6% to 275 lire (15¢).

Big pay day

This means that Berlusconi’s personal holding company Fininvest, which still owns a stake of about 50% in Mediaset, will cash in about $100 million in dividends.

Mediaset shareholders include French pay-TV giant Canal Plus, Germany’s Kirch Group, Saudi prince al Waleed ben Talal and several Italian and international banks.

Pretax profit rose 6.3% to $544 million, due to a 11.3% increase in ad sales. The company confirmed that its debt, which reached $390 million at the end of 1995, was totally paid down.

Mediaset said that despite its increase of investment in TV drama production and in program acquisitions, at the end of 1997 the group had cash on hand of $379 million which it will use to fund further expansion, particularly in Spanish-speaking territories.