Schibsted ups ante in TV4 grandstand

Group could control 26% of channel's shares

AMSTERDAM — Norwegian media giant Schibsted has stepped up its fight to wrest control of Sweden’s largest commercial channel, TV4, from Sweden’s family-owned publishing group Bonnier.

Schibsted fired the latest volley in the growing war between Scandinavia’s powerful media groups on Monday when it took an option to hike its stake in TV4 by 5.9%.

Just last month Schibsted upped its stake from 5% to 20.l%, and if the option is exercised, it would control 26% of TV4’s shares.

Late last month, it also launched a E705 million ($949 million) takeover bid for Finland’s Alma Media, owner of MTV3, the country’s largest commercial channel.

Bonnier has not commented on Schibsted’s bid but is expected to counterbid.

Bonnier is the biggest direct stakeholder in TV4 Sweden with 27.7%. It also owns a 33% share in Alma Media, giving it an indirect 23.4% share in TV4 as well.

If Schibsted’s Alma bid succeeds, it would control both TV4 Sweden and Alma and have a one-third stake in national commercial channel TV2 Norway, making it the biggest TV owner in the Nordic territories.

The future of TV2 Danmark, the national commercial channel that is being privatized, is also in the mix with a shortlist for bidders expected soon.

They include TV4 and Denmark’s giant Egmont group, as well as SBS Broadcasting and Modern Times Group. Egmont also owns a one-third stake in TV2 Norway.

While Egmont is the odds-on favorite for the license, the main Nordic players are getting their ducks in a row.

“TV2 Norway, TV4 Sweden and TV2 Denmark have from time to time cooperated in programming and other alliances, but ownership would guarantee the security of future synergies,” said Daniel Ek, an equity analyst for Sweden’s Carnegie Investment Bank.

Both Bonnier, with its Svensk Filmindustri and other companies, and Schibsted, with its Metrome Film & TV, have considerable content entities to contribute as well.

TV2 Danmark, TV2 Norway, TV4 in Sweden and Finland’s MTV3 were all launched as commercial alternatives to the pubcasters and given the only national licenses, which helped them pad their coffers until the digital age brought more competition. Their estimated joint value is more than $1.5 billion.

The idea of a pan-Nordic commercial web has been floated by a number of investment banks in the past.