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TW has the hots for ITV

Conglom believed to be in consortium with Sachs, Apax

LONDON — Time Warner’s interest in Blighty’s biggest private terrestrial broadcaster, ITV, has again resurfaced with speculation that the U.S. conglom may take a 30% stake in the company.

Time Warner, which owns British magazine publisher IPC, is believed to be part of a consortium that includes investment bank Goldman Sachs and private equity firm Apax Partners, whose advisers include veteran British TV topper and former ITV chief Greg Dyke.

Jeff Bewkes, head of entertainment and networks at Time Warner, is thought to have discussed a bid with Goldman Sachs’ Sebastian Grigg, the Guardian newspaper reported on Monday.

UBS, ITV’s house broker, indicated last week that a bid backed by a financial buyer was a “possibility rather than a probability” because of ITV’s £580 million ($986 million) pension hole and regulatory concerns.

Bonanza for ITV

Two weeks ago, regulators at U.K. communications industry regulator Ofcom handed ITV a cash bonanza when it slashed the web’s annual license fee to $144 million from $387 million last year.

Ofcom said the fees could no longer be justified as 60% of Brits now watch TV via digital services such as BSkyB and Freeview.

Meanwhile, reports in local media suggest that Pan-European giant RTL is poised to buy out United Business Media’s 35% stake in U.K. terrestrial web Five for $375 million.

Move would give RTL outright control of Five and make it easier for the broadcaster to begin launching spinoff digital channels.

Commentators believe Five needs to start operating digital webs or face the possibility of a takeover by a competitor such as satcaster BSkyB.

A contract may be signed within the next few weeks.

Expansion eyed

RTL topper Gerhard Zeiler has made no secret of his desire to expand the group’s activities in the U.K.

RTL is one of several bidders interested in buying Flextech, the content division of cable operator Telewest and owner of the UK TV portfolio of pay channels.

Flextech is expected to be sold following the merger between Telewest and NTL.

Like ITV, Five recently benefited from lower license fees. Moreover, RTL’s owner, Bertelsmann, has set aside $1.2 billion for acquisitions.

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