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Funder joins fight for share of Nordic webs

Proventus bought 15.1% stake in TV4, 8.5% stake in Alma Media

AMSTERDAM — The battle to control the Nordic territories’ profitable commercial stations heated up last week when a surprise player threw its hat into the ring — Swedish private investment group Proventus Industrier.

Proventus bought a 15.1% stake in Sweden’s TV4, the largest commercial network in the Nordic territories, then followed that up with an 8.5% stake in Finland’s Alma Media, which owns Finland’s MTV3 and spinoff SubTV.

TV2 Danmark, TV2 Norway, TV4 and MTV3 were all launched as commercial alternatives to the pubcasters and given the only national licenses in their respective countries, which helped them pad their coffers until the digital age brought competition.

Their estimated joint value is more than $1.5 billion — a fact not lost on Nordic players who are gathering ownership stakes. Investment banks have long touted the benefits of linking three if not four of these national networks into a pan-regional powerhouse.

Until last week, Norwegian media giant Schibsted was the most bullish. Last month it launched a E705 million ($945 million) takeover bid for Alma and upped its stakes in TV4 to 20.1%, then added an option for another 5.9% Jan. 3.

But Proventus — one of the early investors in Nordic Television, which became TV4 in 1990 — has thrown a monkey wrench into those plans.

It was one of the early investors in Nordic Television, which became TV4 in 1990.

Daniel Sachs, CEO of Proventus, told Variety, “We invest in what we think is interesting. TV4 fit the bill then and now.”

In its bids for control of TV4 and Alma, Schibsted has come up against the carefully laid plans of Sweden’s family-owned media conglom the Bonnier, the largest entertainment entity in the Nordic territories and the owner of, among other companies, Svensk Filmindustri.

Bonnier is also the biggest stakeholder in TV4 with 27.7% and Alma, with 33%. Alma also owns 23.4% of TV4, giving Bonnier a fat indirect share in that channel.

Analysts, who believe Proventus is friendly to Bonnier’s interests, say the equity group’s stake in TV4 will defeat Schibsted’s ambitions.

Sachs says the 25-year-old Proventus is independent and will likely hold on to its media shares for two or three years.

Sachs points out Proventus was interested in the sector in the mid-1980s because TV was in a state of deregulation. It’s interested now “because in the next two to three years, there will be a major restructuring in Nordic broadcasting as it approaches the shutdown of analog transmission.

“Proventus wants to be part of that restructure,” he adds, “and TV4 and Alma are very well positioned for it if they play their cards right.”

Sachs says Proventus is also keeping a sharp eye on other media developments, among them the partial privatization of TV2 Danmark.

Schibsted stepped up its interest in TV4 and Alma following the announcement in early December of eight bidders for TV2 Danmark’s license.

Among those bidders is TV4 and Danish media giant Egmont, which is thought to be the favorite for the license.

Schibsted and Egmont also each own a one-third stake of TV2 Norway.

“TV4 has Nordic ambitions, so obviously we see there are further steps to take that could be very interesting,” Sachs says.