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Levy, Courbit to set up TV company

Pair search for equity backers

Alain Levy, the former chairman of EMI Music Worldwide, is reported to be making a comeback, teaming with Stephane Courbit, the former head of Endemol France, to bulk up a new reality TV shingle, Banjay Ent.

Levy and Courbit have approached private equity firms and hedge funds in London to raise finance for Banjay, which harbors ambitions to become a second Endemol, according to U.K. newspaper the Sunday Times.

The newspaper cites bank documents and claims that Levy and Courbit have already raised Euro330 million ($508.2 million), half of that being put up by Courbit himself.

Other investors, it continues, include Bernard Arnault, the chairman of French luxury goods group LVMH. Banjay will launch June.

Arnault is an obvious financial fellow traveller for Levy and Courbit, having been associated with Courbit as contenders to buy Endemol last year.

Courbit’s plans are the talk of the French TV scene. Reports suggested he’s lured Alexia Laroche-Joubert, the star presenter-producer of “Star Academy,” who ankled Endemol France in early March, to his new production house.

Other sources speak of talks between Courbit and a bevy of TV presenter-producers, including TF1 late-night talkshow host Cauet.

Courbit is believed to have made a killing when he sold his company to Endemol to create Endemol France, the size of his earn-out deal causing a protracted dispute with Endemol-owner Telefonica and for Endemol France to be excluded from Endemol’s 2005 IPO, which saw a 22.3% free float hitting the Amsterdam stock exchange.

Running Endemol France, Courbit had success with reality formats such as “Star Academy,” “Watch Your Step” and “Deal or No Deal.”

Banjay reportedly will pursue Endemol’s strategy of buying up top production shingles in major European territories.

This policy yielded some large returns: “Star Academy” (a.k.a. “Fame Academy”), was created by Spanish subsid Gestmusic-Endemol.

His plans raise the scenario of a dramatic head-to-head between Endemol France and Courbit for key formats and broadcaster contracts in France.

But creating a company of Endemol’s size and success is no slam-dunk, nor merely dependent on capitalization.

The reality TV biz is hit driven and the number of megahits in reality TV history can be counted on the fingers of two hands.

Levy was forced out of EMI early last year after the company was hit by plunging sales and a shrinking U.S. market share.

Levy and Courbit could not be reached for comment.

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