RTL prepares to pounce on ITV

Bertelsmann unlocks warchest

Pan-European media giant RTL is believed to have been given the greenlight to bid for U.K. terrestrial giant ITV.

The Mohn family, which controls RTL’s parent group Bertelsmann, has set aside £1 billion ($1.75 billion) for the bid, according to British newspaper the Observer.

The story suggested that a bid, spearheaded by CEO Gerhard Zeiler, has been made easier following Bertelsmann’s sale of its 50% stake in Sony BMG to Sony in August for more than $1.05 billion.

Zeiler refused to comment at a London industry confab Sept. 26, and the company has also declined to comment about the new report.

In the U.K., RTL owns terrestrial web Five, which lags behind Blighty’s other four terrestrial webs — BBC1, ITV1, BBC2 and Channel 4 — in the ratings. Zeiler has always said RTL likes its webs to be in either first or second place in TV markets.

This month, former ITV topper Dawn Airey is expected to begin her new job running Five, and there is speculation that her arrival could signal an RTL-led bid for ITV.

One possibility is that RTL will attempt to buy News Corp.-owned satcaster BSkyB’s 17.9% stake in ITV. Last week, U.K. regulators said the paybox must scale down its holding in ITV to below 7.5%.

Another possible scenario is that RTL might trade Five in return for the ITV stake. It could then use this to launch a full bid for the web, whose stock price has fallen by more than 60% in the past year.