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Telecinco mulls bid for Digital Plus

Broadcaster considers play for TV operator

MADRID — Broadcaster Telecinco is considering making a play for Digital Plus, Spain’s biggest pay TV operator.

Telecinco is always studying movements in the sector, and in this case we are obliged to look at it very carefully,” a spokesman told Reuters Monday.

Digital Plus owner Prisa has given companies until the middle of September to present nonbinding bids.

Besides Telefonica, News Corp., Vivendi, France Telcom and Mexican magnate Carlos Slim have all been talked up by the press as possible suitors for Digital Plus, though actual candidates are hidden behind confidentiality clauses.

Digital Plus went on the block in May, when Prisa’s stake passed 50% and it was forced (by terms of its purchase deal) to bid for the whole company at a high fixed price. To its surprise, Prisa discovered that major minority shareholders, including Telefonica, accepted its offer.

Prisa’s current debt-load is estimated at E4.2 billion ($5.9 billion). Its large need for liquidity could be a problem, forcing it to demand more than most buyers are prepared to offer. And Digital Plus, though hitting first-half operating profits of $172 million, is hardly a jewel in Prisa’s crown.

“While maintaining a stable (cash flow) margin of about 21% in recent years, Digital Plus has had difficulty in adding subscribers and raising average revenues per subscriber in a TV environment that has become steadily more competitive and where room for improvement appears limited,” said Francois Godard, at Enders Analysis.

A Digital Plus buy would, however, satisfy terrestrial broadcaster Telecinco’s need to downscale its large dependence on a rapidly deteriorating Spanish TV ad market.

Telecinco first-half profits fell 6% to $282 million, a still impressive perf but significantly down on double-digit annual upticks a few years ago.

In its first major diversification, in July 2007, Telecinco teamed with Mediaset, John de Mol and Goldman Sachs to buy Dutch reality TV giant Endemol.

Telecinco also holds 28% in U.S. Hispanic network CaribeVision, controlled by Mexican mogul Alejandro Burillo Azcarraga.

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