Business

Bertelsmann for sale M6 after merger attempt failed

German media group Bertelsmann has brought French TV business company M6 back to the block, asking for indicative bids on Friday to “test the market” after competitive objections hampered the broadcaster planned merger with TF1.

The stake in France’s second-largest private television group is attracting a large number of potential buyers, including some of Europe’s most prominent media billionaires, according to people familiar with the process.

Those considered bids included a collection of prominent French businessmen including shipping magnate Rodolphe Saadé, Stéphane Courbit of TV production group Banijay, and investor Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière.

Losing candidates from the previous auction are also considering new bids, such as the MediaForEurope consortium backed by Silvio Berlusconi and telecommunications billionaire Xavier Niel through his production company Mediawan.

Vincent Bolloré’s Vivendi, who actively opposes the TF1-M6 merger, is also evaluating whether to return with an offer after last year’s bidding.

Two other billionaires – Czech investor Daniel Křetínský and French telecoms owner Patrick Drahi – are also weighing their options.

Thomas Rabe, chief executive of Bertelsmann, confirmed to the Financial Times that he had asked for non-binding offers after “flooding with interest” in the M6 ​​following the collapse of its merger with TF1. owned by Bouygues last week.

“This is why we are ‘testing the market’. On a trial basis we will decide whether to sell or not,” he said, adding that last year’s M6 profits were “at an all-time high”.

Bertelsmann’s RTL Group owns a 48.3% stake in M6, France’s second-largest commercial broadcaster. Shares of M6 have fallen more than 5% since the merger with TF1 was aborted last week, giving the group a market value of around €1.6 billion.

Rabe’s original plan to merge the M6 ​​with its larger rival TF1 was part of a strategy to create “national media champions,” scaled to counter pressure from a shrinking audience. television and the rise of streaming services in the US.

But France’s competition regulator strongly opposes the deal, arguing that the combined group’s more than 70 per cent share of the traditional TV advertising market would give it overwhelming market power and would price increases for marketers.

Bertelsmann has a narrow chance to decide on the future of the M6 ​​as the broadcaster’s 10-year license expires in May. Under the terms of the French license, any extension would lock down its main shareholder, preventing a sale until at least 2028.

Some potential bidders see these constraints as an important factor that will affect the M6’s sale price, especially as any new owners will have to take the risk of renewing the license next year.

But Rabe addressed the issue, telling the FT that “the timeline is not a concern” for Bertelsmann’s RTL team. “M6 is one of the best performing TV groups in Europe. . . The RTL group has no selling pressure on M6. . . We believe consolidation will happen soon in the French market – with different options – we are patient and can wait,” he said in an email.

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