January 6, 2014 9:49 pm

Antenna picks up television dealmaker

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Greek broadcaster Antenna Group has appointed a former dealmaker from NBCUniversal to identify opportunities to buy television channels and production companies across eastern Europe.

Pete Smith, a former president of NBCUniversal International who is known for expanding its group presence outside the US, joined Antenna on Monday as managing director.

Antenna, one of the largest media companies in Greece, will explore opportunities in countries including Turkey, Poland, Romania and Hungary. Mr Smith said he believed that markets there would improve.

“My sense is that we’re seeing the bottom of the advertising markets,” he said. “There are real opportunities to buy and build and invest in assets now for the brave.”

Mr Smith will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the group and will report to Theodore Kyriakou, Antenna’s biggest shareholder and the scion of an important shipping family.

Antenna has assets ranging from TV channels and radio stations to a magazine publishing company and a record label.

While the company has suffered in recent years from turmoil in the Greek economy and a collapse of advertising spending, it has substantial firepower for acquisitions following the disposal of its Bulgarian assets for €620m in 2009.

Mr Smith said he would initially look at “smaller acquisitions” of about €50m in production companies, free-to-air television, pay television, distribution via the internet and other areas.

Antenna has in recent years struck deals involving Prva Televizija in Serbia and Planet TV in Slovenia. Last month it acquired a series of music TV and radio stations in Romania from ProSiebenSat.1, the German broadcaster.

The appointment of Mr Smith is a sign that the company is preparing to accelerate its expansion across eastern Europe and is interested in pay TV and content production.

“What’s interesting about this part of the world,” Mr Smith said, making a contrast with established markets such as the UK, “is that dramas can be produced at a tenth of the price.”

Productions companies in eastern Europe could be acquired at valuation multiples of as little as two times earnings, he said, compared with about 10 times in the UK and the US.

Mr Smith played down the suggestion that Antenna might be interested in buying Channel 5, the British free-to-air broadcaster whose owner, Richard Desmond, is exploring a potential sale.

“We’d take a look if a sale process is announced and we’re invited in,” he said, but “it wouldn’t be my first priority”.

What’s interesting about this part of the world is that dramas can be produced at a tenth of the price

- Pete Smith of Antenna

Antenna was one of the companies that were advanced in the bidding for Channel 5 before it was acquired by Mr Desmond in 2010.

The Greek group’s plan to expand comes as some of its peers are looking to retrench.

Central European Media Enterprises, a lossmaking broadcaster whose main shareholder is Time Warner, announced in October that it needed additional capital and was evaluating all options including asset sales. CME had net debt of more than $800m as of September and operates in Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Romania, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia.

Since August 2012, Mr Smith has been chief executive of Cineflix Studios, where he led the entertainment group’s expansion in markets including the US, Canada and the UK.

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