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TF1, France’s biggest commercial broadcaster, has signalled it might bid for Pro-SiebenSat1, its German counterpart, if the German cartel office blocks a takeover by Axel Springer, the newspaper publisher.
The monopoly watchdog has indicated it could veto the €4.2bn ($4.9bn) deal, arguing that it could give Springer unprecedented clout by adding dominance in TV to its stranglehold on the print market via its tabloid Bild.
Should the government agency follow through on its threat, Springer could ask the government for special permission to go ahead – a decision that would be politically charged if alternative bidders had come forward.
The French TV company said: “It is a prospect that we studied in detail in 2002. As there is a possibility of movement now, we are continuing to follow it closely.”
TF1 made a bid for the broadcaster in 2002 when it was carved out of the empire of Leo Kirch. A consortium led by Haim Saban, the US media investor, bought the multi-channel broadcaster, which runs a close second in the German market to RTL Television, a subsidiary of media giant Bertelsmann.
Mr Saban’s intention now to sell to Springer could yet be scuppered by the cartel office and ensuing legal wrangles. The agency has to declare its stance by December 27, with Springer executives signalling legal action if there is a veto.
This could take 18 months, a delay Mr Saban might not tolerate if other offers arise. Industry observers have said US giants General Electric and News Corp took a look at the Bavarian-based broadcaster earlier this year.
Springer could at the same time ask Michael Glos, industry minister, for a waiver. But this would be contentious as Mr Glos’s political base is in Bavaria and Friede Springer, who owns the newspaper publisher, is close to chancellor Angela Merkel.
Both Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats and her coalition partners, the Social Democrats, are all too aware that vetoing the Springer deal could allow a strategic investor from abroad to gain a foothold in German TV.
Any offer by Bertelsmann would be rejected outright by the cartel office, a government official said. Other German media companies, though previously interested, would be hard put to shoulder the financial burden.
Politicians from of all parties are afraid that this could lead to News Corp becoming a major player, allowing its owner Rupert Murdoch to carve out a powerful role in politics much as he has done in the US and the UK.