CanWest unloads 70% stake in NZ holdings

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TORONTO -- Canadian broadcaster CanWest Global Communications Corp. on Friday said it has sold a 70% stake in CanWest MediaWorks New Zealand to Australian private equity outfit HT Media Ltd. for CAN$296 million ($282 million).

Winnipeg, Manitoba-based CanWest Global said its subsidiary, CanWest MediaWorks Ireland Holdings, accepted the offer for its New Zealand radio and TV holdings from HT Media, which is controlled by Australian private equity firm Ironbridge Capital Pty Ltd.

HT Media's takeover offer stems from a lock-up agreement between the two parties first unveiled May 8. The deal awaits approval from New Zealand's Overseas Investment Office. That approval is expected early next week.

Additionally, HT Media Ltd. has agreed to bid for the remaining 30% take in CanWest MediaWorks, which was publicly floated in July 2004.

The sale follows a formal auction of CanWest Global's New Zealand broadcast holdings -- TV networks TV3 and C4 and radio stations the Edge, Kiwi FM, the Rock and Solid G -- begun last October by Citigroup.

Citigroup also is weighing formal bids for CanWest Global's 56% economic stake in the Ten Group Pty Ltd., which operates Australian broadcaster Network Ten.

CanWest Global's decision to sell its broadcast assets Down Under follows a relaxation of foreign media ownership rules in Australia, a move that will allow the new Australian owners of CanWest MediaWorks (NZ) to expand into the Australian market.

CanWest Global also is increasing its reach in the Canadian market, where it operates two parallel national TV networks -- Global Television and E! -- and recently acquired rival Canadian broadcaster Alliance Atlantis Communications as part of a deal largely financed by Goldman Sachs & Co.

To fund its growth in Canada, CanWest Global last August completed the sale of a 45% stake in TV3 Ireland and a 100% interest in TV3's Irish sales arm, CanWest Ireland Sales Ltd., for CAN$188 million ($170 million).
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