Italy has eye on Mediaset move

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ROME -- Italy's competition watchdog said Monday that it will likely open an investigation into any Mediaset bid for German broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 should the company move forward on that front.

Mediaset, which is controlled by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said Friday it is considering a bid for the German company, which is controlled by an investment consortium led by Haim Saban. Other companies believed to be interested in the company include private equity groups Permira and KKR as well as pan-European broadcaster SBS.

Time Warner also has been tabbed as a potential ProSiebenSat.1 suitor but TW boss Richard Parsons played down the takeover rumors Monday.

"We know the company. We took a close look at ProSiebenSat.1 when it first came on the market," Parsons said in an interview printed Monday in German business daily Handelsblatt. "We'll take another look at it but, at the moment, (a buyout) is unlikely."

Interest from Mediaset comes during a problematic period in its home territory, as the Italian government is taking steps to introduce more competition into the television sector, which is dominated by Mediaset and state broadcaster RAI. Additionally, Berlusconi is under investigation on charges of corruption and has been ordered to stand trial next year.

Though Italy's antitrust regulator said the deal might not raise competition concerns on a European level, an acquisition of ProSiebenSat.1 could strengthen Mediaset enough that such concerns would be raised in Italy.

"We would investigate this possible deal, yes," an official with the antitrust authority said in an interview. "If it strengthens one company too much, then certain steps will have to be taken."

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, would not speculate on the steps that might be taken. He also declined to say whether whatever action taken would be related to the ProSiebenSat.1 acquisition or to Mediaset's local operations.

Any deal involving companies as large as Mediaset and ProSiebenSat.1 must gain approval from antitrust regulators in each company's home territory and also from the European Competition Commission in Brussels.

Scott Roxborough in Cologne contributed to this report.

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