Saban raises bidding bar for ProSieben

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The price tag for ProSiebenSat.1, Germany's leading commercial TV broadcaster, will be at least €3 billion ($4 billion), sources near the negotiations said Monday.

The Pro-Sieben auction is heading into its final round. The short list of bidders — which includes investment consortia KKR/Permira and Goldman Sachs/Apax/Cinven, two unnamed private investment companies and Turkish media conglomerate Dogan Yayin Group — have until Dec. 12 to submit binding offers for the broadcaster.

Haim Saban, who, together with a group of private investors, controls 50.5% of ProSieben, is expected to sign a deal to hand over that stake before the end of the year.

Sources near ProSieben said Monday that Saban and company will not be selling ProSieben for less than €3 billion. If true, that would be a hefty markup from the €2.45 billion ($3.3 billion) Saban was willing to accept from Axel Springer AG for ProSieben in January. That deal fell through after German media authorities threatened to block it.

One of ProSieben's suitors — Dogan Yayin — could face similar regulatory scrutiny this time around. Dogan is the only bidder with media assets in Germany. Two of the group's Turkish-language TV channels and its best-selling broadsheet Hurriyet are niche players in the German market.

Potentially more problematic for Dogan is a recent deal with Axel Springer that gave Springer a 25% stake in Dogan's Turkish TV business (HR 11/17).

That might be enough to worry German media watchdogs. Springer already holds 12% of ProSiebenSat.1 and is Germany's largest newspaper publisher.

Sources close to Dogan and ProSieben, however, said they see Springer's stake in the Turkish company as "unproblematic" and that they do not anticipate any opposition from German or European regulators.

In an interview published Monday in Financial Times Deutschland, Dogan head Aydin Dogan downplayed his company's chances in the ProSieben auction.

"I'm not ruling out that someone else will bid higher and we won't be able to keep up," Dogan said.

The Saban-led consortium and the bank J.P. Morgan, which is handling the auction, declined to comment Monday.

ProSiebenSat.1's share of Germany's TV viewing audience slipped slightly in November. The group's five free-to-air channels accounted for 30.2% of the key 14-49 demographic in the territory, down from 30.9% in October.

But Henning Wagener, an analyst with AC Research, on Monday advised investors to hold onto their ProSieben stock, arguing that a recovering German advertising market and a nascent digital TV spectrum offers good potential for growth.

ProSiebenSat.1 shares were holding steady in midday trading Monday, virtually unchanged at €22.90 ($30.5).
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