Ben Ammar, Mediaset to silence the whispers

Rumors abound on the Croisette about his plans

CANNES -- When Franco-Tunisian financier Tarak Ben Ammar and Italian film and TV group Mediaset host a news conference Wednesday, the smart money says they will unveil a secular Middle Eastern TV channel.

But the Croisette rumor mill has been grinding out a series of alternative hypotheses for the past week about what Ben Ammar's intentions may be, most of them involving TF1.

The whispers have suggested that Ben Ammar, backed by Goldman Sachs, may have done a deal to buy the Gallic network's film arm TF1 International, which includes production activities, theatrical distribution, film and TV sales. This would be another brick in his planned pan-European distribution network, which already includes Italian distributor Eagle Pictures. Ben Ammar, who sits on the board of the Weinstein Co., also owns Qunita Communications which encompasses several French postproduction companies.

Another rumor is that Ben Ammar has associated himself with billionaire French corporate raider Vincent Bollore to snap up the entire TF1 network, which has seen a slide in audiences and ad revenue in recent times. Bollore has been moving into media assets of late, notably the digital terrestrial channel Direct 8.