Endemol may help Setanta

Consortium looks to bail out struggling pay TV outfit

LONDON -- Global reality programmer Endemol is thought to be part of a consortium led by Russian-born tycoon Leonid Blavatnik in last-minute talks to bail out ailing pay TV sports programmer Setanta Sports.

Endemol chief executive Ynon Kreiz was the partner at venture capital firm Benchmark Capital who originally backed Setanta -- the sports channel business founded by Irish entrepreneurs Leonard Ryan and Michael O'Rourke -- five years ago.

He led it to win two packages of Premier League soccer rights against rival BSkyB in the previous auction of rights, but left Benchmark two years ago after a buyout by the partners converted the business to Balderton Capital, part of Setanta's current lineup of private equity owners, alongside Doughty Hanson and Goldman Sachs.

Setanta won only one of the six live Premier League rights in the most recent rights auction in February, leaving the business struggling to retain subscribers and add new ones.

It has since defaulted on payments to other sports bodies and is scrambling over the weekend to find the fund to make a payment to the Premier League later this week.

Endemol execs declined comment on the bailout, but are understood to have held meetings with Setanta executives over recent weeks.

One of the first moves Kreiz made as chief executive of the producer of "Total Wipeout" and "Deal or No Deal" was to launch a sports programming and production division.

Russian-born Blavatnik's privately owned company, Access Industries, confirmed last week that it was in talks to take a majority stake in the struggling Irish pay TV business, which reportedly values the business at £40 million ($66 million).

The U.S. industrialist also has a shareholding in U.K. digital terrestrial pay TV business Top Up TV.

"Access Industries can confirm that this morning it submitted a proposal to the board of Setanta to acquire a majority interest in Setanta, refinancing the company," the company said Friday.

"The Access proposal is subject to a number of preconditions being met. Access believes that this proposal would secure the future of the broadcaster for customers, football and employees."

ESPN, the sports TV network which is owned by the Walt Disney Co., said last week it "had no current plans" to invest in Setanta.