Fairfax eyes sale of Southern Star

Endemol tipped as possible buyer of indie TV producer

SYDNEY -- After months of speculation, Australian newspaper group Fairfax Media said Monday that it might sell the Southern Star Group, the country's largest independent TV production and distribution company.

In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange, Fairfax said it has been talking to potential buyers for several months and "exploring options to further improve the business and maximize the company's value."

Fairfax's confirmation of market speculation comes just weeks after FremantleMedia acquired a 20% stake in Southern Star rival Beyond International.

Fairfax has not ruled out retaining ownership of Southern Star, but sources suggest that Endemol, Southern Star's joint venture production partner, might buy the company outright or at least increase its stake.

Southern Star includes production arm Southern Star Entertainment, which produces dramas "Rush" and "Out of the Blue"; the joint venture Endemol Southern Star, which makes "Deal or No Deal" and other shows; and several independent production companies in the U.K.

Distribution division Southern Star International is one of the largest distributors of English-language programming globally.

Fairfax Media acquired Southern Star in 2007 as part of its buyout of Southern Cross Broadcasting, valuing the company at about AUS$150 million ($125 million).

Since then, the company lost the roughly $16.5 million annual revenue ESS had earned from "Big Brother," when Network Ten canceled the show. In August, Southern Star announced it had sold its U.K. subsidiary Carnival Films to NBC Universal for $40 million.