Mediaset eyeing Endemol -- again


ROME -- Only five weeks after declaring it was no longer interested in acquiring control of Dutch reality television giant Endemol, Italy's Mediaset is again interested.

Price remains a key issue, the company said. When Mediaset declared its lack of interest in Endemol on Jan. 9, it was because the deal would have been too pricey.

But Endemol's share price has drifted downward since then -- the estimated price tag for the acquisition would now be €2.6 billion ($3.4 billion), compared with €3 billion ($3.9 billion) in January -- and Mediaset has had trouble locating acquisition targets elsewhere.

Those factors have combined to make Mediaset rethink its stance.

John De Mol, Endemol's founder who sold a majority stake in the company to Spain's Telefonica in 2001, reportedly approached Mediaset in November to discuss a possible joint bid to take control of Endemol. Even before that, Mediaset confirmed it would consider a bid for Endemol, though formal talks were never launched.

Acquiring Endemol would greatly expand Mediaset's international reach, expanding it to 22 markets from just two (Italy and Spain) now -- at a time when the government of Romano Prodi is taking steps to limit Mediaset's powers inside Italy.

Mediaset is controlled by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Prodi's chief political rival and the continent's wealthiest media kingpin.