Mediaset takes 25% of Nessma

Deal re-unites Berlusconi and Ben Ammar

CANNES -- Mediaset said on Wednesday that it had taken a 25% stake in Tunisian satellite broadcaster Nessma in a move that will re-unite long-time allies Silvio Berlusconi and Tarak Ben Ammar.

Speculation about a possible mega-deal linking Berlusconi -- Italy's freshly elected prime minister as well as Mediaset's controlling shareholder -- with Quinta Commincations' Ben Ammar swirled around the Croisette for days.

In the end, the deal was less dramatic than most of the speculation, though it will give Mediaset access to 7.5 million new viewers in North Africa, a viewerbase Mediaset said will expand to Mediterranean Europe by the end of the year.

The move will also represent an upgrade for Nessma, which will have access to Mediaset's massive content archives. Nessma already uses content from reality content producer Endemol, a Mediaset subsidiarily.

"A goal is to give viewers the same quality content they know from European broadcasts, but with local sensabilities," Ben Ammar said at a press briefing.

With Mediaset's entry, half of Nessma's shares will remain in the hands of Karoui & Karoui World, which founded the broadcaster last year. Mediaset and Quinta will own 25% each. Terms of the deal were not released.

The move is out of context for Mediaset, which has been repositioning itself as a content producer over the last year. In addition to acquiring control of Endemol, the Milan-based company also signed a $600 million exclusive content deal with Warner Bros and Universal, and moved Berlusconi's film distribution and production arm under the Mediaset umbrella.

With the deal, Berlusconi and Ben Ammar will be working together again after the Franco-Tunisian tycoon's recent moves put him at odds with Berlusconi, including Ben Ammar's purchase of Medusa rival Eagle Pictures last year.

Mediaset's beaten-down shares spiked on the news, rising 3% on the news before retreating back to Tuesday's close in the afternoon and closing up 0.4% at 5.25 euros ($8.19).