RTL chief picks up C4 merger efforts

Gerhard Zeiler hopes new lineup more open to integration

LONDON -- His previous offers have been rebuffed, but RTL chief executive Gerhard Zeiler is understood to have renewed merger overtures with Channel 4's incoming chairman Terry Burns and chief executive David Abraham -- hoping to find the new lineup more amenable to a merger.

Zeiler is reported to have met with Burns and Abrahams to scope out possibilities that could include a full merger or some lesser combination of Five and Channel 4's airtime sales operations and back office functions.

Neither RTL nor Channel 4 were available to comment on the reports. Channel 4 and Five first discussed the possibility of a merger six years ago, when the current BBC director general, Mark Thompson, was Channel 4 chief executive.

But the offer was rejected by Thompson's successor Andy Duncan, while Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson described the combination of government-owned Channel 4 and RTL Group's struggling terrestrial net Five, as trying to mix "oil and water."

Zeiler, who has been attempting to architect a deal between the two companies, may take comfort from the fact that Channel 4's much vaunted talks with BBC Worldwide appear to have come to nothing.

For much of the past 18 months Channel 4 and the BBC's commercial arm have been looking at integrating their channel businesses or exploring licensing and merchandising synergies.

But momentum seems to have faded, with the architects of the deal on the Channel 4 side, Andy Duncan and Luke Johnson, now departed.

Five has been particularly hard-hit by the commercial downturn, with parent group RTL writing off $600 million in the broadcaster's value over the past two financial years.
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