Tarak Ben Ammar Could Join Bidding for Italy's La7 (Report)

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The next owner of the smallest of Italy's seven national television networks could be announced as soon as Thursday.

ROME – The fate of Italy’s La7 television network could be decided as soon as Thursday, while speculation has emerged that French-Tunisian television and cinema mogul Tarak Ben Ammar could throw his hat in the ring as a potential suitor for Italy’s smallest national television network.

There is no clear favorite in the bidding for the only national free-to-air television network in Italy not controlled by state broadcaster RAI or Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset. Sky-Italia, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., is also a major television player in Italy but it operates only satellite channels, with no presence in the free-to-air market.

When Telecom Italia Media, La7’s current owner, announced it was putting the network and other holdings including some broadcast infrastructure and MTV-Italia, up for sale, speculation was that Sky-Italia could make a bid to establish a presence in the sector. But the company repeatedly denied interest in clear terms.

Meanwhile, non-binding bids in September were submitted by the U.S.-based Discovery Channel; the Italian private equity fund Hourglass; Cairo Communication, controlled by Telecom Italia ad buyer Urbano Cairo; and 3-Italia, the mobile phone company controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka Shing. But all those bids have different shortcomings, according to media reports in recent weeks.

Enter -- possibly, at least -- Ben Ammar. The 63-year-old, who controls France’s Quinta Communications, on Tuesday announced a major press conference to unveil a new investment in the Italian media, according to press reports, sparking speculation that a bid for La7 or perhaps all of Telecom Italia Media’s television holdings could be in the works.

Ben Ammar said back in September that he would not pursue a bid for La7 unless conflict of interest issues involving Ben Ammar’s advisory role with Telecom Italia. But it’s possible those issues have now been resolved.

For its part, Telecom Italia, in a statement from company chief Franco Bernabe, said it sees no problems with the current group of bidders. The company had no comment on Ben Ammar’s possible entry into the field.