U.K.'s Channel 5 Draws First-Round Bids From Discovery, Viacom, Others

Press Association (PA)
Channel 5 owner Richard Desmond

Haim Saban's Saban Capital is also among those in the running for the British network that airs such shows as "Big Brother."

LONDON – First-round bids for British broadcaster Channel 5, which were due late on Thursday, came from several bidders, including U.S. cable networks giants Viacom and Discovery Communications, according to sources.

It wasn't clear on Friday though if U.K. pay TV giant BSkyB, in which Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox owns a 39 percent stake, was part of the Discovery bid, had submitted its own offer or wasn't in the running at all. The Financial Times had reported that Discovery and BSkyB recently discussed a joint approach.

Spokespeople for Channel 5, Discovery and BSkyB declined to comment.

Cable networks powerhouse Viacom, the owner of the likes of MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, also handed in a first-round offer for Channel 5, sources said. The company could look to further expand its U.K. operations by adding a broadcast network, one industry observer suggested. A spokesman declined comment.

Discovery has also added free-to-air networks as part of its growth push in Europe.

Meanwhile, Haim Saban's Saban Capital was also among the companies that made an initial bid, one source said. A banker told THR that Saban would likely need a strong partner though. One observer said Saban could join another bidder at a later stage. A spokeswoman for Saban wasn't available for comment.

The Financial Times late Friday also mentioned Scripps Networks as having submitted opening bids for Channel 5.

Financial details weren't immediately clear. It also wasn't clear which other companies had made first-round bids.

Suitors that the banking team of current Channel 5 owner, entrepreneur Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell, had been trying to attract include John Malone's Liberty Global, U.K. telecom giant BT, Vodaphone and NBCUniversal,whose oner Comcast is currently busy with a proposed deal to acquire Time Warner Cable.

Meanwhile, U.K. TV networks giant ITV on Wednesday ruled itself out of the bidding process, with CEO Adam Crozier saying the company wouldn't go after Channel 5.

The timetable for the auction beyond the first round of bids, designed to gauge the amount of interest, isn't clear.

Desmond acquired Channel 5 in 2010 for $171 million from European TV giant RTL Group, which is controlled by Bertelsmann.

Sources said that Desmond is now seeking $1.15 billion-plus (£700 million) for the network as Channel 5 has recently at times outperformed rival Channel 4. But at least one analyst said the company was unlikely to attract initial bids close to that level.

Channel 5 airs such shows as the local version of Big Brother.

Amid recent deals to expand in Europe via acquisitions of SBS in Scandinavia and a stake in pan-European sports network Eurosport, Discovery is widely seen here as a strong contender for Channel 5.

"Discovery is a logical buyer because the focus of management has been abroad and they can leverage their sales force," said Macquarie Securities analyst Amy Yong earlier this week.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai