Axel Springer JV cleared to buy top Polish web portal

WARSAW Tue Sep 18, 2012 10:25am EDT

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WARSAW (Reuters) - Ringier Axel Springer, a joint venture between German publisher Axel Springer and Swiss firm Ringier, has won regulatory approval to buy Poland's No.1 web portal Onet.pl, boosting its online position in eastern Europe.

Polish anti-monopoly watchdog UOKiK on Tuesday cleared the deal, in which the joint venture agreed in June to pay 956 million zlotys ($306 million) for 75 percent of Onet from Polish broadcaster TVN.

Ringier Axel Springer publishes Poland's top tabloid Fakt and a local edition of Newsweek, but has struggled to establish a significant online business in the largest market in eastern Europe.

For heavily-indebted TVN, the sale is part of a return to its broadcasting roots. The competition watchdog last week cleared a deal that will see its pay TV unit merged into a venture controlled by Vivendi's Canal+.

The Ringier Axel Springer deal valued Onet at 1.275 billion zlotys, below the figure in TVN's books, but more than analysts' expected.

The price for the 75 percent stake could still increase to over 1 billion at the deal's closing, expected at the turn of the year.

TVN, facing a tough local advertising market and high debt costs exacerbated by a volatile currency, said it would book a one-off loss of 350 million zlotys on the transaction.

At 1350 GMT ( 9.50 a.m. EDT), shares in Axel Springer were down 0.3 percent, while TVN's stock was flat.

(Reporting by Adrian Krajewski; Editing by Mark Potter)

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