FRANKFURT Primacom, Germany's fourth-largest cable operator, wants an active role in the market's consolidation, its managing director said, and has already made bids for certain assets of Tele Columbus ESCALC.UL and for Deutsche Telekabel.
"We are hunters not hunted. We are ready to be a consolidator", Wolf Waschkuhn, managing director and supervisory board member of Primacom told Reuters. "We have put in bids for the Berlin assets of Tele Columbus and for Deutsche Telekabel."
The German cable market was once one of Europe's most fragmented, with a proliferation of smaller regional players offering television and broadband services.
But companies like Kabel Deutschland KD8Gn.DE and Unitymedia restructured it by buying smaller companies, before being bought up by multinationals themselves.
Cable companies have become hot assets as their cable lines, designed to deliver TV to homes, have been upgraded to carry voice calls and Internet at speeds often five times faster than competing services from telecom operators and they have been snatching customers from them.
Last week, Vodafone (VOD.L) completed the 7.7 billion euro ($10 billion) takeover of Germany's largest cable company Kabel Deutschland KD8Gn.DE.
In 2011, Liberty Global (LBTYA.O) purchased Unitymedia for 3.5 billion euros and two years later KabelBW EQTPRK.UL for 3.2 billion euros. The latter deal is in doubt after a German court in August reversed an antitrust approval.
Kabel Deutschland earlier this year walked away from buying Tele Columbus for about 618 million euros after Germany's competition watchdog blocked the deal.
Tele Columbus, which is owned by several hedge funds including York Capital, Anchorage and GoldenTree following a financial restructuring, is one of the few assets left.
It has attracted interest from private equity groups CVC CVC.UL and Cinven CINV.UL, which are offering to buy Tele Columbus in a potential deal valuing the company's equity and debt at roughly 600 million euros, two people familiar with the negotiations said.
Tele Columbus still has 570 million euros in net debt, one of the sources said.
The CVC and Cinven also earlier this month handed in bids for much smaller Deutsche Telekabel, which could be valued at up to 150 million euros, the sources said.
Primacom's Waschkuhn sees his group - which emerged from a financial restructuring itself and is now profitable again - as more attractive as a potential partner.
"In contrast to financial sponsors we can act as a strategic partner and reap synergies (from a potential acquisition)." He said he has backing from the group's owners - Alcentra, Avenue Capital, Tennenbaum Capital and ING ING.AS - for a potential deal.
In Primacom's view, the Tele Columbus' eastern German assets are highly profitable, accounting for two thirds of Tele Columbus' earnings, while the western German assets are seen as far less attractive.
According to a source familiar with the negotiations, Primacom is also considering the purchase of all of Tele Columbus, if its price expectations are met.
Tele Columbus supplies 2 million households in Germany with TV, internet and telephone services, while Primacom supplies 1 million and Deutsche Telekabel 270.000 households.
Tele Columbus, Deutsche Telekabel, CVC, Cinven and York and Anchorage declined to comment, while GoldenTree was not immediately available for comment.
Rothschild, which is advising Tele Columbus as well as Goetzpartners, which is advising Deutsche Telekabel, also declined to comment.
(Reporting by Arno Schuetze; Additional reporting by Peter Maushagen; Editing by Harro ten Wolde and Jane Merriman)