January 16, 2013 / 6:10 PM / 5 years ago

Telecom Italia fails to win improved bids for TV unit-sources

* Telecom Italia board to meet on Thursday to decide

* Bids from Clessidra, Cairo remain unchanged - sources

* A deal might not carry a premium - analyst

* Sale complicated by media industry difficulties

By Danilo Masoni

MILAN, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Debt-laden Telecom Italia has failed to attract improved bids for its majority stake in unprofitable Telecom Italia Media TV unit, sources close to the matter said on Wednesday, raising the prospect of a sale not going ahead.

The board of Telecom Italia meets on Thursday to decide whether to go ahead with the disposal, which its management initially aimed to complete by the end of 2012 to help cut its debt of 29.5 billion euros ($39 billion) and focus on its core telecoms business.

However, the sale has dragged on because of difficult industry conditions, with Telecom Italia seeking in vain to get better offers from two bidders, private equity fund Clessidra and media firm Cairo.

Sources close to the situation told Reuters neither Clessidra nor Cairo had improved the binding offers first presented last month, which Telecom Italia had considered too low.

“There has been no change,” one of the sources said of Clessidra’s offer.

“Cairo is still interested and its offer remains unchanged,” another source said.

Sources have said Clessidra values Telecom Italia Media at 330-380 million euros, including debt of 220 million euros. That means that Telecom Italia, which has its 77 percent stake in the company valued at 176 million euros in its books, would make no capital gain if it sold at that price.

While Clessidra has bid for all of Telecom Italia Media - two cash-burning TV channels and a profitable broadcast network operator which leases bandwidth to carry its own and rival channels - Cairo wants to buy only the TV business.

Sharp cuts in advertising spending and a proliferation in new thematic channels have weighed on traditional TV broadcasters like Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset and state-owned RAI.

Telecom Italia Media’s La7 has gained audience share thanks to popular talk shows but there are doubts over how long it can sustain the pace amid an economic recession and cut-throat competition.

On Wednesday shares in Telecom Italia Media fell 1.6 percent to 0.157 euros, almost unchanged from a year ago.

Kepler analyst Daniele Ridolfi said a sale may yield no premium to current market prices, reiterating his “reduce” rating and a 0.08 euros a share target price.

A second analyst, who declined to be named, was sceptical the sale would be made. “I think they won’t sell and Telecom Italia will have to pay for the restructuring,” the analyst said. ($1=0.7521 euros) (Additional reporting by Claudia Cristoferi, Stephen Jewkes and Stefano Rebaudo; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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