Exclusive: Bertelsmann explores potential sale of French media group M6 - sources

PARIS (Reuters) - Germany’s Bertelsmann has approached potential bidders including French media giant Vivendi and Altice Europe about selling its controlling stake in French broadcast group M6, sources close to the matter told Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: Pencils with the logo of German media group Bertelsmann CEO are seen at the annual news conference Berlin, Germany, March 22, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

Bertelsmann is hoping for a deal potentially worth about 3 billion euros ($3.6 billion) for Metropole Television SA, commonly known as M6 Group and home to France’s biggest private radio station, RTL, two sources said on condition of anonymity.

M6 shares jumped 9% in high volume on Friday after Reuters reported Bertelsmann’s sale plans.

M6 Group’s flagship television channel M6 is France’s most profitable private national channel and part of the second-most-watched private TV network behind TF1, which is controlled by conglomerate Bouygues.

M6’s French rival TF1 Group and Italy’s Mediaset have also been approached, along with Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky, the sources said. Kretinsky owns stakes in French newspaper Le Monde and German broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 and controls French magazines including Elle.

Bertelsmann has yet to hire banks for any formal sales process and talks remain at a preliminary stage, the sources said.

Bertelsmann, M6, Vivendi, TF1, Mediaset and telecoms company Altice declined to comment. Representatives for Kretinsky were not immediately available to comment.

Founded in 1987 and led for the last twenty-one years by its charismatic boss Nicolas Tavernost, M6 is controlled by Bertelsmann via its subsidiary RTL Group.

RTL said in a statement that it reviews strategic options on an ongoing basis “with a view to creating value for its shareholders,” cautioning that any type of agreement or transaction is not certain.

RTL added that there was a strong case for consolidation in the European broadcasting sector, with Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Rabe repeatedly calling for the creation of national champions in the media industry.

A full sale of RTL Group’s 48% stake in M6 would mark the departure of Bertelsmann from France after it agreed to sell Prisma Media, France’s number one print magazines group, to Vivendi in December.

Bertelsmann has instead sought to strengthen its presence in the United States with the $2.175 billion purchase of publisher Simon & Schuster in November.

In a Financial Times interview last year, Rabe mentioned the benefits of striking partnership deals and said RTL was “open-minded to exploring such possibilities”.

He sees the creation of national TV champions in Europe’s fragmented media market as a way to compete more effectively with U.S. streaming giants such as Netflix.

Broadcasters RTL and German competitor ProSiebenSat.1 Media are battling to recover from a hit to advertising revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

($1 = 0.8241 euros)

Reporting by Gwénaëlle Barzic, Arno Schuetze and Elvira Pollina. Additional reporting by Mathieu Rosemain and Klaus Lauer. Editing by Pamela Barbaglia, Mark Potter and Barbara Lewis