M6 sale flop requires Bertelsmann detour

A view shows French television group M6 headquarters in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, France, May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

LONDON, Oct 4 (Reuters Breakingviews) - Bertelsmann has learned to its detriment not to ignore regulators’ warnings. The German media group’s plan to merge its French television channel M6 (MMTP.PA) with local rival TF1 (TFFP.PA) flopped after competition authorities blocked it last month. That prompted Bertelsmann to put the “Top Chef” channel up for sale, but it has now cancelled the process after regulators warned the group that time was running out to renew M6’s free-to-air licence. Once renewed, Chief Executive Thomas Rabe will be stuck with the TV channel for five years.

The flop is a setback for Rabe. A sale of the media group’s sought-after 48% stake in M6 may have fetched up to 1.2 billion euros, according to people familiar with the sale process. Bertelsmann will now have to contend with its share of the French unit’s dividends – north of 100 million euros this year, based on Refinitiv estimates. But Rabe has other options. He could focus on pursuing a merger he has talked about – that of M6 parent RTL Group (AUDK.LU) with 1.7 billion euro German rival ProSiebenSat 1 (PSMGn.DE). That is well within Bertelsmann’s means. But wooing ProSiebenSat 1’s 25%-shareholder MediaForEurope (MFEB.MI), owned by Italy’s Berlusconi family, may be tough. (By Pierre Briancon)

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(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are their own.)

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