European broadcasting group ProSiebenSat.1 has begun the process of selling some of its assets to pay down debt but is unsure whether it will succeed, Chief Executive Thomas Ebeling said. ProSieben, which is majority-owned by private equity firms KKR and Permira, wants to sell parts of SBS Broadcasting and operations in Belgium and the Netherlands. Its debt stood at 3.3 billion euros at the end of the third quarter - exactly the amount it paid to buy SBS Broadcasting in 2007 to create a stronger rival to Bertelsmann’s RTL Group.
“We are in the middle of the process, and we will give an update on the process in line with our annual results, which are early March, but it will be most likely just a status report,” Mr Ebeling told journalists. Asked when an outcome should be expected, he replied: “Maybe never, maybe this year. These things always take four to six months, and they might not result in a divestiture,” he added after a panel appearance at the DLD media conference in Munich today.
Dutch media groups Talpa and TMG have both said they would be interested in buying ProSieben’s Dutch TV operations, SBS Nederland, if they came up for sale. Talpa is owned by Dutch billionaire John de Mol, co-founder of Big Brother production house Endemol. When asked what price he hoped to achieve for the assets, Mr Ebeling said, “more than our normal multiples”, without elaborating.
ProSieben, broadcast for free mainly via cable and satellite, reaches about 78 million households in 14 European countries, airing shows such as the hit vampire series Moonlight and US comedy-drama Desperate Housewives.
KKR and Permira sold about 3.7 percent of ProSieben’s share capital this month, raising about 194 million euros ($262 million) to cut debt and increase the liquidity of their investment vehicle Lavena. The move left them with 53 percent of the company’s share capital and 88 percent of the common shares with voting rights. Sources have told Reuters that the two firms are considering all options regarding their stake in the company.
Asked about ProSieben’s longer-term ownership prospects, Ebeling said: “If you understand the investment cycles of private equity, you can make your own assumptions.”
KKR and Permira bought SBS in 2005 and ProSieben in early 2007, before merging the two.