Bertelsmann put M6 Group back on the market a little over a week ago, after its planned merger with Bouygues-owned TF1 Group was abandoned due to a number of competition concerns raised by France’s anti-trust board.
Bertelsmann’s chief executive Thomas Rabe asked to receive non-binding offers by Sept. 23 to test the market and received offers from three major bidders, according to Le Point.
These include a vehicle comprising Xavier Niel, the French billionaire behind the telecom group Iliad who co-founded Mediawan, and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s MFE-MadeForEurope; as well as a consortium including Stéphane Courbit, chairman of TV powerhouse Banijay, Rodolphe Saadé, the French shipping billionaire, and Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, chairman of the investment vehicle Fimalac; and lastly Czech businessman Daniel Kretinsky, who is a shareholder in Le Monde, the French newspaper, and recently lent €14 billion to Liberation, another newspaper. The group led by Courbit has offered an all-cash €20 ($20) per share for M6, valuing RTL Group’s 48.3% stake in the French banner at €1.22 billion, according to several sources.
But the amount of the bid isn’t the only factor that Rabe is considering as he studies each offer. Besides looking for someone who has the right profile, pedigree and background to take the reins of M6 Group — one of France’s most profitable TV outfits — Rabe will undoubtedly look closely at potential competition challenges and the overall complexity presented by each bidder.
Kretinsky, a Czech billionaire behind the largest energy group in Central Europe, currently presents the least competition risk, as he isn’t tied to a TV conglomerate like Niel (with Mediawan) or Courbit (with Banijay, whose shareholder is Vivendi).
The German group is on a tight timeline to complete the sale. As The Financial Times pointed out in a recent report, M6 Group’s 10-year license expires in May and “any renewal would lock in its main shareholder, preventing a sale until at least 2028.” That means Bertelsmann would not be able, in theory, to sell its stake in M6 Group until 2028 if it hasn’t completed a deal by next spring.
The president of France’s anti-trust board, Benoît Cœuré, spoke about the sale prospects for M6 Group two days ago, on Sept. 27, at the National Assembly, and suggested that Bertelsmann will need to notify the board of exclusive negotiations with a prospective buyer before the end of October, according to the news agency AFP. He also said that the operation will likely require examination by the anti-trust board of the European Commission, which could cause additional delays that may not be feasible within this timeframe.
Addressing the timeline, Rabe told The Financial Times that ”RTL Group has no pressure to sell M6″ and “are patient and can wait.” Some industry insiders are suggesting that Bertelsmann might not even go ahead with the sale after all, particularly if it becomes too complicated to achieve before May. There also remains a question mark over the succession of M6 Group’s long-time CEO and chairman Nicolas de Tavernost (who is expected to step down in three years), as well as the future of Salto, the streaming service jointly launched by TF1, M6 and France Televisions in 2020.