The US media group is understood to be one of those mulling a bid for the UK’s smallest terrestrial broadcaster. Endemol, ITV and BSkyB are also kicking the tyres. Would-be buyers have until June 21 to submit bids. Warner Bros declined to comment.
The attraction from Warner Bros’ point of view is that Five would provide a platform for its movies and TV programmes. And, unlike ITV, there wouldn’t be any regulatory problems with Time Warner buying Five. RTL, the European media group which owns Five, already has an output deal with Warner Bros in Germany.
Analysts predict Five could be worth anything between £200-250 million ($300-375 million). This is despite it losing £37 million last year, causing owner RTL to write down its $712 million investment to $137 million.
Dutch Big Brother producer Endemol has instructed media lawyers Wiggin to prepare its Five bid. Like Time Warner, Endemol is looking for a content platform – especially since Channel 4 has cancelled reality show Big Brother and its programmes are not doing so well in the US.
“Anything you can do to get product in front of more eyeballs makes sense,” one senior industry figure tells me.
The sale apparently includes RTL’s UK production/distribution arms Talkback (The X Factor) and Fremantle, which Endemol could then bundle together with its Tiger Aspect (Mr Bean) and docu-maker Darlow Smithson production businesses. Endemol’s famously tough CEO Ynon Kreiz – he used to be an Israeli army soldier – oversaw those deals, showing his appetite as a dealmaker. But then again, Kreiz’s deal-making mentor was Haim Saban of Saban Entertainment.
There is a question as to whether Endemol has enough financial elbow room to acquire Five alone though. Investors have complained Endemol was in danger of breaching loan covenants early this year. Goldman Sachs is a shareholder in Endemol, and may be persuaded to stump up more cash in the broadcaster.
Media analyst Steve Hewlett flags how much money you could make with a hit show on your own network. For example, you would not have to share competition voting revenue. “Imagine putting on something like Big Brother when you own the network,” he says.
Buying Five would enable ITV to consolidate the shrinking UK advertising market. Five CEO Dawn Airey has long predicted that UK broadcasters must consolidate. But ITV could fall foul of competition issues. Its ITV1 channel already carves out 40% of TV ad revenue. Combining that with Five’s 8.4% share could push it over what Ofcom considers acceptable.
Claire Enders of Enders Analysis tells me: “I’d say that it is very unlikely that ITV would gain clearance for an acquisition of Five if it intends to sell its advertising inventory as well as owning the channel.”
And I’m not sure how buying another free-to-air advertising-dependent network would go down with the City of London.
JPMorgan is advising RTL on the sale.