It sure looks like it. Thomas Rabe, who became CEO of Europe’s largest media company in January, said today that an IPO is one option to help “reshape Bertelsmann over the next five to ten years” — especially to fuel investments in digital ventures. To underscore how serious he is about the idea, Rabe said the 177-year old Berlin-based company will change its legal status to facilitate a stock sale. The announcement is a surprise: The Mohn family, which controls Bertelsmann, has resolutely opposed an IPO. One-time CEO Thomas Middelhoff lost his job in 2002 when he when he tried to take the company public. Under Bertelsmann’s new legal status, the Mohns could retain control and still sell stock to outsiders. Investors would be placing a bet on the continent’s largest TV company. Bertelsmann owns RTL Group, which has several stations and networks — and also owns Fremantle Media, which produces American Idol and The X Factor, and owns the rights to several game shows including The Price Is Right. The parent company also owns book publishing giant Random House and magazine publisher Gruner + Jahr. In addition, Bertelsmann’s BMG RM has recently grown into a power in music publishing. Rabe made the announcement as Bertelsmann disclosed anemic financial performance in 2011: Its revenues were up 1.2% to $20.3B but, due in part to several major investments, its profit margin declined to 11.4% from 12.1%. Rabe forecast “moderate increase in revenues for 2012” as well as higher profits.
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