Bertelsmann puts M6 up for sale after failed merger attempt

German media group Bertelsmann has put its French television business M6 back on the block, asking for indicative bids by Friday to “test the market” after competition objections thwarted the broadcaster’s planned merger with TF1.

The stake in France’s second-biggest private television group is attracting a crowded field of potential buyers spanning some of Europe’s most prominent media billionaires, according to people close to the process.

Those mulling bids include a consortium of prominent French entrepreneurs including maritime transport tycoon Rodolphe Saadé, Stéphane Courbit of TV production group Banijay, and investor Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière.

Losing candidates from the last auction are also considering fresh bids, such as the Silvio Berlusconi-backed conglomerate MediaForEurope, and the telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel via his Mediawan production company.

Vincent Bolloré’s Vivendi, which actively opposed the TF1-M6 merger, is also assessing whether to return with an offer after bidding last year.

Two other billionaires — the Czech investor Daniel Křetínský and French telecoms owner Patrick Drahi — are also weighing their options.

Thomas Rabe, Bertelsmann’s chief executive, confirmed to the Financial Times that he had asked for non-binding offers after being “inundated with expressions of interest” in M6 after its merger collapsed with Bouygues-owned TF1 last week.

“This is why we are ‘testing the market’. We will decide on the basis of the test whether to sell or not,” he said, adding that M6’s profits last year were “at an all-time high”.

Bertelsmann’s RTL group owns a 48.3 per cent stake in M6, France’s second-biggest commercial broadcaster. Shares in M6 had fallen by more than 5 per cent since its merger with TF1 was called off last week, leaving the group with a market value of about €1.6bn, but rebounded on news of a potential sale, rising 5.7 per cent to € 13.27. Shares in TF1 were also up almost 6 per cent to €6.70.

Rabe’s original plan to merge M6 with its bigger rival TF1 was part of a strategy to create “national media champions”, with the scale to withstand pressure from declining television audiences and the rise of US streaming services.

But France’s competition authority strongly opposed the deal, arguing that the combined group’s more than 70 per cent share of the advertising market for traditional television would give it overwhelming market power that would raise prices for marketers.

Bertelsmann has a narrow window to decide on the future of M6 because the broadcaster’s 10-year license expires in May. Under the terms of French licenses, any renewal would lock in its main shareholder, preventing a sale until at least 2028.

Some potential bidders see these constraints as an important factor that will weigh on M6’s sale price, especially as any new owner would need to assume the risk of renewing the license next year.

But Rabe played down the issue, telling the FT the “timeline is not a concern” for Bertelsmann’s RTL group. “M6 is one of the best-run TV groups in Europe. . . RTL group has no pressure to sell M6. . . we believe that consolidation will happen in the French market sooner or later — with different options — we are patient and can wait,” he said in an email.

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