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United offloads 35% stake in Five to RTL for £247m

LONDON – After months of speculation United Business Media has finally sold its 35% stake in UK broadcaster Five to the RTL Group for £247.6m, valuing the 100% RTL-owned terrestrial broadcaster at £700m.

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As a minority shareholder, United gave first refusal to German TV network RTL, which owns the majority 65% stake of Five. RTL's acquisition is subject to regulatory approval.

RTL chief executive Gerhard Zeiler has always indicated the German TV network is committed to Five and would invest in the UK's fifth terrestrial channel.

It has been speculated that RTL could now also bid for Telewest's programming arm Flextech, which would give it a number of digital channels, which it currently lacks, including Living TV, Bravo, Trouble and a stake in UKTV.

Last year, RTL hired investment bank JP Morgan as it considered the options for its stake in Five, which included a bid for United's shareholding.

Speculation grewin May that before former United Business Media chief executive Lord Hollick stepped down later that month he would sell the 35% stake in Five, considered a non-core asset, as United looked to concentrate on its business information services.

David Levin, United chief executive, said today: "The disposal of Five is another action taken to bring focus to UBM."

The proceeds from the sale of Five will be retained for reinvestment in United's businesses, which is now mainly concentrated on business publishing.

Earlier this year, Five saw pre-tax profits double over the last year to €18m (£12.6m), as revenues rose by 10.4% to €276m.

The earnings figure is a record for Five, which has seen its fortunes improve. The performance at the UK's fifth terrestrial network was attributed to strong growth in the advertising market and was achieved as Five spent 10% more on programming.

The improvement in Five's fortunes strengthened United's hand and Five's price tag, which was originally estimated to be around £220m.

Five has done well out of a raft of imported hit US shows including 'CSI' and more recently 'House' starring Hugh Laurie.

Jane Lighting, Five's chief executive, said: "This is great news for Five as it will help us to plan for our future with more certainty.

We are grateful to UBM for their support during our first eight years, however at this new phase in our development into the multi channel world we are delighted to have received such a whole hearted vote of confidence from our shareholder RTL."

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